I think I may have mentioned once or twice that I firmly believe in miracles. This one, however, caught me completely off guard – and now one of my cherished beliefs is about to be tested – for the second time.

Pang is back. The prodigal cat sauntered out of the woods last Saturday afternoon, begging for food, just as he did that fateful October day 10 years ago when he first walked into my life and eight long months after he mysteriously disappeared. That’s right. It has been eight months. If I weren’t a vegetarian, I would have killed the fatted calf.

You may recall that I was completely devastated by Pang’s disappearance. He originally came to me as a stray who, judging by his condition, navigated the woods on his own for most of the first year of his life. He got his name when he demanded and devoured three tubs of Meow Chow before making eye contact.

At first, he wanted only to be fed, although, between meals he did take advantage of the beds I prepared for him in the barn and the garage. It wasn’t until the snow fell and temperatures plummeted around Christmas time that he asked to spend nights in the house. Even then it was with the clear understanding that he was not a house cat and that he would live by his own rules. That meant he would spend nights in the house but would be free every morning, right after a hearty breakfast, to hop out the bedroom window, scurry down the patio trellis and return to the woods for a day of who knows what.

The rules remained in effect for the next decade, though our relationship did evolve. By the time Pang disappeared, he had become a champion snuggler, lulling me to sleep every night with his rhythmic purring and joining me on the yellow wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom every morning after breakfast for a brief meditation session.

Then one night last September, he just didn’t come back. One night became two and then three. I immediately feared the worst. He was such a creature of habit; it made no sense to think he would suddenly choose not to come home for dinner. Nonetheless, I kept his window open until the snow started blowing in. And I sat in that yellow chair for days hoping to hear the soft thud that signaled his return to the roost. I didn’t sleep through the night. Not once. I cried whenever I spotted his picture on the bookcase. Finally, just a few weeks ago, I came to terms with his loss and just prayed that whatever happened had been quick and painless.

And then there he was, coming out of the woods as if he’d never left. Thin and scruffy looking, yes. But actually looking just the way he did when he came to me all those years ago. And yes, once again, he gobbled three tubs of food before finally rubbing figure eights around my legs the way he used to do.

Pang’s been home now for about a week. The vet says he’s none the worse for wear. He’s found all his favorite spots in the house and I’m back to sleeping like a baby. Of course, the question remains: where was he all this time? My theory is that someone picked him up last fall and, not knowing his history, kept him safely in throughout the winter. Then the unwitting good Sam opened a window, not knowing that his visitor had no respect for screens. With no deal in place, Pang was out of there instantly and on his way to the person he knew would let him live his life.

Now I am left with a big dilemma. Do I honor our lifelong agreement and risk losing him again, or do I close him in and guarantee his safety? So far, he hasn’t tested me. But I know he will soon and I have to admit I’m torn. I believe cats should be kept inside. I really do. But I also believe that quality of life trumps quantity every time and, let’s face it, Pang has proven once again that he is no ordinary cat.

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