And there she wasn’t

Two years. On May 14, 2008, I was in my yard with my best friend, Domonique. There she was, wearing her harness and leash as she had hundreds of times before, since our move transformed her from an indoor-outdoor cat to an indoor-only cat. It wasn’t the best of compromises, but she had learned to walk the yard, trailing her leash, while I sat outside with her.

On that day, I parked myself on a raised garden bed, Newsweek in hand. There she was. A few minutes passed. I heard her claws scrabbling against the wood fence; got up to check. And there she wasn’t.

She had wandered out of my life; I wandered — make that leapt — out of my mind. I undertook measures to find her that a lot of people would probably find extreme, but I have few regrets.

I concede most people would’ve called the game by now. But I am not most people, and she is not most cats. I still hold out hope, however slim.

That’s not to say I haven’t gained perspective. I found I’m stronger than I thought, as well as a good deal more resourceful — a friend even told her daughter: “If I go missing, I want Katharhynn on the case.”

I’ve learned something else: People are kinder than I thought. Friends and colleagues went out of their way to help me search for Dom. The Montrose Police Department and animal shelter are among my best allies, despite how busy they are with more important duties.

All but a few strangers were sympathetic and receptive to the flyers I handed out door-to-door, and some of them even became new friends. The vast majority of tipsters who called were (and are!) sincere and legitimate.

As for those who weren’t nice — a cathater here, an angry old woman there, a couple of harassing callers (including a few dimwits who hilariously botched an attempted extortion) — I’ve learned to feel sorry for them. How sad that they have nothing better to do than try to torment a stranger.

The good news is they are outnumbered. I can count on one hand those who have been cruel. I have lost count of those who have been kind — but that group includes Sapphire, the very patient kitten I adopted in fall of ’08. (It was my mother who helped provide some perspective here. She called one night, as I was on my way out the door for my nightly Dom search. She asked: “What about Little Cat?” Well, “Little Cat” was home alone all day while I worked, and most of the night while I searched. I realized that had to change.)

The many kindnesses have made my hard road a little easier to travel — and helped me see that others, too, need some compassion thrown their way. Everyone suffers; everyone, eventually, experiences devastating losses.

Now comes the tricky part. I know that I am expected to say: “There are worse things than losing a cat.” That is objectively true in the broader scheme of things, and my heart tears for people who have lost a child or loved one, or who are dealing with a devastating illness.

If, however, you know someone who is grieving a pet, please do not tell him or her right away that there are worse things. When you are in the thick of the pain, it comes across as diminishing.

Grief isn’t just hard. In some ways, it is selfish. In some ways, it will remain so for as long as there’s an inclination to deem some forms of grief socially acceptable, but de-legitimize others.

On the same token, if you’re grieving for a pet, please be understanding. People are not trying to hurt you when they tell you the truth. And don’t forget to show appreciation for the sympathy and support you receive — especially when it comes from people who are dealing with their own losses. Pay it forward. Help someone else — or even other cats and dogs.

I try to call all the numbers I see for people missing their cats, just to share resources with them. At least two of those numbers rang through to the homes of people I had visited while searching for Dom. As far as I know, “Baby Cat,” alas, remains missing. But Jasper was found safe, thank God.

Yes, I lost my cat. I just hope I can be there for others as they have been there for me. I get the feeling Dom would like that.

And so, two years later, I found myself hoisting a glass to Domonique, that hissing ball of fur I found in my Dad’s shop in 2002, along with her five littermates. I was the first human she ever saw, and she picked me, not the other way around. She was the alpha-girl of that litter, dominant, like her poppa, Norman (who also disappeared, in 2003).

I remember her loping around the yard, bringing in live robins (freed and released!), and I certainly remember the bat she brought into my bedroom (also released, as I grumbled that at least Dom had a rabies shot).

Domonique, who slept on my feet at night, who can take up an entire queensized bed. Dom, who would bury her head in my shoulder, and purr loudly while trying to eat my shirt. Domonique, a very large soul packed into a tiny cat body.

Domonique Norah F’Line, you are gone, but not forgotten. It may be that one day our paths will cross again, but if they don’t, thank you for six wonderful years, my friend.

Every cat is a gift. And I have been enormously blessed.

If you have lost a cat, there are proactive steps you can take. Sign up for the yahoo! group Missing Cat Assistance for detailed information, or contact Katharhynn through the Free Press for (non-expert) tips.

Katharhynn Heidelberg writes from Montrose, Colo.

From Katharhynn Heidelberg.