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2003-11-22 | 10:24 p.m.

Something happened, and I didnít tell you. Itís funny to me how I feel obligated, sometimes, to write down my personal plot points, even when I'm not in the mood to write them. Anyway, this is what happened on Tuesday, the 18th.

A lady named Eve called my house and left a message saying she had seen my notice up at the county shelter, and that a cat matching Rufusís description had been seen roaming around a retirement home in N*pa for about a week before it was taken to the N*pa shelter, the day after Halloween. "It might be Rufus," she said.

We had been on our way to the local Humane Society anyway, so I quick called the N*pa shelter and recorded answers to a long series of questions about my missing cat; the shape of his ears, length of his tail, cut of his jib, and so forth. Then I loaded the kids back into the car. On the way out the door, I noticed the cardboard cat carrier in the hallway, but I left it behind. Superstitious.

I wasn't about to get my hopes up. I hadn't seen Rufus since October 26th, and I knew I wasn't likely to see him again.

At the shelter, we met Eve, who actually worked there (I hadn't figured this out from her message). Behind her, through the glass, I could see an adult orange cat with a Yosemite Sam thing going on with its facial hair. Uh oh, I thought. Please don't let that be the cat we drove up here to see.

But it wasn't. The shelter worker led us to another cage in the back corner, at floor level. The kids crowded around it and I couldn't see much.

"Can you take him out?" I asked. "Can I hold him?"

"Sure," she said, unlocking it. "Hunh, heís drooling. Is your cat a drooler?" she asked, handing him to me. "No," I said. I couldnít remember ever having seen Rufus drool, or any other cat, for that matter.

"Maybe he was just having a drink of water when we came in," she suggested.

I held him up to my face so I could get a close look. There was more white hair on the chest than I remembered, and he was quite a bit fatter, but the face looked right. The gold-green eyes. I had to be sure. I always second-guess myself, but for good reason. Then he bit my nose. Twice.

"Yeah, that's him," I said. "He always did that. He always bit my nose."

The kids were squealing and chattering excitedly. I had gooseflesh but managed not to cry. I said I'd have to go get money because I didn't have any with me. The shelter worker said she would watch the kids. They stayed in a special visiting room and played with Rufus while I ran around trying to scrounge up the $76 I needed to bail him out. In the parking lot at Target, I found $15 on the ground. This really is my lucky day, I decided.

Eve said it was possible that Rufus inadvertently hitched a ride to N*pa in somebody's truck, but more likely, a neighbor had driven him up there and dumped him.

"Some people really donít like cats in their yards," she said soberly. "It happens a lot."

She urged me to keep him inside from now on, but gave me a flier about a special kind of cat fence we can get if we want to let Rufus roam around the backyard. She said he's still young; he can learn to be an indoor cat. They also gave me a cardboard carrier to bring him home in. I left happy to have him back but also disturbed by the thought that one of my neighbors is a complete wacko.

In the carpool the next day, Duff reported on Rufus's return to his carpool-mates, all of whom have earned high scores on the animal-love nutsometer. He told them about how Rufus bit my nose, and Tracee and Max confirmed that this was a sign of affection. They divulged various other signs of cat happiness, including kneading (they have a semi-vulgar term for it) and--get this--the number one sign of cat happiness in their opinion: drooling.

I thought that was interesting. I'm sure Rufus was happy to see us, but I hesitate to say he was drooling with happiness. Who knows? I understand dogs much better than cats. I can't really tell what Rufus is thinking at any given time. Maybe he was only getting a drink of water, like the woman said. All I know is that after three weeks of living in a cage, Rufus has come home.

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