Melissa, the Escape Artist
Even as a kitten, Melissa would climb up to look out high windows.
A few days ago, July 6, 2017, Melissa opened the sliding door on the porch and “escaped” from the house. She was gone for 40 minutes or so.
Melissa has escaped from the house more times than all my other cats put together, and she’s only been with me a year and a half. On the previous occasions, I caught up with her quickly and she let me pick her up and return her to the house.
This time was different.
This time changed our lives dramatically.
I had been extremely busy caring for 2 elderly cats with some health issues and 2 energetic young felines who also need lots of attention – play time and exercise, not to mention cuddling and going outside in harnesses with leads.
While I did the best I could to see that she got everything she needed, Melissa kept breaking out of the house. I can’t remember all her escapes, but here are a few that come to mind.
- She got out the cellar hatchway entrance because I forgot she was in the basement when I opened it.
- She got out a hole in the sliding screen by enlarging a hole at the bottom made by a chipmunk before I discovered the hole.
- She got out the sliding screen door one time when I didn’t realize she was right behind me and I opened it. (She’s fast – quick as a blink – and small – and strong minded.)
- After I had a plastic piece (with holes for wind) put into the bottom of the sliding screen door so chipmunks and Melissa could no longer tear holes in the screen, Melissa put her paws into the holes and pulled the screen door open.
- The plastic piece was replaced with one that has much smaller holes. So Melissa started sitting on top of the very thin plastic piece (about 24 inches high and less than 1/4 inch wide) hanging by her claws and if the screen door was unlocked, Melissa would find a way to pull the door open.
Melissa is famous for jumping up to the top of doors and hanging from curtain rods. Frankly, I think she’d be very successfully as one of the Flying Wallendas acrobatic group or in the Cirque du Soleil.
I tried keeping the sliding glass door closed most of the way, but when it got to be summer the glass door really needed to be open most of the time for ventilation.
I also began locking the sliding screen door so Melissa could no longer pull it open.
A few weeks later, Melissa escaped and ran off.
As I spoke to a friend on the kitchen phone, Melissa was yelling and demanding attention. She had been doing this for hours, but I had a lot to do and so she was enormously frustrated. She was also very angry about life in general.
While on the call, I put her on the porch and closed the door between the porch and the kitchen so she couldn’t get in and I could hear myself and my friend.
Twenty minutes later, as I hung up the phone I noticed how very quiet it was. No sound of Melissa.
I immediately opened the kitchen door to the porch to let her into the house.
Melissa had made a hole in the screen above the plastic barrier and left.
Melissa wasn’t anywhere in the yard.
I was heartbroken. I felt she had run away from home. She had been so angry and so frustrated.
After a good cry, I went out and started calling her. She knows her name, but didn’t always come or respond when called.
I also tried to reach her telepathically, but was unsuccessful. I couldn’t even sense her energy, as I do when I connect telepathically. Clearly, she didn’t want to speak with me at that moment.
No sign of her visually.
The sun was bright and the leaves on the trees made the woods behind my house quite dark. With Melissa’s dark coloring, it would be difficult to see her at all unless she wanted to be seen.
I sat down on the back steps, had another good cry, and began to reconcile myself to the possibility that she wasn’t going to come back.
Melissa brought a lot of past life anger into this life, and her current life seemed to be exacerbating it. I allowed myself to consider that she might be gone for good.
I sat on the back steps facing the woods for some time. At one point I thought I saw her profile in among the shadows of the trees, but it could have been an illusion.
A Tonkinese silhouette seemed to appear once or twice on a downed tree trunk, but instantly disappeared.
Was I imagining it?
I allowed myself to hope just a tiny bit that Melissa was still around the yard, even if hidden.
Melissa weighs only 7.5 pounds. She can be quite invisible, even if she isn’t dimensional shifting. (Yes, some cats can dimensional shift like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.)
I finally came back inside the house, leaving the sliding doors wide open while closing the kitchen door so Starlight couldn’t get out. Starlight didn’t seem at all worried, which was interesting, but not helpful.
I telepathically broadcast to Melissa that I loved her and hoped she’d return. I asked her to please announce herself if and when she wanted to come into the house.
Another 20 minutes went by.
Then I heard Melissa loudly demanding entry at the kitchen door.
Thrilled, I let her in.
Melissa was now a changed cat.
After being outside for 40 minutes Melissa was
peaceful, serene, happy, and quiet.
She was more affectionate, too.
Melissa sat down to groom herself, had some water, and settled contently into a cat bed for a nap.
She wasn’t even hungry, and this was a time of day when she usually wanted a meal. She never did say whether she had hunted successfully, but I suspected she had.
What did this all mean?
I observed Melissa with some amazement. My thoughts rambled.
“Maybe, she really can’t be totally confined as a house cat and be happy.
“Maybe she truly needs to go outside at least some of the time to be happy.
“What’s the point,” I asked myself, “of a long unhappy life of total confinement?
“How can I condemn her to a miserable existence as an inside cat?
“Would I want that kind of life for myself . . . a long, but unhappy life feeling like I was imprisoned?
“Who’s to say that a short life is worse than a long one?
“Do I keep her a prisoner because of my fears for her in the outside world?
“Hattie (semi-feral cat) lived to be 16 years old as a completely outside cat, so it’s possible to have a long life in the outdoors.
“How can I be so cruel as to force Melissa to live an unhappy life of confinement when she is ecstatic after she goes outside?
“She doesn’t have to live outside. She can go out a bit each day for awhile – maybe a half hour or an hour would be enough.
“She hates the harness. Clearly that isn’t working for her because she keeps finding ways to escape.
“She may need to run free to get enough exercise and to live as cats were designed to live.
“Isn’t there more value in a short, happy life, instead of a long miserable one?
“Is it fair to allow my fears for her safety to rule her existence?”
“On the other hand . . .
“Melissa is smart clever and quick.
“Melissa is small enough to squeeze into tight places where a predator can’t fit.
“Melissa can and does jump up high and down without fear, so she can probably find ways to survive.
“Melissa sharpens her hind claws, so that should help her manage trees just fine.”
“On the other hand . . .
“Lack of fear IS a problem. Are her instincts strong enough for her to be afraid at the right times and then know to do to survive?
“Melissa doesn’t have anyone to teach her – no mother cat or siblings or even a friend like Hattie who knows how to survive outside.
“And … Melissa is still a mental teenager, who doesn’t listen to anyone. So maybe it doesn’t matter that there isn’t a teacher around. Maybe I need to trust her instincts.
“Can she figure out how to take care of herself on her own?”
I’m sure many people with cats in their family struggle with this issue. We’re all so programmed to be in fear about everything that happens, fear for ourselves and fear for our animals.
Surely there’s another way to approach a situation like this besides going into fear!
When I tuned into Melissa about her expedition into the woods, here’s what I felt:
She needs the outside world with all its stimulating excitement, opportunities to run madly long distances, and to sit in the grass, and to ground with the earth.
She needs to explore.
She loves the wind in her fur, the cacophony of smells, the constant movement of things, and the nearly infinite number and variety of sounds.
The artificial environment of an inside world is just too boring – too stultifying for her even with Starlight for a playmate.
There’s just no way I can make up for what’s naturally outside. Her feline senses have been well designed and crave the stimulation the out of doors offers.
I wrestled with this issue long and hard, and I thought about the older cats and what they had taught me.
Sakhara had spent the first years of her life before she came to me going outside. She told me later in her life that being confined to the house affected her mental and physical health negatively.
When I started letting her go outside a few years ago, she and Hattie became friends. Hattie gave her and Violet a tour of the woods right behind the house.
Sakhara never went out of the yard and wooded area where I could see her.
She was supremely happy and peaceful after each time she went out.
Cats cleans their digestive system by eating grass and vomiting, so going outside is important for health in that regard as well. Sakhara had a lot of digestive issues, and eating grass really helped her.
Violet had wanted to go out as a kitten, but never broke out of the house to get there.
She adapted well to being indoors, although she told someone in an Animal Communication workshop that she was “going to court” when she was a kitten because I would let her outside.
When I began letting Sakhara out in the yard, Violet went, too. She mostly sat on the stoop in the sun or walked around the yard.
Starlight is a true innocent with no experience being a cat.
Starlight, as her name implies, is not easily grounded. Being outside in the yard helps her ground.
She goes out in a harness with a lead.
She eats grass, chases my lunge whip as a very long snake, and generally like to sniff things.
Will Starlight tolerate Melissa going out loose and accept that she, herself, does not?
A turning point – an experiment begins.
If I want Melissa to be a happy cat, I have to make some changes in her lifestyle.
Melissa is a jungle kitty who is miserable unless she gets outside to run around, explore, climb trees, and hunt.
If this is what it takes to make her happy and keep her fit, then so be it.
I will love her with an open hand and an open heart.
I will move out of fear and into love without restrictions or conditions of any kind.
I will no longer try to turn Melissa into something she isn’t.
I will honor her choices, while at the same time do my best to teach her what I’ve learned from Hattie about being safe outside.
I will supervise, as best I can, when she’s out there, and encourage her to learn what she needs to learn to be safe.
I will do my best to limit the hours of her excursions to broad daylight, and times I can be on the alert.
Night, dawn, and dusk are when predators hunt, so she won’t be allowed out during those times.
If she lives a short life, I will accept that without blaming myself or feeling guilty.
I will know that she was supremely happy and lived the life she chose.
The “call of the wild” was answered, and the experiment began.