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The Feline That Restored Her Faith

She was worried about my job, my health, everything. Then came a cat named Junior.

Linda Neukrug and Junior

Fat drops of rain spattered against my face. I ducked under an overhang and set down the heavy cat carrier. “Just a few more blocks, Junior, and we’ll be at the vet,” I said, peering in at the stray I’d taken in two months ago. He mewed pitifully.

“I know exactly how you feel,” I said.

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So far my year had been dismal. Family disagreements. Reduced shifts at my bookstore job. A move to a dumpy, cheaper apartment, close enough to walk to work and to shops.

Now my boss told me that he would have to cut my hours even further, and word came from the corporate office that I would be losing my health insurance. What would I do if I got sick? I was barely making ends meet as it was. I didn’t think I could take one more blow.

Still, I couldn’t miss Junior’s vet appointment. He would be getting a microchip with my phone number and address injected between his shoulder blades so that people would know who he belonged to should he ever get lost.

I didn’t even want to think about what I would do without my cats, the one bright spot in my life.

A friend at work had told me about Junior. She knew that I had been looking for a buddy for Prince, a big gray cat that I had adopted from a shelter a few years back.

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“I saw a new cat at the park,” she said. “He was hanging out with some feral cats I feed. But he’s friendly. I think he must have been abandoned. Would you consider…”

“I’ll take him,” I said.

I’d barely made introductions before Junior and Prince started grooming each other. Finally something was going right.

My cats gave me a reason to get up in the morning. They needed me. And I needed them. Their antics made me laugh. And they both cuddled next to me in bed at night, their gentle purring a reassurance.

Thank you, God, I prayed. We’ll get through this rough patch together, the cats and I.

But now I wondered, worried all over again about my job, my health, everything. I hefted the carrier and trudged on to the vet’s office, trying to ignore the pelting rain.

A vet tech ushered me into an exam room when I got there. I took Junior from his carrier and set him on the table.  “He’s a handsome fellow,” the vet tech said.

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Not that I had anything to do with Junior’s looks, but I swelled with pride.

The vet tech explained how microchips worked. “With just a quick scan any veterinarian will know that your cat has an owner and will be able to find out how to reach you.”

She took a wand from the counter. “First let’s make sure that he doesn’t already have a chip,” she said. She scanned Junior’s body. “Yep. He has a microchip already.”

“That’s impossible,” I said. “He was abandoned.” “Maybe he got out by mistake,” she said. “Here’s the number for the microchip registry. They’ll be able to tell you who he belongs to.”

But I already know who he belongs to, I thought. Me!

I loaded Junior into the carrier and plodded home in the rain. It was all I could do not to flop down on some bench and have a big cry. But who would even notice? Or care? “Hey, God!” I wanted to shout. “Remember me?”

Prince met us at the door of my apartment. Freed from the carrier, Junior playfully swatted Prince’s tail. They belonged together. With me. How could Junior have another owner? I hadn’t seen any notices anywhere about a lost cat.

I stared at the phone, then took a deep breath and forced my fingers to punch in the number.

The guy at the microchip registry listened to my story. “Let’s see,” he said. “That cat was reported missing ten months ago. Looks like the owner lives in Ester, Alaska.”

“B-b-but,” I stammered, “I’m in Walnut Creek, California.” I looked in awe at Junior, imagining him crossing glaciers, fighting off hungry wolves. Incredible!

Then it hit me. His home was 3,000 miles away. I’d never see him again.

“Her name is Sappho,” he continued. “That can’t be right,” I said. “He’s a boy. The vet said so.”

“Well, that may be, but it’s definitely the same microchip. I’ll contact the owner.”

I hung up and grabbed Junior. “Sappho?” I said. The cat nuzzled my face. “Whoever you are, I sure don’t want to lose you.”

That evening the phone rang. I hesitated, letting it ring again before finally answering. It was the microchip guy. “I’m patching the cat’s owner through now,” he said. There was a click, then a woman’s voice. “You really have our cat?”

“Well, they say I do,” I said. “How did you lose him?” I hoped I didn’t sound too accusatory.

“It was my daughter, Aurora,” she said. “She was moving from Alaska to Arizona, and she stopped at a park there in Walnut Creek. That’s when Sappho got loose from her car. She hadn’t owned him that long so maybe that’s why.

“She put up posters and posted his picture on the web, but no one called. Finally, she had to leave. Let me give you her number. She’ll be so excited to hear from you.”

We said goodbye. My fingers hovered over the phone’s keypad. I felt bad. For Aurora and her mom. And me. Especially me. With each number I pushed, it seemed like Junior was slipping further away.

Aurora answered. “I think I might have your cat,” I said.

There was a pause, then a shriek of joy. My whole body sagged. I told her how I’d taken Junior in, how well he was doing.

“I can’t thank you enough for taking such good care of him,” she said. “Isn’t he a wonderful cat? You know he was raised with sled dogs. And he loves being sung to…”

I couldn’t deny it any longer. He was her cat. She loved him as much as I did. I’d been selfish to even think of keeping him. “I could rent a car and drive him down to you,” I heard myself say. “Or put him on a plane.”

“Let me figure it out and get back to you,” she said.

We hung up.

I sat there in my dumpy little apartment, but I felt calm, the stress that had weighed so heavily on me suddenly gone, like it was never even there. I had done the right thing. I had contributed something right to a world where so much seemed wrong.

I could handle this. Everything—my job, the bills, Prince and I—would turn out okay. Hadn’t God sent Junior to me? The perfect antidote to my fear and worries. God would be there for me even after Junior was gone. Junior was a demonstration of grace.

“God, thank you for taking care of me,” I prayed. “I believe you know what’s best for Junior just like you know what’s best for me. Be with him and his owner, wherever their journey might take them…”

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The phone rang. I picked up. It was Aurora. Was she calling back with instructions already?

“Hi, Linda,” Aurora said. “I’ve been thinking. You’ve actually had Junior longer than I did. And he’s happy there. I think you should keep him.”

For a moment I couldn’t speak. “Thank you,” I finally said. “That’s incredibly sweet of you. I’ll send you pictures. I’ll even sing to him.”

I looked down at Junior, rubbing against my leg, purring, the very sound of grace. Maybe he hadn’t crossed a glacier or fought off hungry wolves, but the journey that had brought him to me seemed no less amazing.

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