The case of the missing cat

Recent clues regarding my missing cat:
Saturday evening, returning from feeding the goat, I spied fresh prints, catly in size, by the garden shed. They started at one end of the shed, went along the front, and ended at the other end, so the cat must have emerged from under the shed and gone back under at the opposite end.
On Sunday morning I found fresh tracks coming up a path across the patio and going north along the back of the house. I followed the tracks around the house — the snow so crusty and hard I could walk atop it — and in the front they crossed to the sidewalk, where the trail petered out, so the cat must have headed out the driveway.
The last sighting of Chesapeake occurred on Feb. 12, the same day a year ago that Angus died, but I tried to disregard the coincidence of that date, not ready to lose another cat so soon. Except for a brief period of catlessness in early 1996 when no kitten could be found for love or money, cats have been part of my life since 1980, and I just couldn’t bear the idea of life without a feline.
Chesapeake barged into our lives nearly 10 years ago, in the spring of 2005, when I kept food on the patio for Angus, our indoor cat who roamed outside much of the time, and Tristan, a stray I brought home from Akron who slept in the garage but otherwise lived outdoors. I first noticed Chesapeake across the street at the neighbors’ house, but, finding the outdoor food dish, he soon made our property his home. It took a month of sitting in the yard — sitting quietly, very still, while reading — to make friends with Chesapeake, but we broke the barrier when he tentatively approached my hand, and soon I could pet him and soon after could hold him. Since then he has been my cat. I am the only person he completely trusts, and since Angus died he has persistently pestered me for attention.
Chesapeake has always gone off on expeditions, but this recent disappearance followed a serious injury to his right rear leg. Always a scrapper, this time his opponent got the best of him, and he had a large infected wound in his foot and a noticeable limp. He complained when I manipulated it to check for breaks, but once I held him upside down he quit struggling and licked the wound clean. Shortly after that he disappeared, his absence coinciding with last week’s extreme cold, and I theorized he had holed up somewhere, perhaps feverish and out of his mind, while the infection worked its way out of his system. It had to clear up on his own because my adopting him in 2005 came with an owners’ agreement.
When the Pet Ownership Executive Committee convened to discuss the addition of Chesapeake to the Whitacre family, votes were evenly divided, yea versus nay, on his being granted permanent resident status. Those voting nay argued against him on the grounds that two cats already resided on the property, demanding food and veterinary care. Those voting yea declared that Chesapeake had already decided to live with said prospective humans and no amount of yelling at or chasing of said cat would dislodge said feline from his chosen abode.
In the end the court ruled in favor of Chesapeake being granted occupancy with the stipulation that he would receive initial medical care — neutering and shots required for that procedure — food, water, a sleeping place in the garage, and the love of the human he had chosen, but all further medical problems would be left to Chesapeake’s ability to heal himself.
So far that has worked. His fur grew back as if by magic when a neighbor cat tore a hunk of fur and skin from one of his legs down to the raw meat, and assorted punctures and scratches have all healed. Chesapeake learned about the road and cars from Angus and Tristan, and he has led a robust, healthy life.
It worked again this week. Taking recyclables to the garage on Monday evening, I heard desperate meowing at the back garage door, and there was Chesapeake, wanting food and affection. Inspection of his foot showed the area around the wound was free of fur but also free of infection. Next day I enjoyed petting Chesapeake and looking out the window knowing he was home rather than scanning the yard in hopes of his return. But Tuesday morning he went out to enjoy the sun and, as of this writing on Thursday, has not returned, so I’m worried again. But all I can do is give thanks for the orange and white diminutive cousin of the tiger who chose me for his human and hope he returns.

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