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Gracie Among Us

Natalie Torta, C'24


Hey Mounties! Welcome back to my page. I hope you took my advice in last week’s post and tackled that thing you’ve been avoiding. If not, it’s never too late to start! This week’s post is going to be a little more action-packed that usual – you can thank my cat, Gracie, for that, considering she orchestrated this mess.

First, I’ll start with a little backstory. One of the downsides of remote learning is getting all the emails about campus events but not being able to attend any of them. Especially with the pandemic, if distance wasn’t an obstacle, getting a COVID test in a timely manner and the quarantine process before and after the trip certainly are. It was a downside that I had full knowledge of and fully agreed to, but that was before I quit the cheerleading team right before the Mount made both the men and women’s NCAA tournaments – talk about bad timing. When I was on campus, my weekends and free time were filled in pretty much entirely by these activities. Bingo, walking trails, hall decorating – I didn’t really do much else for entertainment. My friends on campus occasionally FaceTime me from those events, most recently the men’s basketball watch party. It was exciting and it was sweet of them to think of including me, but it just wasn’t the same.

Now that I’m remote, I’m limited to the excitement at my house, which almost completely comprises whatever is happening in my siblings lives. My “fun” now includes high school lacrosse games, middle school plays, and post-dinner walks through my neighborhood with my parents. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to spend time with my family and be there for my sisters’ milestones, but it all just become a little predictable after a while. One thing that has recently upped the chaos factor in our home, however, was the addition of a cat: Gracie. It’s kind of a funny story as to how she came to live with us, at least I think so. Around September or October, Gracie was discovered in the woods surrounding the Mount, somewhere closer to Emmitsburg. The story is that she followed some guys back to McCaffrey Hall when they returned to their dorms after longboarding. She was then entrusted to some irritated STEM majors who took her after having their 3AM study session disrupted by someone riding their longboard down the hallways. The next morning, Gracie was in a box on my lap on her way to Harrisburg, where I was planning on spending the weekend at home, though not in the company of a stray cat desperately needing an escape.

The plan was to take her to the vet, get her vaccinated, and then rehome her. Unfortunately for my dad and our two dachshunds, all of whom barely tolerate cats, Gracie became a permanent fixture in our home. The weekend ended and I went back to school, meanwhile, Gracie began to familiarize herself with her new environment. I spent the next few weeks anxiously monitoring the Emmitsburg lost pet pages, hoping that no one would report Gracie missing. In the end, no reports were made, so we went ahead with the vet appointments. We bought her a purple collar with a bell on it (a necessary embellishment, since she was so quiet it was creepy) and prayed that the dogs would get used to her. While they may still be adjusting, my dad has definitely warmed up to having her around. Speaking of adjusting, Gracie didn’t fully settle in to our home until a few months later, so she didn’t show much of her personality until around the end of the semester. At that point, I had just made the decision to go remote for the spring semester, so I was feeling a little preemptive homesickness for the Mount. I moved all of my things back home, worried that Gracie wouldn’t really know who I was since I hadn’t spent any time with her. Luckily, she and I were able to adjust to the house together, her with a new home and me with remote learning. I like to think that she and I went remote together, each helping the other figure out this new environment.

While I eventually got the hang of at-home college, Gracie’s curiosity knows no bounds. Once she got comfortable with the house, she got too comfortable, popping up everywhere. As I’m sure any cat owners have learned, their pets are the most curious about the places they are not supposed to be. For Gracie, this means stirring drinks with her paw on the kitchen table, torturing the beta fish from her perch on top of the tank, and, most frequently, exploring the basement. Our basement, though technically finished, is a maze of rooms that once had specific purposes for the previous homeowner, but now consist of miscellaneous storage locations, an art area, and canned food overstock, among dozens of other things. Most recently, it has become Gracie’s self-declared personal playground. This is problematic for several reasons. First, the furnace room and electric are down there, so Gracie, who likes to chew on wires and wedge herself into tight spaces, could actually hurt herself. Second, she’s only eleven months old, still a kitten, so she can’t really meow yet. Instead, she makes quiet squeaks or, when she really wants to be heard, a noise that can only be described as a squawk, so we can’t follow her sound to find her. Finally, as I mentioned before, the basement is a maze and she could be in any of a number of rooms, further confined to a box, closet, drawer, or storage bin. In short, once she goes down there, the only thing that gets her to come back is the sound of the Pupperoni bag being shaken (yes, she likes the dogs’ treats better than her own. The heart wants what it wants, what can I say?).

On this particular day, the weather was beautiful. We had the windows open and the screens in the doors all over the house. My dad was out back power washing, which requires an extension cord to be run from the house through the door, so it was left cracked. My mom and sister left to go on a college visit in the morning, so the garage door was left open and unattended for a period of time as well. In the meantime, the rest of us did some yard work, ate lunch outside, and took a walk through our neighborhood, just enjoying the start of spring. It wasn’t until hours later, when my mom and sister returned home, that we noticed Gracie’s absence. Usually, she meets us at the door with the dogs when we come home, wanting the pets and attention she’s been missing all day. Both dogs were at the door, but not the cat. At first we thought she must be sleeping, since the afternoon is nap time for her. We looked in all of her favorite spots – under the beds, inside the linen closet, behind the couch – but we didn’t find her. Our next thought was that she had gotten down to the basement and somehow gotten stuck down there, so all six of us made our way down there, shaking the bag of treats to lure her out from wherever she was hiding. At one point my mom thought she heard a squeak, but we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, so we attributed it to a door closing upstairs.

At this point, it’s six or seven in the evening, so it’s dark outside. I posted her picture on our neighborhood Facebook page alongside “LOST CAT: Calico kitten (1 year), purple collar with bell, responds to shaking treat bag. Last seen 3PM today.” My sister and I then hopped in the car and started driving around our neighborhood. Ironically, we did spot three cats, but none of them were Gracie. I thought her white coat would make her easier to find in the dark, but we had no luck. After a few loops around, we gave up and came home. In the meantime, the rest of my family had torn the house apart looking for her, but also came up empty. We were sad to end the day without having found her, but resigned ourselves to start again tomorrow morning. My sisters made their way upstairs to get ready for bed and my dad went to the basement to iron shirts for the next day. Later, he would mention that he thought he could hear Gracie’s bell, but couldn’t decipher where exactly it was coming from. My mom had left her phone in the car after returning from the college visit, so ran out to the garage to grab it. I was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework when I heard her yell, “I found your stupid cat!” We ran to the door of the garage and there, lying underneath a sled, was a filthy Gracie looking up at us casually.

As we cleaned the dust and dirt from her fur, we tried to piece together how exactly she got into the garage. Combining our accounts, we realized that she had been seen in the house after my dad had finished power washing and closed up the doors, so she didn’t escape outside through the basement. She had also been seen after my mom and sister left for the college visit, so she didn’t get out through the garage door while they were making their way to the car. We did, however, leave the door open that leads to the basement, which would give Gracie and entrance to her favorite place to explore. But then we were stuck – how did she get from there to the garage? Suddenly, my dad remembered that there is an entrance to the vents in the furnace room, which would solve a few mysteries surrounding Gracie’s adventure. First, it would account for why she was so filthy, not with dirt from outside, but dust from the vents. Second, it would explain how she was gone for hours but didn’t travel very far. Lastly, and most importantly, it explains why we could hear her from the basement but couldn’t locate where the sounds were coming from – she was in the ceiling!

My sisters, fans of the game “Among Us”, like to say that Gracie “vented”. Though the circumstances surrounding her great escape were pretty extraordinary, I was more surprised by the level of concern expressed by my family, most of whom claim not to like her very much. My sisters dropped whatever they were doing to search the house up and down. One of them actually texted me from the driver’s seat of the car running in the driveway, telling me to grab some shoes and meet her to search the neighborhood. The decision to stop the search for the night was a tough one for all of us since everyone was so determined not to stop looking until we found Gracie. It’s funny how hard times will bring people together like that, even over things that they previously wanted little to do with.

I hope that your week ahead holds some unexpected support, too, Mounties. We’re all certainly enjoying having Gracie back safe and sound, so I wish the same peace of mind for you as well. Hopefully she doesn’t plan any more great escapes, though I’m confident that I have a dedicated search party right here in the house if she does, in which case you will be the first to know. Until next time, go Mount!

Natalie Torta, C'24