The Cat Came Back

 One feline’s incredible journey

By Heather Freehling

Two weeks before Halloween 2003, I was at my mother’s house in Bridgman, Michigan, helping her work in the back yard, when we heard a little meow coming from around her shed. After a short investigation, I discovered a young black cat hiding in some bushes. Just a tiny thing at aboutfour months old, he came out as soon as he saw me and started purring and rubbing on my legs. It was as if he felt thrilled to be finally found.

I was very concerned about a cat roaming the streets so close to Halloween, especially a solid black one like this. So I took the little guy home and began a search for his guardians. After a few weeks and no luck, I decided it was time to find a new home for him. I already had two cats of my own, plus two dogs and a tribe of chinchillas and mice in my back room. On top of that, I had a 2-year-old daughter. Adding another furry feline to our already large family wasn’t in my plans. But after several weeks, this tenacious little kitten was still with us. He just didn’t want to go home with anyone else. Or maybe I was just too picky about all the prospective new guardians who looked at him. Regardless, I prepared myself for a long-term foster situation.

We named him Little Brat, or LB for short. The name was meant affectionately, but it captured his personality: LB had a talent for getting into everything. If I was trying to write a note, he’d grab the pen. If I was trying to cook, he’d bat the ingredients around the counter. If I put a grocery bag down on the floor, he’d jump into it. I couldn’t even take a shower without him trying to slide into the tub with me. Every time I sat down, he was on my lap. He would climb up my body and nuzzle my head, and wouldn’t let me go until I stood up. This kitty was truly a ham.

In spite of his endearing ways, I didn’t allow myself to get too close. Now pregnant for a second time, I knew he’d need to find a permanent home soon. Then something unexpected happened. My husband was offered a job in a new city, 41/2 hours away from our home in Sawyer, Michigan. We had just two weeks to pack and relocate. Frantically, I looked for a new home for LB. My husband’s aunt, a real animal-lover, graciously agreed to let him live on her small farm nearby. He would be an indoor/outdoor cat with lots of other cats to socialize with, and would get special treats on Christmas and his birthday, such as T-bone steak. When we arrived at the farm, LB got out of the car with little hesitation and quickly strutted around like he owned the place. We watched him for an hour or so to make sure he was going to like it. Then we returned home with some sadness, but also with great expectations for his future and happiness.

Nine days later, I was doing some last-minute packing in the living room. Suddenly, I saw a little black cat hanging by his claws from the windowsill, staring at me. Only LB and my other cat Braveheart did that. Odd, I thought. I went to the front door, opened it…and a very thin LB trotted inside.

The little guy had traveled nearly seven miles, over a small river, and across countless roads to end up back at our house. He had only two days to spare before we would have been gone. There’s no question it was him: He knew exactly where the food bowls were and ran right to them. Then he darted to all his favorite spots in the house, from a pillow on my bed to a particular windowsill he loved. He was just as frisky, curious, and snuggly as ever, right down to trying to slide into the shower with me.

To say I was astonished is an understatement. How had he found his way home? It reminded me of the book “The Incredible Journey,” in which two dogs and a cat are left stranded in a cabin and somehow journey more than 200 miles to find their way home. I have heard stories of cats and dogs actually performing feats like this, whether by instinct, a sense of the earth’s magnetism, a little psychic power, or a combination of all three. But I never thought it would happen with an animal I knew!

After his amazing return, we knew for sure that LB was meant to be with us forever. Two days after he came back, we moved to Frederic, Michigan. A week later, I gave birth to my second daughter. LB has been a friend to both girls, curling up next to little Elizabeth for a baby-size cuddle or chasing after a giggling Brieanna as she drags a toy across the floor. LB never runs out of energy and is the perfect match for a 3-year-old.

It has been more than six months now, and LB is truly happy here with us. My husband and I have been touched deeply by his loyalty. At first, I felt extremely guilty when he came back, having underestimated how much he cared for us. Now, I just cherish his love and devotion every day. His return has given me a brand-new understanding of just how much our pets love us. And this knowledge has solidified my decision to start fostering stray cats again—something I used to do before my first daughter was born. I believe all pets are as dedicated and loyal as LB is, and they definitely all deserve homes of their own. I want every animal to feel safe, loved, and part of a family—something I work hard to communicate to LB every day.

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