We, like many families, have two cats and two dogs. But let’s be real: the dogs and cats own us more than we own them.

Emily, our daughter, is particularly fond of the pets, and showers them with love and affection. It’s contagious and welcome, as we all enjoy the pets a bit more when Emily visits.

The other night, I went to bed at my normal time but was awakened at 1:30 a.m. because Mrs. Bigglesworth, one of the cats, could not be found. Both our cats go outside, but this is winter and they don’t stay out long by their own choice.

My wife stood in silhouette in our bedroom doorway and asked me at what time I had let the cat outside. I didn’t remember letting the cat out. Downstairs, our daughter was upset and crying because Mrs. Bigglesworth was outside and the temperature was plummeting.

Disoriented from the brief sleep, I went outside to assist in the search.

Earlier that day, the cold snap had broken and much of the previous week’s snow from the blizzard melted off. This day had been the first time in weeks the cats were allowed outside. The good news was that it was cold but not yet bitter at 1:30 a.m. Hoping for a speedy search, I went outside dressed only in my pajamas and slippers and checked the usual hiding places around the yard.

Biggles was not in my neighbor’s shrubs, or at the edge of our property overlooking the school yard, or in the bushes out front near the cul de sac.

Three years ago, Biggles had run off and was still missing after two days. My daughter was distraught, fearing the worst, and I was sick at the thought of having to tell her that her beloved cat was gone. I searched the woods behind the school, biked through all of the neighborhoods surrounding our own, and went out every night at midnight to call for her, roaming through back yards, hoping that I didn’t awaken an asshole with a gun. We plastered notices on every street and on the school doorways. It was a fifth grade girl who saw a notice and recognized the cat hiding in the woods behind her house. Ten days had gone by, and her fur was a mess, but otherwise she was fine.

Fearing a repeat of that tumultuous time, I went back inside for a warm coat and better shoes.

I, my wife and my daughter roamed the vicinity of our house. There are several overgrown areas near the school that the cats frequent. On the other side of our yard, the adjoining properties have gardens. I took to the sidewalks, covering the outer limits of what I thought our morbidly obese cat could reach in the few hours thought to be missing.

 As I walked along the sidewalk, the cold air still, the houses dark, and the streets quiet at 2 a.m., I reviewed the facts as I knew them:

  • My wife had let the cats out in the afternoon when the sun had come out.
  • I let Mrs. Bigglesworth in some time after that, but out other cat, Ja’mie, chose to stay outside.
  • Ja’mie came in several hours later when our daughter arrived at 11 p.m.
  • My wife could not find Mrs. Bigglesworth inside the house, so she was convinced that Biggles was outside.
  • My wife assumed I had let Mrs. Bigglesworth out some time between then.
  • I assumed my wife had let her out, but didn’t remember doing so.
  • It was getting pretty fucking cold out.

Two ideas presented themselves to me as I walked along the street. First was that I was doing this out of love for my family, trying to save them from the pain of losing a loved one. It’s a fool’s errand for a couple of reasons. The pain of loss is part of the bargain of the joy of loving, especially pets. Their life spans all but guarantee that to love a dog, cat, or gerbil is to suffer a broken heart when they’re gone. But here I was, wandering the streets at two in the morning on a frigid winter night, hoping to postpone that broken heart for our family just one more day. I seemed willing to do anything possible to return Mrs. Bigglesworth to the hearth of our home, and let us all have a night’s sleep knowing that all loved ones were present and accounted for.

The other idea that presented itself was that Mrs. Bigglesworth was not outside at all. My wife assumed I let her out, as I assumed she let her out. But I was confident I had not let her out.

I was not so confident in my wife’s ability to thoroughly search the house.

I returned home at 2:30 a.m., cold, tired and suffering the additional regret of not having worn my Fitbit while walking for almost a solid hour. I assured our daughter that I would resume the search in the morning, and that any cat would be fine in weather such as this. Mrs. Bigglesworth, who carries thick fur on a heavier-than-normal frame, could handle much colder weather, in fact.

Then I re-checked her favorite indoor hiding places.

The first (and last) place I looked, I found her behind the television in the family room. Her ample body was spread over the heat vent on the floor. She looked up at me with her signature glance of uncaring detachment.

So my wish was granted, and we all went to bed reasonably confident that all of our loved ones were accounted for this night. I know our hearts will break soon enough as time takes its toll, but there was joy and peace to be savored for one more day.