Fiddler, a local celebrity on Yellowknife’s Lost and Found Pets Facebook page, has been discovered safe after three weeks on the lam.
He has returned with another scar to add to his collection – an abscess on his right ear, likely caused by an encounter with another animal – but the 11-year-old cat is otherwise unharmed.
“Three weeks is a long time,” said his occasional companion, Cat (no relation) McGurk. “This time, I was actually certain this was it. I accepted it. People were messaging me, like, ‘your cat’s dead, dude.'”
But while at work, McGurk received a text from a friend: a cat that looked a whole lot like Fiddler was hanging around in an alley near their house.
It would be difficult to find another cat that looks a whole lot like Fiddler.
Grizzled, with notched ears, a tail that looks like it’s been broken several times, and a general impression of having recently survived combat with a racoon after years spent trapped at the bottom of a well, Fiddler is often the subject of double-takes.
“I had him in the back of a photo of something I posted [online] and a ton of people reacted,” said McGurk. Some remarked on his likeness to Gmork from the Neverending Story. Others simply begged for him to be bathed.
“And I had to be like, ‘this is just how he looks.’ He’s been to the vet, he’s gotten all the exams, he gets baths, he gets brushed… he’s just a greasy, scraggly, scabby cat. Probably the ugliest I’ve ever seen.
“People started saying he looks like a bad taxidermy, so that’s how he became the Taxidermy Cat. He’s kind-of been building a presence [in Yellowknife] since that post.”
McGurk moved fast on receiving word of a Fiddler sighting.
“I didn’t even respond. I just jumped in my car,” they said. “When I got out, I heard his meow… it’s very distinct. It sounds like a demon is pretending to be a cat. And when he saw it was me, he ran right over.”
McGurk was part of a group who first found Fiddler roaming the Folk on the Rocks music festival site two years ago. It didn’t take long for the two to form a unique bond.
“He’s kind of semi-feral, but the trust that he has for me, it’s nuts,” said McGurk.
While much of Fiddler’s former life remains mysterious, he has the full jaw of a cat that has spent a decent amount of time unfixed. One of his ears appears to have a TNR notch, used to identify feral cats – not tame enough to live as pets – that have been trapped, neutered, and released back into their environment.
When McGurk tried to keep him safely behind closed doors, he howled day and night, becoming increasingly distressed. McGurk and a roommate tried walking him on a harness and playing with him, but there was no distracting Fiddler from the siren call of the wild.
“He is a cat that refuses to be inside,” they said. “A little while after I adopted him, I got chickens, and I had all these chicks running around the house… and he did nothing. This cat has no prey drive, no idea how to hunt. I have no idea what he eats when he’s out for days at a time. But it kind-of eased my conscience that if I let him out, I wouldn’t be contributing to the decline of the North American bird population.”
Yet allowing Fiddler to be Fiddler comes at a price.
In February, he went missing during one of the coldest weeks of the year. Vets recommend not letting cats outside below 7C if they are not used to the cold. At temperatures below zero, even acclimatized cats risk hypothermia and frostbite. As days passed, Fiddler’s fans feared it was his swan song.
“It was -42C ambient cold. The dead of winter. I thought to myself, there are two options here: he’s either dead or holed up somewhere. It was emotional. But I was hopeful – I knew he was a survivor. I made forts on the front and back stoop with incandescent light bulbs, bedding, food…”
Sure enough, when the temperature eased up to -23C, Fiddler arrived back home and friends and neighbours rejoiced.
There are plans afoot to get him a GPS tracker, prompting speculation as to what feline secrets it may reveal. Does he stalk hares for days and nights across the tundra? Is he at war with the foxes, or accepted as one of their own, and currently living a double life?
But for McGurk, Fiddler’s charm lies not with the mystery of his long absences but the strange joys of his presence.
“Everyone that meets him loves him, because he’s a freak. He’s a character,” they said.
“There’s just no other cat quite like him.”