"Don't get involved."
That was my father's constant advice. I constantly ignored it.
On Jan. 2, I was walking my dog, Twinkle, around our neighborhood in Monarch Bay, Calif., when I spotted an animal in the bushes. Actually Twinkle spotted it, pulling me over to the very appealing scent of a dead distant relative that needed to be checked out. Farther along on our walk, I saw a telling sign on a fence: "Lost Cat. Please contact with any information, good or bad."
The cat on the sign was the same color as the dead animal in the bushes. I copied down the phone number and returned home to notify my husband of my good intentions.
"Don't get involved," he said. "Remember what happened to your friend Katrina."
"That was unfortunate."
"She found that cat and put up signs and no one claimed it and she decided to keep the cat and have it spayed and the next week the owner showed up and was understandably irked because the cat had already been spayed."
"Yes, but it turned out OK. The owner eventually dropped the lawsuit."
Deciding to ignore my husband's advice, I left the room and dialed the number.
"Hello?" the voice of an elderly man whispered.
I took a deep breath. "Is this the man who lost a cat?" I asked.
"You've found Bunky Boy?" His voice had shed 20 years.
"Yes, I've … located Bunky Boy."
"How is he? Is he all right?"
"He might be," I replied carefully. "He's comfortable."
"I'll be right over. Do you have him? Where do you live?"
I gave him our address and we arranged to meet in 15 minutes. I hung up and walked into the living room.
"How did it go?" my husband asked.
"Very well," I lied.
"Did you tell him his cat is dead?"
"Not as such."
"So he thinks he's coming over here to retrieve a live cat?"
As I waited anxiously on my front lawn, rehearsing a range of euphemisms for "dead," an old car pulled up in front of our house. An even older man slowly got out.
"Hello, I'm Harold. Are you the lady who found Bunky Boy?"
I wished he would stop calling his dead cat that cute name.
"Yes, that's me."
"Where is he?"
"Follow me," I replied, not daring to look Harold in the eye.
"You don't have him? He might run away again."
"That's unlikely to happen," I assured him.
I led Harold over to the spot where Bunky Boy had met his maker.
"I think … I think he might be dead."
I pointed to the dead cat residing in the bushes. Tears welled up in Harold's eyes. Then he leaned in for a closer look.
Harold jumped back faster than I would have predicted he could.
"That's not Bunky Boy. It's not even a cat!"
"What do you mean?" I stammered. "It matches the picture. They're the same color!"
"It's a raccoon."
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Look at the tail," Harold told me.
I took a stick and poked the animal's tail. Not only was it not a cat, it wasn't even dead: The critter took off like a hairy rocket and disappeared into the bushes.
Harold left in his battered car without so much as a thank-you.
In trying to do a good deed, I had disturbed both an ungrateful grandfather and a sleeping raccoon.
I'm not saying my father was correct in his misanthropy. But the next time you respond to a "Lost Cat" notice, make sure you've got the proper animal. To avoid any tragic misunderstandings, give it a poke just to make sure.