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Snowdrift, the lost cat that didn't really want to be found

Jennifer Wing
I passed this with my kids as we were walking home from the park. Lucy pointed to it and said, "Mommy, I think that's Snowdrift." It was.

If you've ever lost a pet and were lucky enough to find it, you know the sharp pain of expecting the worst and then the huge wave of relief when you are reunited with animal. I experienced this roller coaster so many times I lost count.

These searches and reunions involved the same animal; a cat named Snowdrift.  This clever little cat was technically lost, a lot, and I’m not so certain he ever really wanted to be found, by me.

Almost from the very beginning, Snowdrift had to be out exploring. The phone rang because of him more than anyone else in our house.  Voicemails stacked up on the line keeping track of what he’d been up to.

Sometimes he was frightening the small children next door: “Hey guys, this is Angela . I was calling because Snowdrift has been in the house and Maya and her play date are terrified and he won’t leave.”  

Other times he hopped into cars to go home with strangers who lived miles away: “Hey George and Jennifer we have never met, but we have met Snowdrift!”

Credit Jennifer Wing / KPLU

  Before we get into all of his adventures, the frustration and anguish he caused and his secret life,  Snowdrift started out at a six week old kitten from the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma.

Our old cat died. Our daughter Lucy started looking at ads for kittens on Craigslist. She instantly fell in love when she laid eyes on a photo of a grey tabby with a pink nose. We let her name him and she chose, Snowdrift.

“We didn’t know he was a boy so we got him pink everything. A pink bed, pick pom poms, pink toys,” says Lucy.

Credit Jennifer Wing / KPLU

  George, my husband, made sure we were extra careful walking around the house.  He remembers Snowdrift, “was this tiny little cotton ball. My main concern was someone would step on him and kill him with a single step because he was the size of a small plum.”

One of the first things we did when we brought Snowdrift home was give him a bath and pick dozens of fleas off his eight ounce body. He was absolutely adorable. At night we’d put him in bed with Lucy hoping the two would bond.

“All of a sudden I could see his tail twitching and he’d start biting and scratching,” says Lucy, “He would just go bonkers.”

Like clockwork, Lucy would call out, “Mommy, can you take Snowdrift out of my room?” This playful assault happened night after night.

When Snowy was about three months he would slip past our legs and go out the front door or hop out of windows that were two stories up.  After he got his first taste of hunting he could not be contained.

"I remember when he got his first mouse and I tried to take it away from him and this deep guttural growl came deep from within, GRRRR, and he would not let me have his mouse and he ran off and ate it. I think he was only a few months old. He loved it," George recalled.

Credit Jennifer Wing / KPLU

He’d bring small birds into our bathroom leaving a mess of feathers, two little toothpick legs and the head. Then, he moved up a size and started attacking our neighbor’s chickens.

The voicemails started getting angry: “Hello, it’s the people down the street, that have had a problem with your cat for about four months.”

NEXT MESSAGE  “Your cat got into the yard again and I’ve called several times about this and this is my final call if we could figure out some way to have your cat not eat my chickens!”

It was a bad day when our neighbor marched down the street to tell us Snowdrift ate a toe off of one of his chickens.

"Yep," George said."We paid the vet bill and the chicken did appear to be missing a toe."

We tried to keep the cat inside, but he kept escaping and terrorizing the same flock of chickens. He chased one hen down 45th Street to Dick’s Burgers. Another time, he scared one into the Guild 45th movie theater.

One of the hens was so frightened, it crossed a busy road, and ended up at a taco shop. Some customers took her to their home in Seatac. Our neighbor eventually got her back after posting a 100 dollar reward on Craigslist. Snowdrift was becoming a menace.

It was around this time he would disappear for hours and hours. He’d always come back. The days stretched into the evenings, the evenings would blur into the early morning hours and then the phone started to ring:

NEXT MESSAGE SENT ON TUESDAY JULY 23RD AT 3:23 AM: “Hi there my name is Kat and I found your cat. I work at the Iron Bull on 45th and Bagley. Yeah, and I’m not really sure what to do. And I believe I’ve seen this cat before. He likes to come over to our bar.”

The Iron Bull Sports Bar, Al’s, a pub around the corner and Changes on 45th, started calling, wondering what to do with this cat who didn’t want to leave. Changes was Snowdrift’s favorite place. There are three 50 gallon fish tanks in Changes. It’s like premium cable TV for cats.

Credit Kelly Cassady
Snowdrift with Scott Murray, a regular at Changes.

NEXT MESSAGE: “Hey George and Jennifer, hey Snowball is at Changes again, He’s over here looking at the fish. So, if you’re wondering where he’s here. He doesn’t want to seem to leave today though. He just wants to hunt fish.”

We’d get the call, and march over to collect our cat. As soon as we turned the corner and got within sight of our house Snowdrift would start attacking our heads and scramble out of our arms to hide under the nearest bush.

George remembers the day when we stopped making this journey. He went to Changes to fetch Snowdrift from the back patio, “I made my way back there and I found him in the arms of two very large women who were cuddling him and blowing pot smoke into his face and he was purring and seemed incredibly content. And I thought maybe there’s not a problem here. And I think I just left.”

At Changes, Snowdrift found his people. At Changes, people called him Snowball, The Wallingford Bar Cat.

Snowball would sleep all day next to the fish tanks and snuggle on people’s laps. He even got along with the dogs some of the regulars brought in. This cat that drew blood from us at home, was a different animal here.

He's pretty sweet. Like if you capture him, you could pet him," Alison said, who's a regular at Changes.

Another patron, Deborah, says, “He really wanted to cuddle, If you had your jacket unzipped, he’d climb in and cuddle he was so sweet.”

Allison remembers the day when everyone feared for Snowball’s life. He crossed 45th and made it through the double doors at Murphy’s, the Irish bar across the street from Changes.

“Is Snowball okay?”

Why them and not us? One person who might have an answer is Kat Albrecht, the the founder of Missing Pet Partnership. She’s also a Pet Detective Academy Instructor. She teaches other people to help families find their lost pets. Albrecht know why animals run away and the tricks to get them back.  

She suspects, “The behavior you saw with Snowdrift was not that he didn’t love your family, not that he didn’t want to live in your house, but that he was too afraid because something traumatic had happened and he associated you and your family and coming into your house with that experience and wanted to get away each time.”

We did not abuse this cat. We treated him well. George suspects it was the other beast in our house that drove Snowdrift away.

“Well, we got a dog.”

But that doesn't really make sense, because Snowy got along with the dogs people brought into Changes.  Maybe it was our young kids?  

"Maybe he was more jealous than he appeared to be," George wondered.

Or perhaps we just weren’t enough.  George says that for Snowdrift, the world was this beautiful adventure and we were the most boring part of it,  “I think that bar, Changes, was more exciting than staying at home and eating kibble. So good for him. He saw the world on his own terms.”

But Albrecht says Snowdrift’s rejection of us was wasn’t his first choice. She says all it takes for some cats to run away is one, bad fight with another cat.

“Many times cats get pushed from their own territory when they get beat up by another cat. And when they are pushed from their territory, they are often times going to be too afraid to come back to that territory.”

If this is what happened to Snowdrift, that he got turfed out by a bigger, meaner cat, then 45th Street, where Changes is, was clearly his new territory. He owned that strip.

Credit Jennifer Wing / KPLU

  If you go there today, you won’t find him.

The very last call we got about Snowdrift came from a young couple who live about six blocks from us. He was hanging out in their yard. He ate a nest of baby hummingbirds in their tree. They overlooked this and saw him for the beautiful small, grey striped tabby he is and asked if they could keep him. It was time for us to let him go.

When I went there with the kids to say goodbye, Snowy took one look at us and dived under the sofa.  

Snowdrift’s new life does not include a dog. There aren’t any children. Somehow they are keeping him indoors where he gets to look at a fish tank.

His new life also includes a new name, Babau. It means precious treasure in Chinese.

This story is dedicated to all of the people who brought Snowdrift home, safe and sound, and to our neighbors who were incredibly patient.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.