A few PS's, written after the fact, in reply to comments ......
PS #1: Fortunately, UNLIKE US, Fluffy and Noodle's (who we found out were actually named Buddy and Madge) owner DID HAVE the sense God gave a goose and had a rabies tag on one of them. We kept them in our garage over night (another reason I was worried Blackie would never return .... what if he came back and the garage smelled like two strange dogs???) and then called the vet's office the next day. They gave me the owner's name and number, and he was here, gratefully, by noon to pick them up and take them home. As happy as he was to see his two dogs, believe me, *I* was happier to see *HIM* !!
PS #2: Re. declawing ..... wow. I had no idea. I have never had a cat as a pet my entire life. (Literally, in my entire life. Never. Not even a kitten as a kid. The only person who is LESS of a cat-person than me was my mom. No cats in our house growing up. Just a big, goofy boxer named Patty who I still miss to this day.) So truly, I had no idea about the de-clawing. I assumed it was as benign as having an animal micro-chipped ..... Although I know several families whose cats are de-clawed and they don't seem to have any problem, hmmmm. I read the articles you guys sent, and considered it. More than articles, however, I trust the opinion of Lauren, mom to Fergus, who I have "known" online for several years. The articles had me re-considering the procedure .... her comments sealed the deal. We will know, in a good-faith attempt, keep Blackie inside *with* claws, purchasing a scratching post (or two ... maybe one upstairs and one downstairs?), check into the scent-thing, and will place the slickiest blankets I can find on the furniture so that if the cat *does* try to claw and stretch he will slip off the furniture and fall on his fat little head. I am a FIRM behavior in behavior modification if it will help!
Plus, the other arguments are sound --- he might despise being indoors; he might not hurt the furniture like I assumed he would; the possible ramifications of the surgery bother me; with Barley around, it seems only fair to leave the cat one form of self-defense! (Barley LOVES him ..... I'm just not sure yet the admiration is mutual.)
So thank you, genuinely, for the information, oh Peoples of the Internet. I had no idea, and have been enlightened. I thank you, and Blackie thanks you. We'll give this indoor-cat-with-claws thing a go.
Although really, I'm not sure a stray cat can be considered a conquering hero --- but after seven days and seven nights, Blackie has come home!!!!!!!!!
(I seriously don't think there can be an overuse of the exclamation point at this time.)
We had tears, we had stress, we had wailing and gnashing of teeth, we had vivid imaginations gone horribly wrong. We also had three erroneous neighborhood sightings this past week --- one where a lady called after seeing the "lost cat" signs we posted, to tell me there was an extremely thin stray cat in her yard, and was the cat we were looking for mal-nourished? I think she was trying to find a polite way to ask if we actually fed the thing ..... I was able to reassure her that actually, the vet had recommended he LOSE a few pounds, so definitely not ours.
One when my sister called to tell us they were parked a few blocks away and had Blackie in their eyesight .... Blaine and the kids hurried over, only to realize the cat wasn't Blackie at all.
Later that same night I thought I saw him a few blocks away in the other direction, and again, Blaine and the kids rushed to the scene. Again, wrong cat.
In hindsite, we've discovered there is an inordinately large number of stray black cats in this neighborhood. And that despite living in my garage for the past year, technically, I wasn't exactly sure what he looked like. I guess when you've seen one black cat, you think you've seen them all.
Tonight, before bed, Kellen went to the back door to set the alarm. The back door and the door to the garage are in the same corner at the bottom of the stairs, and he could hear meowing coming from the garage. Disbelieving, he opened the door and viola! Blackie, asking to be let inside!
He's a few pounds lighter, but not terribly worse for the wear. He's either been fairly successful at digging in garbage cans this past week, or managed to wrangle hand-outs from a kind neighbor or two. And he didn't immediately fall upon the food and water in the garage, so I'm certain he's been fed somehow, somewhere.
The first thing we did was lock the pet-door so it no longer opens. Yeah, ok, maybe "freedoms just another word for nothin left to lose, And nothin aint worth nothin but its free........" Well, Blackie's freedom is OVER. We are not about to go through this again. Tomorrow we will manage collar, tag, purchase a litter box, and call the vet to schedule the de-clawing. And maybe this makes us cold, heartless humans who are nipping his Freedom in the Wild and Born to be Free spontenaiety, but I don't care. Instead, I'm going to tell myself it's called "responsible pet ownership" .... even if he doesn't want to technically be "owned". I can't take the stress of the cat going missing again, and I will willingly and cheerfully vacuum the cat hair of our "new, inside" pet.
Thank you to whoever suggested putting personal items outside to help the cat orient himself home with the scent. I don't know if that's what brought him home, or if he just got tired of roaming the streets (and no, he wasn't looking for a lady cat because *that* was taken care of before he ever came our way ....) but we're SO happy he's home.
(huge sigh of relief)
And I don't even *like* cats! Who could imagine I would be so stinking happy to see this one again?!?!?