Leo, where have you been?

In the summer of 2003 my wife and I bought a house in Magnolia, just a few blocks away from where we were renting at the time. We had a young kitten that we had gotten about a year and a half earlier from my wife's co-worker-a person affectionately known to us as The Cat Pusher-and were looking forward to moving the cat into our new house on a safer street.

Leo, as we named him, was a cute little guy in his elegant tuxedo. He was so full of kitten energy that I was dismayed at the thought of having to neuter him and change his personality. At the same time, I've always been terribly concerned about overpopulation of domestic cats and dogs.

I had to make a decision soon enough. I did a little research and decided to get Leo a vasectomy-that's right, a vasectomy. The operation is relatively simple, although understandably more expensive than neutering. We found a young veterinarian willing to do it.

Snip snip, it was done.

Incidentally, those of you who have cats will understand when I claim there is no such thing as a "free" cat.

One of the interesting side benefits to giving Leo a vasectomy, I learned from my research, is that he would continue to breed with females in heat, thereby ending their cycle without fertilization. In addition, he would be territorial, keeping feral males away. The net effect would be a small victory for population control.

Let me tell you, people thought I was very strange not wanting to neuter him-after all, this is Seattle. There was the subtext, of course, that I was projecting, and probably had issues about my own masculinity, blah blah blah.

Mostly, though, we kept hearing how Leo would have bad male behavior if we didn't neuter him. What exactly is "bad male behavior?" Well, it seems it is simply ordinary male behavior. We were told he would fight, wander, spray, etc., and generally be a miserable pet.

It bothered me that people would put such negative titles on behavior that seemed to me to be perfectly normal for most males (of all species).

So, our Leo became a young male who got to keep his package. Yes, he does have his irritabilities and protests when we pick him up unsolicited or when we touch his perch on a windowsill or tree limb-and don't even think about touching his belly! On balance, though, he's a mighty fine cat.

After we bought the new house, we had renovations and remodeling to do, so we moved onto our boat moored below Nickerson Street while we waited for the work to be completed. Leo came with us, but he hated the boat. And I mean hated, hated, hated! Every day after we fed him, he would scamper down the dock and scoot under Gascoigne Lumber's office and hide there until we coaxed him out for another meal.

One time we tried closing him inside the boat, in the hope that he would become accustomed to it. But he was so pathetic-climbing onto my chest, head-butting me and pleading to go outside-that we just couldn't keep to it.

He finally ran away one day, and didn't come to us when we went looking for him. And look for him we did! If you have lost an animal this way, you'll know how desperate one can get calling and driving around the neighborhood, scrutinizing every cat carefully to see if it is yours. It was very, very sad for us.

Neither my wife nor I ever really stopped looking for Leo. Whenever we were near the boat or on the north slope of Queen Anne Hill, or even near our old house, we would keep an eye out for him. Every now and then one of us would reveal to the other how much we missed Leo.

A year or so after Leo disappeared, we decided to get another cat. Since The Cat Pusher was still in business, this wasn't a problem. We got a little, tortoise-shell-colored female and named her Checci.

Checci couldn't be more different from Leo: affectionate, snugly and easy to train, really a perfect cat. (I tried to avoid neutering her as well, but alas, the physiology is too complicated and sterilization without neutering causes too many problems for females.) Then, just before Thanksgiving last year, we got a phone call from the Seattle Animal Shelter on 15th Avenue West. They called my wife at work and me at home-our phone numbers had not changed-and left the same message: "We have your kitty ... Leo."

It had to be him, since they had his name and our phone number! We both rushed to the shelter independently. I got there first, and when I pushed the intercom button at 8:30 a.m., the voice at the other end asked, "Didn't they tell you we don't open till noon?"

"Yes, they did-but he's been gone for two-and-a-half years!"

Someone came right down and opened the door for me. Naturally, I had no idea what to expect. When he was brought into the lobby and put down on the floor, I could see he was perfect. He looked great! Not a scar, no nicked ears, not skinny, still a handsome fellow in his shiny tuxedo. I picked him up and held him seemingly forever, and this cat who doesn't like to be held just stayed nestled in my arms without a squirm of protest.

Everybody was really nice to us at the shelter, telling us how wonderful it was to see people so happy to get their pet back. Sadly, they see so many animals cruelly abandoned and discarded.

Leo had been there for almost two weeks, we learned. He had been arrested on 20th Avenue West, on the east side of Queen Anne, for breaking and entering (a.k.a. going in another cat's door). They hadn't scanned him at the shelter for a microchip right away because he was ornery (no kidding) and as he still had his package they didn't expect him to be chipped.

I put up posters later in the neighborhood where he was found just in case he had become someone else's pet.

There was no response, so I got to tell Leo the good news-nobody was looking for him-and Checci the bad news: nobody was looking for Leo. How's it all working out now? It's been several months, and we have all become a family.

Checci, it turns out, is a nervous eater and has gained a few pounds since Leo arrived. He, on the other hand, keeps waiting for her to go into heat and can't understand why his charms aren't working. She remains a little afraid of him but has learned that if she stands inside the cat door when he tries to enter, she can keep him out by batting the door back against his head. It's very funny to watch.

Leo had to fit his niche into the established territories of other local males, which resulted in a few bloody fights but mostly just a lot of godawful yelling. He has never sprayed anything in the house or scratched anything other than his special cardboard pad, which he uses to maintain his very sharp claws. (Ha ha, Leo, you missed ... oops!) He was a bit standoffish at first and prone to strike out if bothered. Now he simply lets us know with a churrp and cold shoulder if he doesn't want us to get too near. He keeps close to us a lot and comes to greet us when we get home, and he knows how to patiently alert us when he wants his treat of yogurt or catnip.

He loves my wife and somewhat reluctantly tolerates me. Maybe that's because I've taken to calling him House Pet and teasing him about no longer being a Wild Boy.

Where was he and what did he do for two-and-a-half years? I guess we'll never know. But it sure is good to have him back with us.

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