For five weeks and two days, Hank Shaw and his girlfriend, Holly Heyser, staked out the Orangevale alley near where they last saw their cat, canvassed the neighborhood, posted fliers and pursued dozens of leads.
They installed a night-vision camera and offered a $300 reward.
As the weeks passed, Shaw said, “it started to look pretty grim.”
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The cat, Harlequin, had come to Shaw and Heyser as a stray when she was a kitten.
That was eight years ago. Last month, while leaving a veterinarian’s office, Shaw, the Orangevale-based author and blogger of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, set Harlequin’s cat carrier on the hood of his Toyota Tacoma.
A technician at the clinic had failed to secure the clasp, he said. Harlequin popped free and ran.
“To say I wanted to throw up would be an understatement,” said Shaw, 44. “That was literally the last I thought I would ever see her again.”
Shaw and Heyser spent 12 hours that day in the alley between the vet’s office and a custom motorcycle shop near Greenback Lane. They did the same thing the next day. They brought a dirty shirt that smelled like them to attract the cat. They went to animal shelters twice a week and scoured lost-and-found postings online.
“It was really, really depressing and horrible,” said Heyser, 49.
But on Memorial Day, a break.
When Shaw woke up that morning, Heyser, a magazine editor at California Waterfowl Association, a nonprofit hunting and conservation organization, had scrawled on a refrigerator message board that she was “on a cat call.”
A woman in the trailer park near the vet’s office had found what had become known in the neighborhood as the “$300 cat.”
“It turned out to be a miracle,” Shaw said. “It was her.”
Harlequin – black with a white bib and mustache – has lost weight but is otherwise healthy, Shaw said.
The couple gratefully paid the woman the reward.
“I’m not really the most emotional guy in the world, but I really love this cat,” Shaw said. “In the grand scheme of personal tragedies, a lost cat is pretty common and pretty minor compared to all the other tragedies people can endure. But it still hurts.”
On Monday, exuberant, Shaw turned to Facebook.
“One of the happiest days of my life,” he wrote. “Harlequin is back!!!!”