I live in a cozy Granada neighborhood that still feels quaintly colonial in its architecture and social behaviors. People pull their rocking chairs out onto the sidewalk in the late afternoon, drop by each other’s homes unannounced, know everyone else’s business, and look out for one another—even the resident gringo. It’s really quite nice.
But not all of my neighbors are good people. One of them is apparently a criminally insane dimwit who deserves to be locked in the stocks and pelted with rotten vegetables, if we are truly committed to acting colonially around here.
Starting about a month ago, someone on my city block started what can be described only as a social-cleansing campaign against the animal kingdom that lived on our interconnected rooftops. Gone are all the neighborhood roof cats—including my own adventurous feline, Nicaragua Dispatch mascot Bajopata. Gone also are the beautiful green parrots that used to scream from the patio trees and rooftops (one was found dead in my garden a few weeks ago and I haven’t heard from any of its friends since).
I was truly crestfallen when Bajopata suddenly disappeared after seven years of loyal friendship. It happened the night of Oct. 1—Monday, bloody Monday, as it were.
For those who are unfamiliar with the rooftops of Granada, each city block is a virtually self-contained ecosystem 20 feet above the street level. Since all the houses on the block share an interconnected roofline, the rooftops of Granada are a kitty-cat adventure playground, with almost a square kilometer of red-tile roaming room to explore.
One night, about five years ago, my wife and I were walking home from dinner along the quiet streets of my neighborhood, which echoed loudly with the sound of my boots. Bajopata apparently heard daddy approaching and ran to the roof’s edge and meowed to get our attention. We exchanged brief pleasantries in the street, and then I instructed her to get on home. She then proceeded to follow us along the roofline as we walked the remaining block. It was unutterably cute.
As an overprotective father, I was initially concerned about Bajopata mixing it up with the tougher-looking cats from the other side of the roofline. But, as a former street kitten, Bajo knew how to hold her own. And with her mother’s dashing good looks, her father’s wit and whiskers, and her feline charisma, Bajopata was a natural leader among the benighted roof cats—or at least I like to think so.
Still, I was concerned for her wellbeing. I sat her down to have “the talk.” When that didn’t work, I got her spayed. We bought her a collar and bell to distinguish her from the roof cats and to let the neighbors know that she was a pet, not a pest.
If you’re asking, ‘Why didn’t you just keep the cat indoors and off the roofs?’ Well, that’s like trying to stop water from running downhill. In Granada, all the homes have open-aired courtyards with enticingly close rooflines that are just a few pounces away. It is the irresistible Great Wide Open and the call of the wild wrapped into one. Short of putting Bajo in a cage or on a tether, both of which she would have protested loudly, I was going to have to get used to the idea of her roaming the rooftops at night.
After many years of watching Bajopata jump out the second-floor bedroom window every night and return home every morning, I was pretty confident that she could navigate the mean tiles of Granada. She would leave every evening around midnight for her quick cardiovascular workout, and be home and in bed before dawn, ready to scratch my feet lovingly if I attempted any unexpected sleep-tossing in the early morning hours.
On the morning of Oct. 2, she wasn’t there when I woke up. She hasn’t been there since. None of her roof-cat friends—gato negro, gato blanco, cabezon—have shown up either. I finally put her food dish away today.
A week before Bajo went missing, some unknown neighbor reportedly came looking for me to complain that roof cats were stealing her food. I wasn’t at home that day to discuss this matter with her, or to inquire about whether she had a sweet tooth for canned sliced veal and gravy. But either way, I wasn’t worried. Bajo was always well-fed at home; on most nights she ate better than I did. I doubted she was stealing food from the neighbors at 3 a.m.
But when she went missing, that mysterious visit from the unidentified neighbor was the first thing I thought of. I went door to door in my neighborhood to inquire about my cat’s possible whereabouts. When I talked to my neighbors, I was horrified to learn that others had also recently lost their cats under similar circumstances.
I also learned through the Granada gossip grapevine that one of my neighbors was apparently putting poison on her roof to try to kill the pigeons. Perhaps the parrots had been collateral damage, but was this also the woman killing cats to protect her food stash? I have no way of knowing. The way Granada’s gossip mill works is that the more clarifying questions you ask, the more convoluted and confusing the story becomes. Each attempt to extract more details brings you further into the abyss of ambiguity.
So I started talking to my friends. And that’s when I learned the mysterious cat disappearances are more widespread than I imagined.
My cat-loving friends who live on the next block —one rooftop ecosystem removed from mine—told me they also lost their cat at the same time Bajo and her roof cat coterie disappeared. Their neighbors, too, were suddenly complaining of missing cats. My friends and I put up lost cat signs, like hopeful 8-year-old kids. No one called. Now my friends, who have been renting the same house for years, are looking for a new house in a neighborhood with intermittent rooflines because they are convinced their other cats will also disappear if they don’t take drastic protective actions.
I tell this woeful tale not to organize a lynch mob (although I do have pitchforks and torches if needed), but to caution other cat owners. Even if you have adopted a stray kitten, it is not necessary out of danger once it’s off the mean streets of Granada. On the rooftops of the city, cats are just as vulnerable to wrongdoing by knuckle-dragging idiots who shuffle around their homes and fret about pigeons and wonder who is stealing their tuna fish.
Those who engage in cat cleansing should be held to account for their actions. At the very least, they should be forced to wear a giant collar with a bell so we can hear them coming. But until cats are treated like something other than pests, cat lovers need to be aware where their fluffy friends are pawing about at night.
It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your kittens are? I have no idea where mine is.