Losing my beloved cat helped restore my faith in the goodness of people

A black and white cat sits on a laptop computer.
Even if Paula McHugh Grudić is not reunited with her missing cat, she says she has come to appreciate the good people around her. (Submitted by Paula McHugh Grudić)

This is a First Person column by Paula McHugh Grudić, a teacher in Corner Brook, N.L. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Late on the night of July 3, our sweet 10-year-old cat, Gracie, slipped out our briefly-opened front door and disappeared into the inky night. My knees turned to jelly when just a short time later I realized that she was missing.

Panic took over as we grabbed flashlights and called family to come help us search for her in our neighbourhood in Corner Brook, a city on Newfoundland’s west coast.

Many can empathize with the shock and upset that envelops a person when a feline or canine family member goes missing, and then evades all attempts to get them back. 

My life is now a carefully organized regimen of helping set humane cat traps, checking them regularly during the night, setting cameras, packing bait and treats, and hoping to see the familiar black-and-white fur of my sweet Gracie.

I never dreamed I would be spending my summer break from teaching high school as a relentlessly dedicated cat hunter, aided by unwavering Samantha, a member of a small but resolute local cat rescue group with scores of reunifications to their credit.

It consumes my every waking moment and even enters my dreams. I could also never have imagined that family, friends, and complete strangers would reach out to help in so many ways. 

Questioning the goodness of humanity

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent fallout of absurd conspiracy theories, nationwide blockades and pigeonholing of maskers versus anti-maskers have all taken a toll. I have always been a trusting individual — a colleague dubbed me the Patron Saint of Lost Causes — but I found myself in an emotional vortex of disillusionment and lost faith as the pandemic wore us down.

A woman stands in front of a tree holding a large wire-made cage. She wears a ball cap and a black jacket.
Paula McHugh Grudić has been using humane cat traps to look for her missing cat. The help of friends and stranger alike has restored her belief in people’s innate kindness. (Submitted by Paula McHugh Grudić)

I started to question the innate goodness of humanity. I wondered who was deserving of my trust. I looked at some people through a lens of suspicion, even cynicism: Did he refuse to wear a mask in close quarters? Did she really believe that world leaders were attempting to “cull the herd?” Have they become ardent followers of politicians who’ve been proven to be discriminatory and even racist?

For the first time, I began to question my long-held belief that most humans are, at their core, benevolent and egalitarian.

I pondered moving to a more secluded environment, away from the “selfish throng” — such was my growing skepticism of the motives of others. I simply no longer trusted all people to do the right thing: to look out for others, as we always had.

Then I lost my cat. 

Unselfish and generous

Now, as I spend my summer days and nights searching for Gracie the Escapist, I see the truth once again: people are so good. They are kind. They are unselfish and generous, even noble.

A black and white cat rests on the seat of a chair.
Gracie, a 10-year-old cat, ran away from Paula McHugh Grudić’s home in July. The search for her has revealed the best of her neighbours’ qualities. (Submitted by Paula McHugh Grudić)

Complete strangers reached out to me, offering to search, extending an invitation to set a trap on their property for as long as it takes, sharing tips about possible sightings and just offering encouragement.

A busy physician who lives nearby tweeted that she was out looking for my cat as she walked during the evening. A young mother texted me to tell me that her young children and their cousins had been looking for Gracie every evening.

Former students have forwarded pictures of cats resembling our wandering kitty. Colleagues have checked in to see how they can help. Twitter friends check in daily for updates, and share stories of the-cat-that-came-back (just not the very next day) and to encourage me to keep the faith.

My family has conducted late-night searches with flashlights and optimism guiding them through the neighbourhood jungle and its million hiding places.

All of the acts have sustained me as I cope with fatigue, frustration, fear and even grief — for yes, we do grieve for the loss of our pets.

Again, lest you think I am insensitive to the greater losses of others, I know that there are far, far worse things that people must endure by comparison, but nobody wants to lose their companion animal.

Gracie is an animal, and this loss cannot be compared to losing a human. It still smarts, though. 

Gracie is still missing. I still hope that one morning I will hear her distinctive “squeak” (she never quite mastered a full “meow”) at my door, and find her grimier, thinner, but safe and uninjured, home again after her adventure.

Whatever the outcome, I emerge from this trial with my faith in the kindness of others renewed. Cats will wander, it seems,oblivious to the family waiting for them. They may not be seen again.

People will show their true colours when others are in need. The pandemic has not stripped us of our humanity after all.

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