StatCounter

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Another case of sexual harassment and institutional inaction--this time at Ohio State University. And it's anthropology again. [[Updated August 10, 2019]]

Deanna Grimstead
On August 24, 2015, Christina Cunningham of Ohio State University's Office of Human Resources submitted a six-page "case report" to the university's executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the college's chief human resources officer. The title was: "Allegations of violation of the Sexual Harassment policy against Dr. Deanna Grimstead."

Grimstead is a zooarchaeologist and evolutionary ecologist in OSU's anthropology department. She is apparently also a talented and popular instructor of undergraduate students, winning the 2017-2018 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award.

The case report described an investigation into complaints by an individual referred to as "Student #1"--who was a graduate student in the department at the time--that Grimstead had "made physical contact" with her in a way "that was described as inappropriate and unwanted." During the investigation, Grimstead denied the allegations against her, but was unable to come up with what the investigator considered a plausible reason for why false accusations might have been made. Moreover, the report refers to the reluctance with which Student #1 participated in this formal proceeding, pointing out that this student did not initiate the complaint herself.

Cunningham's conclusion, stated on the last page of the report, was that "[b]ased on the preponderance standard of evidence it is more likely than not that Dr. Grimstead engaged in unwelcome physical conduct of a sexual nature in violation of the university's Sexual Harassment Policy..." Cunningham further concluded that there was "sufficient evidence" of a violation, and dictated six "Action Steps" to be taken. They included moving on to a formal disciplinary proceeding against Grimstead; suspension of her teaching duties while the proceeding went ahead; and a ban on contact with students while the case was ongoing; and a prohibition on taking any retaliatory action against anyone connected with the case.

However, according to multiple witnesses, the case concerning Grimstead has not been resolved after several years. Moreover, according to some of these sources, most of the faculty have been kept in the dark about what is going on. Grimstead is still in the department, and still teaching students. Thus the anthropology department Web site has her tentatively down to teach four courses in the fall 2019 semester. Meanwhile, a second and more recent investigation, involving another student, is currently under way, based on additional and credible allegations of harassment.

In my own reporting on this case, I spoke to Student #1, as well as a former graduate student I will refer to as Student #2. Student #2 also relates that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by Grimstead; the second investigation of Grimstead, based on these allegations and allegations concerning other students as well, was reportedly conducted in 2017-2018, and completed late last year. No action has yet been taken on its conclusions, however.

The department chair at the time of the 2015 events, Clark Spencer Larsen, reportedly took no action of his own; he has told me that he cannot comment on the case. (Full disclosure: I have known Larsen for many years and have written about his research, as well as solicited his comments on the research of others.) The current department chair, Kristen Gremillion, has not responded to requests for comment.

In the case report, Student #1 is described as telling the investigator that Grimstead behaved "in a flirtatious and inappropriate manner at times." More than once, Student #1 said, Grimstead told her, "You should just sleep with me." Student #1 went on to describe an incident when she and Grimstead were sitting together at a table with other colleagues. "...Dr. Grimstead touched the complainant's breasts over the complainant's shirt four times," the report states. Student #1 told her to stop, but "Dr. Grimstead continued to engage in the unwanted touching." Finally, Grimstead put her hand under the table and touched Student #1's vagina over her clothing, the report relates. At that point Student #1, upset, left the table.

In her interview with me, Student #1 confirmed the details in the case report. She emphasized that she had never intended to file a complaint, but felt forced to cooperate with the investigation after another individual she had told about the incidents reported them to human resources (under the principle of a "duty to report.") Student #1 adds that during the investigation and after, Larsen, the department chair, had no contact with her at all. "He seemed very reluctant to deal with it," she told me. As for why she is willing to talk to a reporter now, she says, "I don't want other students to experience what I went through."

Student #2 is also a former graduate student in the anthropology department. She told me that Grimstead's harassment behavior was well known among students there, and that there was a "whisper network" of perhaps seven or eight students who kept in touch about her allegedly repetitive conduct. Student #2 says that Grimstead would "directly proposition me," telling her she should leave her boyfriend of the time and take up with her. She also was told by others that Grimstead would make comments about her appearance behind her back, "how hot I was." Student #2 says that the harassment continued until she found a way to distance herself from Grimstead (I am deleting some details to protect the privacy and anonymity of the students.)

In one incident during the spring 2015 semester, much discussed by students in the department, Grimstead was teaching an undergraduate class when one graduate student happened to be walking by. Grimstead reportedly stumbled out of the classroom and into the hallway, evidently severely inebriated. According to a graduate student who tried to help her and eventually called emergency services, Grimstead admitted to drinking both whiskey and taking oxycontin at the same time (according to this student, Grimstead had recently had an operation and was taking oxycontin for the pain.) The student says that Grimstead was out for about a week after this episode, but then returned to teaching. (While Grimstead told the investigator that she had used a prescription drug while teaching, she denied that this incident took place.)

As for why the department and the university appear to have done little about Grimstead nor seriously tried to curtail her behavior, sources who spoke to me about that issue said they could only speculate. One possibility, they said, is that Grimstead is very public and vocal about suffering from bipolar disorder, and that the university may be afraid to take action against her for fear of being sued for medical or disability discrimination. My own experience in reporting on #MeToo cases suggests another possibility, which is that the department and OSU have sought above all to protect their reputations. As many readers will know, OSU is currently in the middle of another scandal involving severe misconduct about which it did nothing for many years.

And, as it turns out, the lead investigator on the case involving Student #2, Jonathan Parry, was accused by another student of bias against her when he was handling her case against the director of the Center for Automotive Research, Giorgio Rizzoni--yet another episode that raised questions about how seriously OSU handles sexual misconduct complaints.

Unfortunately, with their silence, leaders of the anthropology department and the OSU administration have encouraged such speculations. If there is another explanation, they can end the speculation by breaking their silence and opting for transparency, as all institutions should in such situations. Most importantly, on the face of it, OSU's anthropology faculty appear to have passively accepted the university's insistence on secrecy in these investigations for five years or more, and failed in their duty to protect the graduate students who have been targeted by Grimstead. This passivity may well be responsible for Grimstead continuing her abusive behavior well after the 2015 findings against her.

Students #1 and #2 both told me they thought Grimstead should be dismissed from the university. As Student #2 put it: "I firmly believe that she is not fit to interact with students and that she is a danger to the people with whom she works. It is unacceptable that she is still employed with the university and that OSU should be held accountable for endangering the lives of students and faculty."

I have reached out twice to Deanna Grimstead, asking for comment and for her side of the story. So far she has not responded. If she does, or if other details or developments emerge in this case, I will update this report whenever necessary.


Update July 18, 2019: As should have been implied above, the case involving Student #2 was formally investigated by OSU's Office of Human Resources, and I have now obtained access to the Case Report. It is dated October 23, 2018, and the investigation was carried out by Jonathan Parry of HR (mentioned also above in a troubling context.) This investigation actually involved allegations concerning three students. Parry concluded that the allegations concerning the other two were not sufficiently corroborated, but he did find that in the case of Student #2 "there is sufficient evidence that Prof. Grimstead violated the university's Sexual Misconduct policy 1.15 that was in effect at the time of the alleged behavior."

Although Grimstead denied all of the allegations against her, Parry concluded that her credibility was seriously compromised by the existence of both email evidence and corroborating witnesses for certain alleged incidents. As one example, she denied showing up at a Halloween party at which students were present wearing a "risque" costume, despite testimony from at least two witnesses that she in fact had done so. (As before, I am being sparing with the details to protect the privacy of the students and their identities.)

During this investigation, as in the previous episode described above, Grimstead asserted that the allegations against her were motivated in part by anti-LGBTQ bias on the part of some of the students. Nevertheless, Parry did not appear to accept that explanation when making his findings, and the students involved have denied any such attitudes in their discussions with me.

The Case Report also revealed some additional details about the earlier, 2015 Title IX investigation I described above. Parry noted that previous investigation, and the findings against Grimstead at that time. Parry states that after those findings were finalized, she was subject to a faculty disciplinary process, "which included a review and recommendations by a faculty investigative committee." This faculty committee--which may not have included any of the anthropology faculty--recommended that Grimstead not be fired. It appears the anthropology faculty were mostly kept in the dark about the allegations, however; some sources have told me that the anthropology faculty were never told the detailed accusations concerning Grimstead and might also have given her the benefit of the doubt. (The department chair at that time, Clark Larsen, declined to speak to me about the matter.)

Parry quotes from the faculty committee as follows: "We found no clear and convincing evidence that Dr. Grimstead had engaged in a pattern of bad or predatory behavior. We therefore focused only on...one incident of April 2014. While we agree that the behavior of  Dr. Grimstead that night was flagrant and egregious, there are too many mental health issues for us to be able too confidently concluded that the behavior was willful."

It now appears that, with two investigations finding that Grimstead engaged in misconduct, the "pattern" the disciplinary committee was seeking is clearly demonstrated. In concluding his Case Report, Parry mandated that another disciplinary proceeding against Grimstead should begin. As I write, that process appears to be currently under way; however, Grimstead is still tentatively scheduled to teach several courses this coming fall semester.

A student speaks.

To add to the above, a graduate student in the OSU anthropology department, Nikki Weiss, has sent me the following statement to be published here. What I find really striking is that over all the years that Grimstead has been harassing students, and through two Title IX investigations, not one member of the OSU anthropology faculty emerged as an advocate for the students. They had to do it all themselves. Let's hope that changes at long last.

"I served as Graduate Teaching Fellow during the 2018-2019 academic year for the Department of Anthropology at Ohio State. As GTF, I mentored 25 Graduate Teaching Associates in the department. Establishing this dialogue between myself and other graduate students gave me greater insight into certain struggles my peers faced, and I soon became aware of numerous incidents regarding Grimstead’s behavior. As these incidents alarmed me and made me fear for the safety of both undergraduate and graduate students, I sought out multiple meetings with the chair of the Department of Anthropology. No action that I am aware of was taken by the department to address my concerns. I met with the interim executive dean and vice provost of the College of Arts and Sciences. No action that I am aware of was taken by the university to address my concerns. I began voicing my concerns during fall 2018. It is now summer 2019, and no action that I am aware of has been taken. I do not believe the university has adequately protected its students in this case. Furthermore, I have little faith that future incidents will be handled any better. I am speaking out to urge the university to address these concerns, and – just as importantly – to overhaul the way in which similar cases are handled in the future. The safety and lives of Ohio State students depend on it."


Update August 10, 2019:

At long last, Ohio State has officially acknowledged that Deanna Grimstead is currently subject to a university disciplinary proceeding as a result of sexual misconduct findings against her in a Title IX investigation. This is the second such investigation into Grimstead's behavior, and both of them resulted in referrals for faculty disciplinary action. In the first case, as described above, she was allowed to keep her job; the second case is pending. Also, as I indicate above, I am in possession of both case reports via sources close to the situation.

However, a number of weeks ago I made a public records request for the second investigative report in an attempt to get the university on the record about these matters, about which it previously had declined to comment. That request has finally been granted and I now have a redacted version of the report. Although it is now a public record, I think that my original description of it above suffices to provide the necessary details and so I will not reproduce any more of it here.

In sending it to me, Chris Davey, OSU's Associate Vice President for University Communications, provided the following statement. It appears that pending the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding, Grimstead is only being allowed to teach online courses. If I had to guess at this point, I would speculate that the university is working its way towards terminating Grimstead's employment, after having allowed her to have continued contact with students these past four years since the original Title IX findings. If that does happen, it will be thanks to a brave group of current and former graduate students in the OSU anthropology department, who finally took action when their university and anthropology faculty would not. It is very unfortunate that the most vulnerable young researchers have to take matters into their own hands and cannot rely on senior, tenured colleagues and university administrators to protect them.

Michael: This is in response to your public records request. Please see attached. Personally identifiable student information has been redacted in accordance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99. When made aware of these allegations, Ohio State launched a thorough HR investigation, which has concluded. The matter is currently proceeding through the faculty disciplinary process according to the university’s faculty rules. Deanna Grimstead is assigned to teach online this semester.

Chris Davey




Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Proof that University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta lied when he claimed to colleagues and on social media that he had not consulted for Bayer (plus everything else you need to know about one of the most dishonest, conflicted individuals in science)

Folta has tried to suppress documentary evidence that this is true, including publication of this one sent to the former home of his secretary (possibly to avoid exposure. I have included the address because I have been able to confirm that it was indeed that of his former secretary at the time this contract was sent. It is no longer her address.)




For more background about Folta and his serious conflicts of interest while posing as an objective "science communicator" on biotech issues, please see here, here, here, here, and, for details about his relationship with Bayer and the conflicts of interest that posed, here (this last one from some of his own former colleagues in the biotech world.)

For additional documentation, reimbursement from Bayer for a trip during the time of the above consultation for them. I have left the bank account number unredacted in part because it is my understanding that this account is no longer active, and in part because I am opposed to redactions other than to protect someone's life or safety. But most importantly: Folta's privacy in this case is superseded by the public's interest in knowing that a publicly funded scientist is lying and hiding his conflicts of interest.




And for details about Folta's resignation as chair of the horticulture department at University of Florida in the wake of abuse allegations by his ex-wife, please see the link.

Update on the case of Fethi Ahmed, Wits University head of school dismissed for gender-based bullying

Fethi Ahmed
Late last month I wrote about the case of Fethi Ahmed, formerly head of the School of Geography, Archaeology, and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Ahmed was dismissed from Wits after a three member hearing panel found him guilty of gender-based bullying at the university--and after the findings were upheld on appeal (the appeal was heard by two former Constitutional Court judges.)

A few days after my blog post, the South African newspaper The Sowetan published its own article about the case, which included some details of the accusations against him and revealed Ahmed's name in the South African media for the first time (I cannot link to this article because it is only available to me on PressReader, but if you Google his name and the name of the publication you should be able to find it.)

This article, by reporter Prega Govender, quotes Ahmed as saying that the matter was now being heard by South Africa's Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. The Ahmed story fits into a larger context in which the Wits Gender Equity Office, formerly directed by Crystal Dicks and which was very successful investigating a number of misconduct cases, is now under fire by the Wits administration and allies of some of the abusers. The attack on the GEO has already led to Dicks' firing, a matter I will write about later on.

I know a lot of people at Wits, both through my reporting as an anthropology correspondent for Science and a visit to South Africa I made for Science several years ago on assignment. Thus the following information about this case is based on multiple sources; but to protect them, I must be somewhat circumspect about my knowledge of the details. Most worryingly, Ahmed has managed to convince some colleagues that the charges against him are baseless and that the accusations are the result of some kind of plot against him by women in the School. He has been helped in this by Wits' original decision to not even name him after he was dismissed, and the university's lack of transparency about what the exact charges against him were. That has led some at Wits to conclude that they were not all that serious.

In fact, nine complainants, from diverse backgrounds and levels of academic experience, accused Ahmed of misconduct. They were able to make their case over six days of hearings, two of which were devoted to Ahmed's questioning of his accusers. Here is a brief summary of the kinds of allegations made:

--Ahmed's bullying of them led to serious psychological and emotional trauma, and some of the complainants had to seek medical treatment as a result.

--The complainants described being consistently belittled by Ahmed, and some used the term "gaslighting" to describe their experiences. That is, Ahmed would tell clearly distressed women that their experiences did not actually take place.

--The complainants were very consistent in the stories they told about Ahmed's bullying, thus describing a common pattern.

--A number of complainants described hostile and aggressive outbursts by some faculty at meetings, which was tolerated by Ahmed.

--Two of the complainants who had children described Ahmed's insensitivity to occasional urgent childcare situations that required them to be absent for short periods of time.

--A number of the complainants had approached a supportive faculty member over the past several years, often in tears, to describe being bullied by Ahmed; that faculty member gave evidence to the hearing. This faculty member was also a direct witness to some of the abuse that occurred.

--Ahmed was allowed to have witnesses in his defense appear at the hearing, and a number of them did so. In some cases they described his talents as a supportive mentor to students and other faculty.

--The hearing panel was aided in its evaluations by a faculty member in the School of Psychology who provided expert input on the subject of gender-bullying.

--The hearing panel unanimously upheld the accusations made by seven of the nine complainants, but did not find enough evidence to support the allegations of the other two.

--At the time of this hearing, Ahmed already had a warning in his personnel file for another case of misconduct, although the panel apparently did not take that into account.

--The three-member panel unanimously recommended that Ahmed be dismissed from the university. This recommendation was made on 21 December 2018.


I want to repeat that the information above is based on multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation, and that I have necessarily left out many details to protect those sources. No one should make any assumptions about who they are, as those assumptions could easily be wrong.


After news of Ahmed's dismissal became public, former colleagues at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where Ahmed had previously been on the faculty, publicly revealed that he had behaved in a similar fashion while there. This post by Shirley Brooks, formerly at UKZN and now at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, is followed by a number of interesting comments from other witnesses of the time.


I will update this post as new information arises and it becomes appropriate to do so.







Sunday, May 12, 2019

The story of a cat, lost, then found weeks later by its determined and loyal owner. --by Karina Gindele



Samura, shortly after her rescue


The following true story was written by a friend of mine in Germany named Karina Gindele. It is about how she lost her beloved cat, Samura, in the forest on the road between Erlangen and Tubingen; how she returned to the spot again and again over the course of a month to search for the cat; and how the two were eventually reunited. Karina provides a lot of evocative details about her search during the height of the German winter; and although she asked me to edit the story for language and style (English is not her native language, but she speaks and writes it very well) I really had to do only a very light edit.

Karina asked me to post her story on my blog, which I am happy and honored to do. I think cat lovers will love the story, as will anyone who appreciates determination, loyalty, and love of animals.


This is the true story of how I lost my beloved cat Samura in the woods and found her after almost one month of intensive search.

By Karina Gindele

Samura’s adventure – how I lost and found my beloved cat

The 24th of February 2018 was a beautiful sunny winter day. Finally, winter had come to the south of Germany, and I was driving through a gorgeous white landscape. As always I avoided the Autobahn and used for a major part of the drive ordinary roads. Samura, my cat, was peacefully sleeping on my lap and lifted her little head only from time to time in order to look at me and prod my hand to get stroked and ruffled. She is used to travelling with me in the car, since I always take her with me when I commute between Tübingen and Erlangen.

I was already driving for more than three hours when Samura started to become unsettled. She left my lap and got in her travel bag on the front passenger seat. But just for a short time, then she vanished on the back seat. She was somehow busy there, I realised, but since I was driving on a rather frozen road I focused my attention on the road and not on my cat. Soon after I could smell what Samura’s problem had been and what she had been looking for. Already, when I decided to take her with me, I took into account, that this might happen one day. She cannot say, “hold on I need to do my number one or two” and I cannot take a cat toilet with me in the car. 

So it was a calculated risk, and I was prepared so far that I had a thick towel laying on my stuff on the back seat. Nevertheless, she looked rather guilty, especially when I stopped in order to clean my car. I sensed her insecurity and tried to convince her she had not done anything wrong by speaking to her and stroking her. As a matter of fact, there was no big damage at all. She had done her number two on top of the towel which is easy washed and that was all.

About 30 minutes later, I had to stop again, but this time because of me. We were just another 30 minutes away from my home in Erlangen. That area is dominated by a lot of forests dotted with  ponds where people breed carp. Villages, sometimes very small ones, with just a couple of houses, are laying scattered in the landscape. All together it is a rather lonely countryside. And it was already about 6 pm and getting dark. I was wondering if Samura might need to step out too, and so I donned her harness on her. 

It was obvious to me she was not happy about that and when I was done, she tried to escape my hands in order to go back into her transport bag on the passenger seat. But I took her against her obvious will with me out of the car. I carried her about 10 metres along the cart track into the forest, then I put her on the ground and started to undress my jeans. She was very unsecure with the situation, I sensed that, but I thought we would be back inside the car within the next five minutes., So I did not really pay a great deal of attention to her apparent anxiety. I was so sure she could not go away and just thought, okay she will survive a moment in the dusky wildness in my company.

I was wrong! I could not say if it was the shriek of a nearby owl or anything else. Whatever it was it frightened her enough to panic. She ran as far as the leash let her go, and then she squirmed herself out of the harness so fast that I was unable to reach her before she was gone. In the very first moment I did not panic when I saw her vanishing under the next bush. I pulled my pants up and followed her under that bush convinced she would sit there and look at me and I would simply catch her and carry her back into the warm car. She was not under that bush. She was not under the next bush and not under every bush or low branch l looked under. Soon it was too dark to see anything. I went back to the car to fetch my torch I always take with me. For another hour I shined the torch under bushes trunks of fallen trees and low branches. 

I proceeded in circles which grew bigger and bigger and guided me, step by step, farther away from the place where she had vanished. It had already reached -9 °C (15.8 °F) when I stopped after two hours. Meantime it was getting much colder, and it was pitch dark. I did just wear jeans, pullover and boots with 6 cm heels. There was no snow but the ground was deeply frozen and so was I. It took me a while to find my way back to the car in order to put on my warm hiking-boots I had in the trunk and my coat, scarf, hat and gloves. This time I took my mobile phone with me but it was not of great help since it had no connection out there.

I continued to circle around, lighting up the undergrowth with my torch and shouting “Samura!” I tried to sound cheer and tender, so she would not be more frightened by the sound of my voice. Step by step, again, I moved further away from the car. I did not know the forest and the area. I realised how difficult it is not to lose orientation when you are constantly kneeling down to look under a bush, getting up to the next bush, kneeling down, getting up, etc. After an alarmingly short time, I was lost. It was difficult to find my way back to a path and even then I was not sure if it was the same cart track which led from the street into the forest or another one. 

I found a path which was clearly a hiking path since it was marked with the sign of a woodpecker and which was obviously not the cart track which would lead me back to my car. It was nearly impossible to estimate the distance I walked since I did not really walk. Sometimes the undergrowth was so thick that I could only get under it on my hands and knees. At some distance from the car, the terrain became very steep. I decided not to go down there in the darkness. On one point I turned off my torch because I thought Samura might be frightened by the light. Thankfully it was a clear night and I could see enough not to stumble as long as I walked along the woodpecker path. I followed that path for a time always calling for Samura, trying to sound like I would just call her for feeding at home. But as the hours passed by I shouted louder and louder “Samura! Samura! Samura! …”.

I had left the woodpecker path since I thought it might lead me too far away from the car and followed now another path which was sometimes so overgrown it was difficult to follow in the darkness. I came to a place where deer were fed and where there was also an elevated hunter's seat. Meanwhile I was fully aware I had no idea where I was and in which direction I had to turn to go back to my car. Again I changed direction and left the path to go again through the undergrowth with my torch. 

It was there, not far away from the deer yard where I was sure to glimpse two cat's eyes. But when I turned in that direction they were gone and I could not see or hear anything. At about Midnight I realised my torch was running out of energy and soon I will have a serious problem if I do not find the way back to my car. I was somewhere in the forest, no Idea where, no idea in which direction the next path is and in which direction my car is.

I turned off the torch again and was just standing still. Since I was sure, even in the night, sooner or later a car will come along the main road, and if I am not too far away I should be able to hear it maybe even see the headlight. Indeed, I had not to wait too long for a car. It was too far away to see any lights but I could clearly determine the direction. My torch hardly produced any light by the time I started to make my way in that direction through the forest, and so I did sincerely hope that car was driving along the main road. It was the main road! In Germany only main roads, where people drive faster, have trenches that are more than one metre deep and wide followed by an earth wall in order to prevent wild animals from crossing. So I was rather relieved when I found myself standing in front of the trench. 

Now I just had to figure out if my car was to my left or to my right. In order to solve that problem I decided to walk in one direction till I reached the next junction where I was sure to find a signage to the next village. I climbed over the wall and through the trench, and as soon as I left the shelter of the trees, the icy wind caught me. I wrapped my scarf in front of my face so that only my eyes remained free. The first road sign I reached was that in direction of Linden, a tiny village I already had passed by before my stop. So I had gone the wrong way. 

Meanwhile, my torch was dead and I wanted to spare my smartphone. I didn't want to risk being hit by a car, so I decided to walk on the wall, a few metres from the road. When I finally reached my car, it was in the middle of the night. I placed Samura’s transport bag on the spot where she vanished with an additional blanket. I left her some food in the hope she would smell it, find her bag and nestle in the blankets, where I would find her in the morning.

At home, I failed to sleep. I was lying on my bed waiting for dawn. As soon as it was bright enough to continue my search for Samura I drove back to the spot where I lost her the day before. It was a glorious morning. The sun was shining and inside the car it was warm like on a nice spring day. When I left the car the freezing cold let me cringe, and again I had to protect my face with my scarf. All the way I had told myself she would be there, sitting in her bag and waiting for me. Well, she was not.

I thought okay, she ran away because she was terrified. What if she just continued to run in the same direction? I had seen her vanishing under that bush the evening before. So I started to make my way in that direction through the woods. In the bright daylight the forest turned out to be beautiful. I crossed an area where the flora was left to itself which had created a nice little wilderness with old fallen trees laying criss-cross overgrown by lots of different young trees. Despite the cold, with the sun shining, the setting was almost like spring. 

It took me a moment to realise it was the bright green colour of the moss, which was covering the ground and the old trees, that created this impression. I spent a lot of time looking under old tree trunks and inside the holes created by the ripped out roots of the old trees. I had a box with Samura’s favourite dry food with me which I jounced. At home Samura cannot resist the sound of her food box and comes out wherever she is hiding for a nap. But in the forest, nothing happened. After I crossed the wilderness I found myself in front of a wall of young conifers planted like soldiers in rank and file with very little space between the single trees. Last night I did not enter that area but now I crossed it partly on my hands and knees. 

All the time I shined my torch under the trees where it was rather dim even on such a bright morning. Behind the tree farm the terrain descends and again the flora is wild with lots of thorn bushes. At the foot of the slope are fish-ponds. Beyond them the area again is climbing steep to a harvest field. Beyond that field are the first houses of the very small village called Kästel.


I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon with ringing on the doors of the first houses of Kästel and speaking to the people. It was Sunday and so everyone was at home. I met a lot of very nice people who tried to help me as best they could. They showed me where the huntsman lives and where he has his live traps for foxes. I spoke to the huntsman, checked his traps, other people went with me to open their barns, garages and cellars, so I could check them. I talked to the dog owners which I met walking their dogs. I got a rather good insight of the area and went back to the car and started again my search in circles. No hint of Samura, nothing. 

At about 3 pm I was entirely exhausted, hungry and frozen. So I went home to warm myself up eat something and rest a bit. I was back at the spot at 6 pm since I hoped she would come back to the spot I lost her on the same time. She did not. Again I searched for her till it was pitch black, and I was chilled to the bones. I really wanted to go home in my warm and cosy bed, but I simply could not. Always when I turned the engine on in order to drive home, I got this picture from her in my head, where she had tried to wriggle out of my grip and went back in her transport-bag on the passenger seat. And I had forced her to leave the warm car with me and now she is outside there in the freezing night alone. I simply could not leave her there alone and go home in my warm apartment. I simply could not.

I have always blankets in my car in case something happens on the trip, and I am forced to wait some time for help. So I rolled up on the back seat as well as I could under the blankets and tried to sleep a bit. I had realised already in the night before I have a telephone connection direct on the street. So I called my boyfriend Andreas who lives near Frankfurt and told him that I will spend some more hours in the car. He was not at all happy and tried to persuade me to go home. In the end I promised him to call him every hour but my cell phone was running out of energy pretty fast with the temperature below -14 °C (6.8 °F). It was a cold night and I honestly cannot recommend sleeping in a car under such conditions. 

At about 4 am my feet were so cold that massaging them did not help at all to warm them up. From time to time I started the engine to heat the car up while I was outside searching for Samura again. The whole night every hour I searched for her in the area around the car hoping she would come back to the spot where she run away. I was told there would be a change during the first three days that she might come back. So I waited and hoped, but she did not come.


At one point during that first night in the car I considered it a clever idea to put the blanket over my head to warm my body with my own breath. Well it turned out not to be a good idea. It is true, at first it becomes warmer but pretty soon it starts to become also wet surprisingly fast. You always read how much moisture your body is emitting by breathing, but you just realise how much it actually is when you breathe under your woollen blanket in a car by -14 °C (6.8 °F). The blanket gets wet and it becomes impossible to keep your body temperature up. All I could do was to start the engine for some time. 

At about 6:30 am shortly before dawn the police arrived. It turned out Andreas was so afraid I would have fallen asleep and frozen he had called the police. And now, two young police officers were standing in front of my car, with that look at their face, which made it very clear, they thought I was crazy. Well, maybe I am crazy, but for me my cats are my children, particularly since I had my miscarriage, and I could never abandon one of them. What would you do if your child is lost in a forest during the coldest period in the year?

Anyway I managed to convince the two officers I am not a threat, neither to me nor to anyone else, and so they let me be. Shortly after that, dawn broke and I started to search for Samura again. This day I started to widen the radius where I was searching for her more and more since I had read that cats can easily have a territory of several square kilometres. Later that day I called the company where Samura’s chip is registered and reported her missing. I designed a search poster, printed it 60 times and hung it up within a radius of up to seven kilometres on trees, supermarkets, banks, post offices, etc. in villages nearby.

I informed the nearest veterinarian. I spoke with a great deal of people in the four villages which are closest to the point where Samura vanished. A lot of people where very helpful and nice. One man checked with his dog the trenches and drainage pipes along the street on a regular term. On the third day entirely strangers approached me when I was sitting in the only restaurant nearby having lunch or just a hot cup of coffee to get warm. It was a family, and they came over to me asking if I am the woman which is searching for her cat. Altogether I spent three complete nights out in the woods in my car. Actually I improved my equipment so that much of the third night was almost comfortable. But no sign of Samura, not a single “miau”, not a single pair of cat eyes in the darkness. Nothing! Like the earth had swallowed her.

The time went on and I tried to comfort myself with the fantasy she might have found a nice place to stay. Maybe with an old lady who is not leaving home very often and therefore did not see my posters. But no matter how hard I tried I simply could not accept the situation and even if I did not have the time to search for her for several hours during a day, not a day went by when I did not drive out into that forest and search for her at least for an hour. I was unable to let her go, unable to accept she was gone. Her transport bag which I had placed in the forest, so she might find it, was stolen, and so I dismantled her favourite basket from the cat tree and deposited it in the forest.

Nothing helped! The food I left for her was untouched or obviously removed by other animals. After two weeks I started to look for her dead body along the little streets between the little villages and the forest roads which are actually not allowed for normal cars. I was devastated, but even then, even if the weather was very bad, and I was tired and had no time, there was always that power which made me go there, even if I had no hope left to find her.

On 18th of March, it was a Sunday; I woke up in the morning and saw it had snowed overnight. A thick layer of snow was covering the world outside my window, and I was sure, there would be snow near Kästel too. I hurried through a small breakfast and rushed to the forest, eager to search for traces of cat’s paws in the fresh snow. Two weeks earlier we had had some snow too. But it was just like a little powder on the ground not enough to follow a trace over a long distance even though Andreas and I tried our best. Today I was alone. 

When I reached my familiar spot in the forest near Kästel, I had not to search long, there was a cat trace not 10 meters from the spot where Samura vanished. I followed that trace which led me criss-cross across the forest and forced me into the undergrowth. It led me again and again in circles back to the spot not far from my car. It was just one cat. Always when I saw another trace and thought, okay, there are two cats, it turned out one hour or so later, that the trace of the second cat was actually from the first which just circled back to its earlier trace. 

I spent hours following the trace. I found the place where she obviously spent the night and I found three spots where she obviously had tried to find something under the snow because there she had pawed away the snow. At about 5 pm the light started to go and still no glimpse of Samura. I was cold, tired, hungry and exhausted and I gave up for the day and went to my car.

The next morning I returned. First I checked on the sleeping place and main whereabouts I discovered the day before. There had been a lot of new traces from a lot of different animals. After I could not identify a significant fresh cat-trace I decided to proceed like the day before, and so I started to follow her to where I had to stop the evening before. Actually on the second day it was very difficult to follow her because of all the other traces from other animals which used the same path, and sometimes Samura had used the same path several times. I had to deal with a decent palimpsest where I did not lose the trace just once. 

Several times I found myself forced to circle a spot in order to identify the freshest outgoing trace. That was all very exhaustingly and frustrating since it all led to empty places. I was even not sure it was Samura I was following. When the sun started to set down on the second day, I was devastated. I knew it would not be easier the next day. Meantime I knew, the radius of movement of the cat I was following was not very big, but still I could not find her. When I started to make my way back to the car on these evening, I was close to tears while I followed my own boot-prints from the evening before.

And suddenly I saw fresh cat traces in my old boot-prints from the evening before. I followed those cat traces which followed my boot traces since we obviously had gone the same way. When the cat trace turned to the left in the direction of the deeryard, which I knew very well from the first night of Samura’s disappearance, I followed the trace more or less automatically. She had searched the feeding trough for food although it was obviously empty. Then the trace went on and disappeared under a pine whose branches bent down from the heavy snow, forming a kind of tent. 

I got on my knees like I had done countless times these last weeks and peered in that “tent”. It was dark under the branches and I almost would have overlooked her if not for her pairs of eyes staring at me from the farthest corner where the branches were so thick that there was a snow free spot where she was hiding. She was so small and she was shaking. I could see that she did not recognise me but was afraid of me.

I did not act rational; in fact I did the most stupid thing I could. I had the box with the treats with me so the clever way would have been to try to lure her with the food in my direction. But for some reason my brain was not properly working at that moment, and so I went around the pine to the spot where she huddled and tried to take her. Well, that was stupid, and she got frightened and run away.
It was a short hunt since she was almost starved to death I could outrun her in the snow after about 50 meters. All I was able to think about, was not to lose her again, and so I am sure, when I finally clutched her, my grip was not as gentle as I wanted it to be. 

She bit and scratched me till I had her on her back. I told her she might bite and scratch me as much as she wants but I would not let her go. I do not know if it was the sound of my voice or the scent of my hand on which she sniffed now, but she looked at me and I could see the recognition in her eyes. She stopped fighting my hands and when I released her, she did not move. I took off my winter jacket, put it on the ground next to her, cupped this little creature, which was literally just fur and bone gently in my hands and put her on the jacket which I wrapped around her. Now where I realised how malnourished she was I started to panic I might have come too late, and she might not make it.

While I carried her back to the car, I had a surreal feeling, like being in a dream. There was an owl screaming above us. At some point I realised my hand was bleeding but I felt no pain. I was so baffled, I headed in the wrong direction and it took me some minutes to realise it. Samura did not move at all so from time to time I checked on her if she was still breathing. When we reached the car I put her on the passenger seat than I took a can of cat food out of the trunk and fed her. I was anxious to give her too much since I had read that it can be deadly for starving cats to give them too much too fast. I was relieved when I saw her wolfing down the food. 

While she was eating I called Andreas to ask him to check whether the veterinarian office in Dachsbach, two villages away, was still open. It was 6 pm and I wanted to bring Samura as soon as possible to a veterinarian. Not ten minutes later he called me back to tell me I could go there, so I headed to the vet. Mrs Hermann is a veterinarian by passion, and she gave Samura a thorough examination. After that she calmed me down by telling me everything would be all right with some antibiotics, food and love. I was so relieved I sat on a chair in the consulting room and started to cry. Samura had a lot of ticks. It looked like she took shelter in a tick-nest. She had open wounds on all her legs, her paws where swollen, she had an acute bronchitis, and she was malnourished. But I was able take her with me home on the same evening.

On my way back I texted some friends since I was so happy and wanted to share the good news. Michael was one of them, who found it difficult to believe I had really found her. I instructed my flatmate Shan to confine Kikura and Merlin in her room in order to spare Samura the stress to be confronted with them immediately after entering the flat. When I texted Shan she was convinced I had picked some other cat and was pretending it was Samura. She was stunned when she saw that it actually was her. And like Shan a lot of people had difficulty believing it at first. But thankfully Samura’s coat pattern is unique and so everyone had to admit I did bring home my beloved cat.

I did not sleep that night since I had to go to the emergency too. My hand started to swell where Samura had bitten me, and I was in some pain too. I did not know at that time that cat bites, besides human bites, are the most dangerous bite wounds you can get. It can lead to very serious infection which can be resistant to antibiotics. So should you ever be bitten by a cat or a human do not wait, go to the doctor immediately. 

I was lucky, I just had an infusion in the emergency, had my hand and half my arm fixed in a splint, had to take antibiotics every day for a fortnight and last but not least I had to promise the emergency physician that I would go to my family doctor the very next day and come back immediately should the pain went worse. Then he let me go but mostly because I  made my point very clear that I would not stay in hospital since I have a cat at home who needs my attention.

Samura recovered rather well over the next days. The first days I fed her every four hours small amounts of canned food mixed with special nutrient solutions. Most of the time she slept in my bed, and since I had to stay in bed because for my hand too, she spent most of her first days purring snuggled up to me.


 

















Two weeks later back on her scratching tree