Mu and I searched around the complex for a couple of hours. Mu seemed attracted to the grounds of the church across the street. We searched over there, but he didn’t find any cats or any evidence. We tried to search the giant laurel hedge in the cemetery behind the apartments, but we got kicked out fairly quickly because dogs aren’t allowed in that particular cemetery. As we were walking from the cemetery back to the apartments, Stewart’s owner notice the landscaping crew at the neighboring apartment complex, which reminded her that the landscapers would be coming to Stewart’s complex today. Now we were under pressure to hurry up and find Stewart before he was chased away by lawn mowers and leaf blowers.
As we searched around one of the pools, Mu sniffed at the base of the wall of one of the buildings, and he whined, indicating a cat. There was an access hatch to the crawl space, and it was pulled away from the building far enough that a gap was left, big enough for a cat. This gap was under a bump out in the apartment building wall, and also obscured by shrubs and ground covers, so no one could see that cats were getting into the crawl space. Mu’s nose revealed a hiding place no one knew about.
When I looked closer, I saw grey fur around the edge of the entrance to the crawl space, the color of Stewart’s fur. A gray cat had rubbed against the rough wood and left a little fur behind. When we lifted the hatch, we could see many spiders that appeared to be black widows. I have been bitten by spiders plenty of times, and I know they won’t kill me, but it’s still not my favorite thing. I mean, I actually like spiders, in general. I prefer not to have them on me, if I have a choice. Mu whined at the opening, so that meant I was going into the dark, smelly crawl space full of spiders. I took Mu back to the car, and then came back and slid through the narrow opening.
Down in the crawl space, it smelled of cat urine, which was actually a promising sign. I saw the skeletons of birds and small mammals, too old to be the work of Stewart. Other cats must have been going down there for quite a while. I felt spider webs on the back of my neck, and brushed them away. The crawl space had a series of walls dividing it into smaller spaces, so I couldn’t see all around under the entire apartment building. I thought I saw a shadow go by. It could have been the tail of a cat, or just the shadow of my flashlight as it passed behind a cable. I have been watching Stranger Things, so it also occurred to me that the fleeting shadow might be a Demogorgon. The owner’s fiancé came down into the crawl space and helped look. My flashlight started to die. I remembered several times on previous searches when Mu was able to pinpoint a cat in a crawl space by sniffing from the outside. Working from the outside was seeming like a really good idea. I climbed out and went and got Mu.
As we searched around the building, Mu picked up the scent of a cat at the northwest corner. I reported it to the owners. We worked our way around, and Mu picked up a strong scent at the south side of the building, in the middle of the wall. Mu whined louder, and he sniffed at the vent as if he was trying to inhale the cat through the mesh and pull him out. I reported the location to them, and the fiance in the crawl space looked to the south. There he saw Stewart, just hanging out, like it was the thing for a cat to do, loiter in a smelly crawl space with spiders and skeletons. Stewart’s person was delighted that he was found, of course. They were moving to California, and they were supposed to fly out tomorrow, so it had been especially urgent to find him today. She ran to get a carrier to put Stewart in.
Talking to the fiance in the crawl space, it seemed that Stewart wasn’t wanting to come to him. She was not too keen about getting into the crawl space where we had seen the black widows. I told her I would go down there, and I certainly understood if she couldn’t make herself go down in the dark with the spiders and bones, but if she could go down there, Stewart would be much more likely to come to her. She ran back to the apartment to get a sweatshirt with a hood, and then she slid through the gap, down into the crawl space. I watched from the opening, ready to block Stewart in if he tried to escape. She waited by one of the dividing walls in the middle, and she talked softly to Stewart. After about five minutes, he came up to her and rubbed against her. He let her pick him up. She wrapped him tightly in her arms and carried him to the opening. I held the cat carrier up to the opening, and she stuffed him in. Stewart was safe.
Stewart’s people were very happy with Mu’s nose. From the outside of the building, just looking at it, it appeared that all of the crawl space screens were intact, and there was no way under. Mu’s nose found the gap where cats had been getting in. They had placed several traps around the complex, but they hadn’t caught anything. They were up against a deadline for their moving date, and they had been trying to plan dates when they could fly back to Seattle to continue searching for Stewart. The search dog isn’t always the best way to find a lost cat, and it certainly isn’t the only way. In some cases, as with Stewart, a dog like Mu is definitely the right tool for the job. Mu slept soundly, snoring all the way home.