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A Year with Gypsy

Gypsy cat with map

If you’ve been following us on social media for a while, you may have noticed a lack of kitten pictures in the past few months. The little Gypsy cat that abruptly appeared in our lives the previous year made just as an abrupt disappearance in December.  We didn’t post publicly about it because it hurt too much and that’s also why it’s taken so long to write anything about it. No matter how long you get to spend with a pet, they become part of the family and leave a little kitty-shaped hole. I think it’s extra hard when you feel responsible.

It all started with this scrawny, little kitten that jumped out of our generator bay in Ohio. She hung around the RV asking for food and being curious about us. Brandon sat outside coaxing her closer over many days and when he was finally able to give her a pet, she was instantly all over him. It was fall and the campground would be closing for the season soon and we knew we couldn’t leave her. We didn’t really want to bring another cat into our household, though. We already have another much older cat and two dogs; it seemed a bit much for the RV to add another. Thankfully, we were on our way to visit my mom and she lined up a home for the little kitten. Unfortunately, the guy who took her brought her back the next day saying his allergies couldn’t take it. At this point, we didn’t have the heart to leave her at a shelter and she had wiggled her way into our hearts. She was ours.

She was so little when we found her that we thought she was three months old, but when we took her to the vet her teeth showed a different story. She was actually six months old with adult teeth! Who knew how long she had been surviving out there without her mother or siblings. She was given a clean bill of health and we took her home to introduce her to the other animals (we tried to separate her until tested). Our older cat Dylan surprised us by how much he took to her. The last time we tried to bring another cat into the mix, he wasn’t having it. That stray ended up with a neighbor. Mind you that was over 10 years ago, but we had never tried since. Dylan actually followed her around and wanted to play, pretty good for a geriatric cat. Lucy, too, wanted to play with her, but Gypsy did not care about this dog whatsoever. Our dog Kona felt the same way about her, not interested. At. All. Oddly enough, she actually took a shining to Kona and it was like she was determined to make him a friend. Or torture him, you never can quite tell with a cat.

Her Crazy Personality

We soon learned two things: what it is like to have a kitten again and that Gypsy had her own personality. All our other animals being eight years old and up had already taken on a relaxed demeanor at home. Gypsy wanted to play all the time. She would actually play fetch with us which is more than I can say for our dogs. She also liked to go on walks trying to keep up with Kona. We even took her with us when we walked over 5 miles of trails in Gulf Shores, AL. She was falling behind by the end, but she was determined to walk and not be carried.

When we first got her, she was food crazy. I’m sure in her first few months of life she had to eat whenever she had the chance and she still had that mentality. At my mom’s house, she got into a bag of Hershey’s kisses destined for cookies. We came home to an insane cat who kept running circles around the house and on top of the kitchen counters. A couple of months later she kept trying to sneak dough balls for our Taco Tuesday and hide them behind the computer monitor.  Neither of these are typical cat treats and Dylan had no interest in either of them. I think she finally learned she would be fed and backed down after a while.

We joked about renting her out to other RVers to find holes in their RVs because she made sure to find everyone she could in ours. We spent the night once in a very tight campground and didn’t bother to put out one slide. Gypsy always liked to run on top of the slides when they were out, so this gave her even more room to play. It also gave her access to fall down beside the fridge (on purpose) and go through the access panel into the bowels of the RV. We tried to reach her from all our storage bays, but couldn’t. We finally had to take an access panel off, pull out all the insulation, and then coax her with treats to get past the plumbing. After that, she knew she could get to that secret space by falling down beside the fridge, even when the slide was out and we had to stuff all the gaps with reflectix, maps, boxes, and whatever else we had to block the munchkin. And when we got the new RV, she immediately dove headfirst through the brush area that hid the slide mechanism.  She was definitely an explorer just like us.

What Happened

It was the new RV and new processes that gave us trouble. We had only been in it a couple of weeks when she got out. On our previous RV, the plastic cover on the screen could stay closed when the screen door was in use. The handle was below it. In our new RV, you must open that little plastic cover to access the handle every time you go in or out. We were not used to closing it yet. In addition, Gypsy had seen us sliding it back and forth and had tried to paw it open.

The fateful day, I became engrossed in making a dash cover to protect it from cat claws and didn’t notice Gypsy missing until I went to feed her. The plastic cover on the door was open! Was it me? Did I forget to shut it or did she open it? She has run out before, but usually just goes under the RV next door and comes right to me when called. She wasn’t under the RV next door and I couldn’t find her in the park. Some new friends returned from kayaking and said they spotted her hours earlier on their way out to the bay (they had not met her yet and didn’t know it was Gypsy). This meant she had time to wander. Brandon was out-of-town, so a couple of them offered to help me look for her. We walked the campground with treats and lights as it was rapidly getting dark. To make matters worse, this campground has mobile home parks on both sides of it that were closing. A lot of the residents had already moved out and there were open holes leading under the trailers. There were so many places to hide. We didn’t have any luck that night.

Brandon wasn’t returning for another few days and I took that time to make posters, search all three communities, and call the shelters. All my efforts proved fruitless. When doing some online research about ways to find cats, I came across the idea of using a pet detective. They can help with the best methods to use for a search and some also have search and/or tracker dogs. I called for information and while we were hesitant at first, we decided to hire the dogs. We chose this option for a couple of reasons. One is if she had been in an accident or fallen ill, we knew we wouldn’t hesitate on treatment at any cost. And the other was as full-time RVers, we have a limited time frame within which to work. When I was a kid, my cat slipped out and disappeared for three months only to show back up on our porch one day. We didn’t have the luxury of months. Unfortunately, we could not get an appointment until the next week. She suggested we keep looking, handing out flyers, talking to neighbors, use wildlife cameras, and set a humane trap for the cat. We saw other cats and many raccoons on the cameras, but never Gypsy.

The Pet Detective

The pet detective arrived and brought her bloodhounds and smaller trailing dog with her. We used the kitty condo Gypsy had been sleeping in for her scent. We waited while the dogs each had a turn. All three dogs followed a similar trail down towards the water and then into the mobile home park next door. But the trail seemed to stop 3 homes in. The last intact home in the row had the decking pulled making it easy access to the crawl space. It was empty, but had a phone number for sale. Happily, when we called it, it was a gentleman who lived in the park and was sympathetic to our cause. He had actually called us earlier to report a cat that might be Gypsy. He let us set up a camera and trap around the home.

The pet detective also found some feces which she said looked like coyote and some white fur in an open area. We were hoping it was unrelated and we could focus on this new lead, but she took them with her for further comparison to the sample of Gypsy’s fur. We didn’t have any luck with the house and on the day we left, we received news that the fur appeared to match Gypsy’s. I was devastated. We were heading out to the desert to spend a few weeks with friends and then would be returning to the park. It was hard leaving that day without her and hearing this news made the drive feel even longer. I put on a smile and socialized with everyone as you don’t get this chance often when you’re on the road. I partied like everyone else on New Year’s Eve, but when it continued on New Year’s night, I couldn’t drag myself out of the RV. There was something about starting the New Year without her that seemed so final and depressing.

Too bright!

We went on to spend some time in Yuma and Quartzsite with friends. I was so grateful to have them and at the same time, I just wanted to wallow in my guilt and grief and didn’t feel like I was giving them 100% of my attention. Just a few weeks after we left San Diego, we headed back to meet some family and more friends. Being in the park, walking past where the fur was found, and seeing my poster still in the laundry was hard. I knew she was most likely not there and Brandon always hopes she left with some other RVers (maybe crawling up in the genny like she did with us), but leaving the second time felt final. We didn’t know if we’d ever be back. The only glimmer of hope is she is microchipped if she ever does pop-up and someone takes her to the vet.

No one wants to lose a pet, but as full-time travelers, I think it’s even more stressful. You don’t live long-term in the area or know it that well, you don’t have a regular community for support, and you’re in a race against time. The visitors, residents, staff, and security were all very helpful to us calling in tips and being on the look-out (on the other hand, management was rude), but they’re not your friends and neighbors that you’ve known for years. They may change daily.

As our pets age and acquire more ailments, we need to brace ourselves for more loss. That’s the kicker, though, with Gypsy she was the young rascal. I wasn’t expecting to lose her. While writing this, the news of Prince’s death has broken. To quote him, “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” I wish you had a longer one, sweetheart.

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