There's something in the house, eating the food. And I'm not sure what it is.

Monday morning I went -- as I have every day the past five weeks or so -- back to the house we used to live in. Though sold, it hasn't closed. And though, empty and still technically ours, our cat has decided she's staying. So I put out some food and water, and sat and waited.

Nothing.

It's been this way since Wednesday, when I initially caught, then lost, our cat named Fatty. She is an extremely shy outdoor cat. You animal rights people who e-mailed me when my other cat got run over last year and offered such sensitive and touching condolences as "YOU WERE THE ONE WHO KILLED YOUR CAT" can stop typing right now. I didn't make either of them outdoor cats. A pushy Dachshund who came to live with the family before I did. Now he's gone, moved to San Francisco where he now goes to brunch every morning and thinks he's better than the rest of us.

Time for a change

In fact, I was undergoing a bold attempt to reverse Fatty's outdoor conditioning after all these years. The plan was to somehow get her to the new place and, if not make her an indoor cat (I'm allergic, but I'm also allergic to kids and we seem to keep acquiring them), at least get her acclimated to the garage and yard.

She's a sweet cat, but extremely wary of people, which makes sense to any of us who have gotten to know any people. She seems especially wary of people who try shoving her into a cat carrier (me) and instead get scratched (me again). Every time I've tried to catch her, it's taken me at least a week to get her trust back enough to touch her again.


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But enough about my old relationships. Knowing I'd need backup if I was to transport her to our new house, I took advantage of some surprising friendliness and managed to get her inside the old house Wednesday, where I'd prepared food, water, a litter box and a few People magazines (cats love People magazine).

Uneasy truce

She wasn't happy, but we talked and she agreed not to burn the old place down for 48 hours until I came back to catch her with Mommy (whom I think is my wife). The next morning, she'd vanished. The food wasn't touched, the litter box was barely used, and there was no note. I know cats are good at hiding, but I've been looking for four days inside that house -- which isn't exactly Hearst Castle -- and no cat.

Our realtor says no one has been in the house since Fatty's disappearance, as far as he knew. And I haven't seen her outside. The outside food keeps disappearing, but that could be my former nemesis, Capt. Raccoon, whom I last saw months ago falling off a fence, the victim of a well-aimed lemon (nobody threatens my family).

Sunday, I left a couple handfuls of food inside on the floor, just to see what would happen. And lo and behold, the food was gone Monday morning. So either we have mice who dig cat food, or the cat has a cleverly concealed spot and is waiting me out to see if she'll get a better deal with the new owners. Or maybe the cat was using the kibble as bait and ate the mice. Or maybe this is all a bad dream and I'll wake up in the shower.

Anyway, I've retained my good friend and animal expert Gary Bogue as counsel in this matter (he's expensive -- don't ask) and may have to bring in some sort of giant beastly trap. In the end we'll figure this out because, as much as I'm not a cat guy, I am like the Marines and won't leave anyone behind. Unless they're a raccoon.

Contact Tony Hicks at thicks@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read his blog, "Insert Foot," at www.ibabuzz.com/insertfoot