02 Aug

Tina’s Tail

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This July we moved from Washington, DC to Seattle so I can start a position as an assistant professor in the Communication Department at the University of Washington in the fall.

We have 2 cats, Bachik and Tina. Katy got Bachik in 2000 and she has lived in Michigan, Vermont, California, Washington DC, and now Washington State. We got Tina in 2006 when we lived in Santa Barbara. She has lived in California and Washington, DC and now Washington State. Both cats are exclusively indoor cats.

Bachik                                           Tina

They are not the best of friends, but they maintain fine relations. Bachik tends to dominate us (Katy and Walter) while Tina cozies up to visitors.

When we started planning for our move, one of our first concerns was transporting the cats. For our last move in late 2010 from California to Washington, DC, we had a very sick dog (who has since passed away) so we chose to fly all the animals on Pet Airways.  Unfortunately that company is going under.

We debated flying versus driving the cats. We have a 3.5 year old and the idea of carrying on two cats plus our preschooler was daunting. We had to get our car to Washington State anyway, so we decided that I would fly with our son and Walter would drive across the country with the cats.

We did a lot of research about driving with cats in the summer. Walter plotted out all of the pet-friendly hotels. We took the cats to the vet to make sure they were up on their shots.

With the car packed, Walter left Washington, DC on July 10.

As Walter drove across the country, he posted lots of photos of the cats to Facebook.

On July 13 he made it to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.   It was very hot – over 100 degrees. He wanted to take a picture of the tower but did not want to leave the cats in the car. So he brought them with him on harnesses. (They are not harness trained.) Tina got upset and jumped out of his arms and ran.

He called for her but she did not come. He took Bachik to the Ranger Station to be in the air conditioning. After looking for awhile, he called Katy. Katy was in a taxi with our 3.5 year old on the way to the airport in Washington, DC.

Katy immediately posted this issue on her favorite online community full of smart people.  The community, known for its love of cats, had lots of ideas about the terrain of Devil’s Tower, where an indoor cat might hide in such a place, techniques for coaxing her out, and contact information for park rangers, local vets, and other resources. Someone even suggested the Friskies iPhone app that has sounds of a can of food opening, a bag of dry food shaking, and other noises that cats might come to. (Walter promptly downloaded it.)

Katy called the Ranger Station (number via an Internet friend) and lovely Ranger Sue said that she’d look for Tina and that if we didn’t find Tina right away that she would be able to keep her for us until we could come and get her.

After a few hours, Walter – who was not prepared to be out that long – no sunscreen, little water, not wearing hiking boots – knew that he had to get himself and Bachik settled.

Meanwhile, Katy and our 3.5 year old boarded the plane to Seattle – which fortunately had WiFi so Katy could keep up the digital hunt – posting about Tina to the Devil’s Tower Facebook page, the KOA campground’s Facebook page, and all the local hotels and stores. Katy also used Twitter to ask anyone visiting Devil’s Tower to look for Tina. Some people on Twitter tried to help find her but had no luck.

An Internet friend Jennifer made a flyer, which Katy emailed to the hotel where Walter was staying, who graciously printed it out so Walter could hang them up.

Walter and Bachik slept and Walter got up early to look for Tina again. He didn’t hear anything this time. A Park Ranger named Amy had the emailed flyer and promised to keep looking.

Walter had to keep driving to Seattle, so he sadly had to stop looking.

Katy notified every vet and animal shelter in the area. The Gillette, WY animal shelter was especially kind.

We prepared out 3.5 year old for the possibility that Tina would never come back by telling him that Tina went hiking (thanks for the idea, Internet friend). If she really liked hiking, she would stay. If she didn’t like it, she would come home.

Katy kept calling and emailing and Facebooking and tweeting to remind people about Tina.

On July 21, a week after Tina disappeared, we got a phone call from a child who thought that he saw Tina at the Devil’s Tower KOA campground. We were cautiously optimistic. We contacted the KOA on the phone and they didn’t know what the kid was talking about, but via Facebook someone at the KOA told us that there was a resident tom cat that looks a bit like Tina.

A week later, on July 29, we got another random phone call. This time it was from a couple of hikers. “Hiker Jill” said that she heard and saw Tina! Tina even came close to them. They saw the poster and called us.

Her boyfriend was going to climb all day, so she said that she would concentrate on getting Tina. We were so excited. She had to go back to get something to contain Tina in as well as food or treats to coax her and she emailed us photos that she took. Jill said that she had once lost a pet and went to great lengths to get it back. This gave us great hope.

This confirmed that it was Tina. We were so excited. Jill said that Tina looked good and must be an excellent mouser and water finder.

Jill tried to coax Tina out all day on Sunday until it started to thunderstorm. Sadly she wasn’t able to get her to come out. A nice Ranger, Joe, helped Jill as well and knew where Tina’s spot was.

On Sunday night we decided that if Jill was able to get Tina out that we would ask her to take Tina to the nearest vet. If Jill was unsuccessful, we would go down and try to get Tina out ourselves. Plane tickets to Wyoming were really expensive.  But then we realized (thanks to WikiTravel) that there was a tiny airport close to Devil’s Tower with flights to and from Salt Lake City and Denver. The ticket from Seattle was less than $300, so we bought a ticket for Walter to fly on Tuesday morning. (Monday flights were $1200).

Jill and her boyfriend were going back the next morning to try again. They tried all morning but still couldn’t get her out. Jill was disappointed but we were so appreciative.

Again our Internet friends were incredibly helpful with suggestions for supplies to take to get Tina out – the stinkiest fish, towels and blankets that smelled like home, recordings on his iPhone of all of us calling Tina… Walter was really prepared.

One Internet friend suggested that we ask the local animal shelter to borrow a cat trap. Katy called  the Gillette, WY animal shelter who had been so nice before. They were happy to lend Walter a trap!

Walter arrived in the early afternoon on Tuesday, drove to the animal shelter for the trap, picked up a few more supplies, and headed off to Devil’s Tower. (Having Google mapped this all out in advance…)

Katy called the local vet to alert them that Tina might be coming soon. The vet’s office was also very supportive of our efforts.

Walter got to Devil’s Tower mid-afternoon. He had a hard time finding Tina’s spot at first and emailed photos to Jill asking for confirmation.

Walter remembered that Jill’s boyfriend mentioned a snake box near Tina’s cave – they had brought it there to try to trap Tina in it (without any snakes it in of course!). Walter found it – it was about 50 feet from where she had ran from him – and started calling for Tina.

And Tina answered back.

Walter posted to Facebook “Tina is talking to me!”

Then he saw her.

He put food in a trail to get her to come out.

And at first she was a little angry at Walter.

But then she started acting like her regular self, nuzzling on things.

Eventually she came up to get some food from Walter.

And after a while, she was nearly sitting in Walter’s lap. But when Walter tried to grab her, she ran away. He kept on trying to call her and tempt her with food, but she did not want to come out again.

Walter waited for awhile but knew that he needed to eat and get more supplies. He set the cat trap up but with the way that the boulders were arranged he had to hang upside down to do so.

He went to the KOA campground to eat with a plan to return after sunset (8:25pm that night). He was bummed because if he had caught her immediately, he theoretically could have driven back to Seattle by the following evening.

While he ate, the dining room was watching “Close Encounters”. They show it every night at 7. One line stuck out to him while he was eating his fried chicken – an army office looked up at Devils Tower and said “there’s a million places to hide up there.”  He said to himself: “No Shit.”

He went back up just as the full moon was rising. Knowing that it would be more difficult at nighttime and how skittish she had been, he had food plates everywhere and resolved to sit back and see if he could get her in the trap on her own.

She never came close, even though Walter was calling her almost constantly. Sometimes she answered, most of the time she didn’t.

Finally, at 11 PM, just as Walter was going to set the trap out and quit for the night, he got in closer to her space.

He put some food out and she came and got it. He put some more out closer to his foot, thinking, if she gets that close, he would have to go for the neck (even though the trap at this point was 8 feet away across 2 boulders).

She got close enough, so he went for the neck and then she flipped over and he had her pinned against a rock, then at one point she was in a crack where he had only her leg for a second, but he managed to grab her neck again, then turn her around and grab her back with his other hand. Now he had her immobilized with her legs away from him. He sprang over to the trap and put her in it and then tipped it to disorient her. As Walter did that he flipped the door closed and she was officially in the cat trap.

Walter called Katy with the good news and drove back to the KOA with Tina. Tina did not like being in the cat trap and howled all night. Walter slept on the porch of the cabin.

The next morning Walter took Tina to the vet.

They were happy to see Tina! She weighed about 8 pounds, so probably lost a pound and a half. She only had one tick and none in her ears. She was in great shape, surprisingly.

Walter bought a more comfortable carrier and some supplies and set off to drive home.

Tina was in a good mood for the drive. Walter realized that his hand was probably infected from cat scratches and decided to stop at an urgent care.

Once they got to their motel though, all Tina wanted to do was snuggle.

And get in the bathtub.

Walter and Tina drove back to Seattle and we were so happy to see them.

Even Bachik.


We were pleasantly surprised that Tina did not seem fazed by the ordeal. She has been snuggling and purring and sleeping at our feet just like before.

We’ll never know how Tina survived out there. Walter noticed a flat rock above her cave that collected rain water, so she probably used that as a water source. She had never been outside before, but she was good at catching flies in the house. Maybe her natural hunting skills came out? Walter saw a ton of field mice and chipmunks around.

I read somewhere that indoor cats tend to stay in one place if they get lost outside. It is possible that she was in her little cave the whole time. It was the next set of rocks above where Walter originally looked.

We are incredibly grateful to the people that found her and contacted us. We also are so thankful for our real-life and Internet friends that helped with logistical and emotional support. A special thanks to Internet friend Jennifer for making a flyer when both of us were computer-less and frantic.

The Park Rangers that helped also need to be thanked. The staff at the Gillette, WY animal shelter were incredibly kind and helpful especially in lending us the cat trap. The vet clinic in Gillette was great as well.