The rescue tortoise lumbered past, sporting an impossible to miss sparkling collar, from the vajazzle end of the taste spectrum.
The collar contained an Apple air tag. Seventy-five years old and even the tortoise had succumbed to the wonders of modern technology. Signals silently pinging off phones and watches throughout the neighbourhood. Collectively forming part of the world’s largest surveillance network, with more nodes than China has CCTV cameras.
The tortoise had endured a challenging childhood.
Imported alongside thousands of her siblings and cousins shortly after the second world war.
Marketed as children’s toys in comic books. Problematic, because children don’t feed their toys.
Sold on a string. Attached via holes drilled through its shell. The only shell a tortoise will ever have.
Mailed out in a cardboard box full of shredded newspaper. With no food and no water. For days on end.
Humans can be such savages.
The lockdown kitten stalked the tortoise through the long grass of the neighbour’s yard. He too wore an air tag. A grudging concession, in response to his recently acquired habit of disappearing for days on end, new since we moved house.
What the tracker revealed had been confronting. The secret life of pets.
The lockdown kitten had been cheating on us! With at least four other families.
Charting a course around the neighbourhood. Charming and scamming an endless series of breakfasts and dinners. Investing his lunch hour begging for tasty morsels outside the local supermarket delivery dock.
It was unclear what he intended to do once he caught the tortoise. Strategic thinking was rarely his strong suit. However, his stupidity was feigned, a public mask worn to achieve his goals.
That had been another confronting revelation.
When a broken leg had temporarily cramped his style, I had kept him locked inside while he recovered. It had been fascinating to watch as he inserted claws from both front paws on either side of the cat door and rocked backwards, attempting to use his body weight to break the latch.
When that failed, he would grasp the latch in his teeth, and attempt to turn it by rotating his head.
In both cases his instincts were good. All he lacked was the body mass to execute his escape plan.
Ending in a frustrated toddler tantrum of hissing and stomping. Before limping over to slump down just inside the door. Patiently waiting for a fleeting chance to shoot between the legs of an unwary door opener.
Moving house incurs consequences. Some anticipated, a material reduction in accommodation costs. Others unanticipated.
One of those unanticipated consequences had been the disappearance of the lazy cat.
For many years, she had been a sleepy homebody. Her daily range of movement would rival a three-toed sloth for sheer apathy. Perpetually felled by sunbeams, comfy chairs, or the nearest convenient lap to sleep on.
A few days after moving, I unlocked the cat flap. Figuring my feline friends had acclimatised to their new surroundings.
New feeding arrangements.
Moving at a speed unwitnessed since she had been a kitten, she bolted.
Out of the house.
Out of the yard.
Out of our lives. For over a month.
The police advise against putting up lost pet posters around the neighbourhood. Blackmailers, conmen, and shysters apparently prey upon those easy marks. Send me a bitcoin or the cat gets it!
A quick google revealed a host of internet-based “service providers” who offer to coordinate and perform pet search and rescue operations. For a fee. Hiding in plain sight. Wearing high-vis vests. Patrolling neighbourhoods armed with clipboards and the illusion of purpose for as long as the client’s money lasts.
An alternative cadre of “professionals” offer an electronic equivalent. Claiming to tap into state-sponsored big brother capabilities. Satellite imagery. Drones. CCTV footage. All to track down missing pets.
I opted not to avail myself of any those dubious services. Parasites existing only to take advantage of emotional vulnerability, in the mode of funeral directors and jewellers specialising in engagement rings.
Instead, I posted on local social media. This turned out to be a mistake. A lightning rod for crazies, many of whom got in touch.
An initial flurry of well-wishes from random strangers. Many of whom immediately attempted to sell me window cleaning, landscaping, or roof repair services.
Some drama vampires, desperate to make my missing cat all about them. Unsolicited tales of woe about the time they lost their pets. Narcissism masquerading as empathy.
A sternly worded admonishment that pet ownership was slavery. Magnificent apex predators forced to debase themselves. Surrendering their identity. Sacrificing their self-worth for attention and food.
An even more vehement accusation of irresponsible parenting. My “fur baby” was my lawful responsibility. I should be criminally charged for abandonment. Cruelty. Neglect. Depending on the outcome, potentially even manslaughter. “Pets are people too!”.
One complete stranger began stalking me. Sending 18 messages over four day period. She hadn’t seen my cat, but promised to keep an eye out.
Three days later, she admonished me. How could I work from home at a time like this? Shouldn’t I have worn a coat the second time I went out to search the neighbourhood? It had been cold outside.
She had seen me walking the neighbourhood calling my cat’s name. She then followed me home.
On day 4, she berated me. Why wasn’t I looking harder, I had only been outside once so far that day? Why weren’t my children looking at all? Did they not like the cat? Did they not care?
Perhaps the cat was better off without us.
Perhaps we didn’t deserve to find the cat.
Perhaps if she found the cat, she would keep rather than return her.
More than a little creeped out, I studiously ignored her. Starving her attention-seeking of oxygen. Wondering more than once whether she might not have taken the lazy cat in the first place?
Eventually the stalker got bored. Presumably switching her attentions to some other poor unfortunate who was more attentive.
Humans can be such savages.
But occasionally, humans surprise us.
A phone call from an unknown number.
A vet working out of a practice some five miles away.
A random passerby brought in a cat they had found. Requesting its microchip be scanned. Its owners contacted.
Reunited the next day. Hoorah!
The generous vet refused payment for the lazy cat’s food and accommodation. Privacy laws prevented the vet from helping me thank the good samaritan.
The lazy cat had lost a lot of weight. Learning harsh lessons about life on the mean streets of London.
Since returning to the new house, the lazy cat hasn’t ventured outside the yard. Preferring to sleep on top of the kitchen cupboards, underneath a skylight. A functional replacement for her former territory atop the old aquarium, a long-term hobby abandoned to climate change now London’s peak summer temperatures reach levels that tropical fish simply cannot survive in.
Microchipping my pets proved to be a good investment. A feeling slightly reduced by the predatory firms who operate the databases those microchips are linked to. Free to sign up. Chargeable to update owner contact details. Forcing punters into a subscription-based model. One that is challenging to escape. Imposing friction and barriers to their purported purpose of reuniting lost pets with their owners, rather than having them put down.
Ironically, a pet registry is one of the very few genuinely good use cases for blockchain technology. Working best when public. Open. And free. Predictably, the actual pet registries are none of those things!
The merits of the air tags I’m less convinced about.
The neighbour swears by it, regularly using it to find the rescue tortoise in his garden. A potential life-saving activity, given the frequency with which it finds itself upside down on its back. Sometimes this is due to the tortoise’s spectacularly poor climbing skills. Other times it is predators who all delight in flipping tortoises on their back and (sometimes) eating them.
Foxes and ravens.
Teenagers and drunk football fans.
Humans can be such savages. Often. But not always.
Sometimes, oh so rarely, they surprise us on the upside with their kindness and generosity.