Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Saga of Harriett in the Big Bad Golf Course

Last month I posted a story about the three month ordeal I endured in the summer of 2009 when my beloved cat Buddy Lee got lost in the woods of Yosemite.  I have since received comments from a reader named Nathalie who is currently trying to recover her own cat who is lost in the crowded busy neighborhood near her house.

In an effort to give Nathalie hope and also to preserve for posterity the saga of my little bitty kitty Harriett I give you the saga of Harriett in the big bad golf course...

This is Harriett

My Dad and I found Harriett in the summer of 2002.  We were on a routine run to Home Depot and waiting at an intersection when my Dad looked down and saw two little eyes peering up from the storm drain below.  Dad jumped out of the car and reached down into the gutter and pulled what honestly looked like a 1 lb version of Gollum from the "Lord of the Rings" out of the muck.  We blew off Home Depot and took the little naked mole rat masquerading as a cat home and then to the vet and over the course of several days nursed it...her...back to health.  My Dad cleaned the mites out of her ears every day and my mom fed her with a bottle.  

In time she turned into the furry fruit bat looking creature pictured above.  She had some special needs, which included a tick and a propensity to walk sideways, thus solidifying her nicknames of "Gollum" and "Smeagol".  Our giant Great Dane/Bull Mastiff mix named Snuggles adored her and they became the best of friends and all was right with the world...at least in the Braun family home.  

Then in December of 2005 all was suddenly not right with the world.  My friend Alise, who was about to leave for Cambodia for research was spending the weekend at my house.  We decided to put up a Christmas Tree.  Well, in the process of bringing in the Christmas tree I left the back door open...

A day later my mom asked if anyone had seen Harriett.  As Harriett is prone to hiding anyway, none of us had really thought much of the fact that we hadn't seen her.  A little while later my mom thought she saw a fight between a portly orange cat and our little Harriett on the fence behind the house through her bedroom window.  We immediately searched the house...no Harriett.

My mom was distraught.  I felt sick with guilt.  My Grandma turned to prayer.  My Dad turned to a million candlepower flashlight.  Alise was in Cambodia and had bigger problems.  

Our first lead was the fact that my mom had seen Harriett dart off into the golf course behind our house after the altercation with the fat Garfield cat.  So we set up base camp.  We took blankets and sleeping bags and set up a base of operations on the back porch so that should Harriett want to just come wandering back to us she would know where to find us.

Suffice it to say that sleeping outside in December on your back porch is miserable and move on...

My next step was to hop the fence into the golf course the next day and look for Harriett.  Seeting how heartbroken my mom was and knowing how terrified Harriett must be (wherever she was) I began frantically searching the area of the golf course along the property line with our house.  Now in theory this search was a good idea...except that the manner in which I chose to do it was perhaps less than well thought out.  I got a machete from the garage and began walking along the hedges and frantically slashing at the brush trying to reveal where Harriett might be hiding.  In hindsight I realize that this could have very easily resulted in me injuring myself or the cat...but desperation makes you do crazy things...obviously.  After hours of slashing through hedges and bushes and small tree branches I stepped back and surveyed the damage.  I had made the area around the 9th hole look like it had been carpet bombed by a C-130 cargo plane in Vietnam.  Then I ran.

The next night as we were camped out on the back porch once more my mom began calling Harriett's name.  After about thirty minutes we heard something.  It was her meow.  It was her distinctive little chirp of a meow.  My mom called out her name again but we didn't hear anything.  Maybe it was another cat.  Maybe it was out imaginations.  We waited a bit and then my mom called out her name again and again and alternated between saying her name, her best cat friend's name Buddy Lee and her best doggy pal's name Snuggles.  We waited a second and then heard her little chirp again.

This went on for three days and we couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from.  The acoustics in the golf course behind our house made it impossible to know where she was.  For three more nights we camped out on the freezing porch calling her name and then climbing over into the golf course with the flashlights to look at her and thoroughly irritating our neighbors.

I can't speak for my parents or my grandmother but I suspect they felt like me.  I could not give up.  I had to find Harriett.  We couldn't lose her right before Christmas.  Well, we couldn't lose her period.  I had not slept in five days.  I had not eaten in five days.  I had leaves in my hair and I had vandalized a public golf course...I was going to find that cat.  As I was having a Scarlet O'Hara moment on my porch, shaking my fist at the moon my Dad came running back from the golf course yelling that he had found her!

He had found her!  Where was she?  Of course...she was at the top of a seventy foot pine tree about 100 yards from our back porch.  A seventy foot pine tree with no branch lower than ten fee off of the ground.  Fabulous.

So I did what any rational, sane person would do.  I called the fire department.  Well, I learned very quickly that contrary to popular belief the fire department does not actually get cats out of trees.  Apparently, it is considered a waste of tax payers dollars and it would be too dangerous to risk driving the fire engine across the golf course and getting it stuck in one of the sand traps.  My Dad had an alternate plan...he was going to climb the tree.  He went and got a ladder.  Remember this tree is seventy feet tall.  All I heard in my internal monologue were the words..."Sweet Jesus"

I of course did the next best thing a sane, rational person would do after being rejected by the fire department.  I pitched a tent...in the golf course...at the base of the tree, so that just in case Harriett managed to come down we would be there for you.

Sometime around four or five in the morning a golf cart with it's headlights on cruised up along side of our campsite and then sped away.  A few minutes later two gold carts came back...apparently the driver of the first decided he needed back-up.

"Excuse me...ma'am, ma'am...why are you sleeping in the gold course?" called the man from the first cart.

"My cat is in the tree!"  I yelled back.

"Are you homeless?" the hollered at me.

"Me?  No...I live right there in that house.  I motioned over to my 6,000 square foot house."

"Are you the doctor's daughter?"

"Granddaughter."

There was a pause.

"Well, you can't sleep in the golf course."

This hollering back and forth was getting tiresome.  I got out of my sleeping bag and walked over to the golf carts.  I explained that I had been searching for my cat for five days and that I was so close that I couldn't walk away now.  I then think I might have fallen to my knees and begged for help from the golf course manager.

He looked at me with pity and then said that he would need me off the golf course by the time the first golfers got to the ninth hole.  At this point I said, "You wouldn't happen to have a cherry picker or anything that we could use to get up there and get my cat do you?"

"No we don't but we have the tree trimmers coming today to clean up that area over there..." he motioned to the hedgerow I had absolutely obliterated four days earlier.  "It's the weirdest thing...must have been the wind."

"Yeah that is weird..." I said trying to look as perplexed about it as he was.

An hour later the tree trimmers with their cherry picker rolled in.  The cavalry had arrived.  The manager had explained my plight to the tree trimmers already but as they cruised in like the SWAT team I fell to my knees once more pleading, "Seniors, seniors...my gatito es arriba en el arbol...por favor...necessito su ayuda!"

They obliged me.  And with my mom, my dad, the golf course manager, the head of security for the golf course and me watching they planted the legs of the cherry picker and began raising the bucket up to the highest branch in the tree.  The intrepid tree trimmer Javier had leather gloves and a cat carrier and was ready for business.  Just as Javier was within arm's reach of Harriett she panicked.  She ran to the end of the branch and fell...falling almost seventy feet to the ground below.  I almost couldn't look.  My mom screamed.  The golf course manager yelled "Aye dios mio!".  It couldn't end like this!

It didn't.  Harriett somehow managed to land on all fours and then what did she do next?  She bolted up the next tree over, a sixty-five foot Ponderosa Pine.  She scaled that thing like Spiderman climbing up the face of the Empire State Building.  

Javier was undaunted.  His partner Marco repositioned the cherry picker and Javier ascended to the heavens once again to attempt to get Harriett for a second time.  It was inspiring to watch.  This time if Javier failed and Harriett fell out of the tree again there was no way she would live...she had to have used up all of her nine lives by now.

As Javier approached Harriett in the bucket attached to the massive mechanical arm the second time Harriett froze.  Javier reached for her and started to guide her into the cat carrier.  We were almost there.  Just another inch or two...so close...but just when it looked like it was going to be okay Harriett freaked out and fought and then fell sixty-five feet to ground below landing on her side.  We all cringed, assuming the worst but no sooner did Harriett hit the ground with a thud than she popped back and up and started running at full speed toward our backyard.

I was standing the farthest from our backyard and stood there slightly dumbfounded as I saw my dad take off running after Harriett, followed by my mom, followed by the manager of the golf course, followed by the director of security for the golf course, followed by the man who had been operating the cherry picker.  Javier was still up in the bucket.  It was surreal.  I then shook my head and followed in pursuit.

I saw Harriett jump over the fence to our backyard and then with the agility and swiftness of a cat my Dad somehow leaped over the fence and landed on top of Harriett with his full weight.  Okay, now the cat was definitely dead.  But as soon as the dust cleared Harriett wriggled out from underneath my Dad's weight and shot like a bullet towards the back porch.  At this point I thought we had lost her for good.  She was so traumatized there was no way we were getting her back now.

But no sooner had I said that then I saw that Snuggles the Great Dane/Bull Mastiff and Ling our Chow had cornered her under a bunch.  My mom swooped in and grabbed Harriett in a towel and rushed her inside the house.

A few minutes later she was curled up in my mom's arms next to the Christmas tree telling her all about her ordeal.  That night I was able to sleep, with Judy Garland crooning "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" from my iPod, and safe in the knowledge that once again...all was right with the world.  


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