Last Saturday, Ally Schweitzer was returning from a run when she spotted a neighbor “fussing over this cat.” The cat, a ginger tabby, looked too healthy to be a stray, but it was collarless. Schweitzer, who works as an editor and reporter at the Washington, D.C., public radio station WAMU, took the cat into her apartment.
Later that day, she began putting posters around the neighborhood. The next afternoon, she discovered that one of her posters had won her an impassioned note: “Please set Scotch free!” it read. “You may traumatize a cat by suddenly capturing it.”
“I was really upset by the note,” Schweitzer said. “I was like, oh my God, I feel like a horrible person.” She went to 26th Street NW and knocked on doors, asking whether anyone knew a family called the Johnsons. When she had no luck, she hit D.C. property records, finding no one by that name on 26th Street. Later that evening, “after a period of deep internal conflict,” Schweitzer put the cat outside.
Even if she’d wanted to keep “Scotch Johnson,” she couldn’t — her boyfriend, David Schlank, is “crazy allergic” to cats, Schweitzer (who I’ve worked with) said. But she still felt terrible. “I basically just plopped the cat down and felt horrible about it,” she said. “I even went to my therapist appointment on Monday morning and talked about the cat the whole time.”On Monday evening, Schlank called. The cat was back. Schweitzer called shelters. One across the river in Arlington, Virginia, told her it was “high cat season” and that no one would adopt a cat this time of year. “Scotch” slept in the enclosed courtyard of Schweitzer and Schlank’s building that night. The next morning, she borrowed a cat carrier and took him to a veterinarian to see if he’d been microchipped.
I asked her how someone who wasn’t a pet owner even thought to do that. “I’m generally aware of them as something used by affluent and/or attentive pet owners,” she said, adding that she’d noticed he’d been neutered. A few minutes after the vet scanned “Scotch,” Schweitzer’s phone rang. “Hi, this is Guy Raz,” the caller said. “You have my cat.”
“I know you!” Schweitzer exclaimed to the NPR host. “I work at an NPR station!”
“That doesn’t actually happen that often,” Raz said.
Raz had been on vacation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks until that Sunday night. An NPR intern had volunteered to watch his house, but the cat, whose name is in fact Huckle, had managed to make an escape anyway. Raz lives about three blocks away from Schweitzer but had not seen her signs, which were off his usual ambit.
There’s been some tension in the Raz house lately, he explained: His family’s other cat, Alice, is very territorial, and after a brief peace, had once again begun hissing at Huckle. They adopted Alice in 2003 when Raz was stationed in London; he was in Iraq when his wife got her. Alice has followed them to Boston and Jerusalem, where the family adopted another stray, who they named Lucy. (Lucy couldn’t hack being around Alice, either, and now lives with a neighbor who renamed her Gabby.)
Huckle came from a D.C. shelter, and there is still a touch of the wild about him, Raz said — he is “very adept at getting his collar off,” and he’d escaped on another occasion, but was found by a couple who also located his owner via microchip.
The Raz household has a cat flap on the back door, and Raz figures Huckle hopped the fence after freeing himself from his collar yet again. “Huckle was born in the streets,” Raz said. “He’s a very sweet and loving cat but I think he just — you know the song ‘Don’t Fence Me In?’ He’s all about exploring.”
Raz and his two sons came to Schweitzer’s house this past Tuesday night to pick up Huckle. “We got to her house, and you could see the look on Huckle’s face: ‘I escaped from you,’” Raz said. He and Schweitzer didn’t talk shop — “most of the talk at my place revolved around the cat,” she said — and she offered to look after Huckle the next time Raz’s family went out of town. “I was delighted,” he said.
Any such caretaking will take place at Raz’s place. Huckle may find future escapes difficult, perhaps even humiliating: “I’ve finally purchased a collar I think he can’t get off,” Raz said. “Unfortunately it’s pink and has a flower on it.”