Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Determined to Find Home

Pam Belluck, a writer for the New York Times reports today on “Holly”:  an indoor housecat who got lost on a family excursion managing, after two months and about 200 miles, to return to her hometown.  Although homeless, the cat was determined to find home.

Even scientists are baffled by how Holly, a 4-year-old tortoiseshell who in early November became separated from Jacob and Bonnie Richter at an R.V. rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., appeared on New Year’s Eve — staggering, weak and emaciated — in a backyard about a mile from the Richters’ house in West Palm Beach.  Luckily, Holly not only had distinctive black-and-brown harlequin patterns on her fur, but also an implanted microchip to identify her.

Scientists say it is more common, although still rare, to hear of dogs returning home, perhaps suggesting, Dr. John Bradshaw, (Director of the University of Bristol’s Anthrozoology Institute) said, that “they have inherited wolves’ ability to navigate using magnetic clues. But it’s also possible that dogs get taken on more family trips, and that lost dogs are more easily noticed or helped by people along the way.”

Peter Borchelt, a New York animal behaviorist, wondered if Holly followed the Florida coast by sight or sound, tracking Interstate 95 and deciding to “keep that to the right and keep the ocean to the left.”

“It’s actually happened to me,” said Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist who hosts “My Cat From Hell” on Animal Planet. While living in Boulder, Colo., he moved across town, whereupon his indoor cat, Rabbi, fled and appeared 10 days later at the previous house, “walking five miles through an area he had never been before,” Mr. Galaxy said.

When she was found, the pads on Holly’s feet were bleeding and the back claws were reduced to nothing.  Scientists say that is consistent with a long walk, since back feet provide propulsion, while front claws engage in activities like tearing. The Richters also said Holly had gone from 13.5 to 7 pounds.

But during the Good Sam R.V. Rally in Daytona, when they were camping near the speedway with 3,000 other motor homes, Holly bolted when Ms. Richter’s mother opened the door one night. Fireworks the next day may have further spooked her, and, after searching for days, alerting animal agencies and posting fliers, the Richters returned home catless.

Miraculously, on New Year’s Eve, Barb Mazzola, a 52-year-old university executive assistant, noticed a cat “barely standing” in her backyard in West Palm Beach, struggling even to meow. Over six days, Ms. Mazzola and her children cared for the cat, putting out food, including special milk for cats, and eventually the cat came inside. 

Naming her Cosette after the orphan in Les Misérables, she was taken to Paws2Help to give her medical care and to see if she had a microchip.  At Paws2Help, Ms. Mazzola said, “I almost didn’t want to ask, because I wanted to keep her, but I said, ‘Just check and make sure she doesn’t have a microchip.’” When told the cat did, “I just cried.”

The Richters cried, too upon seeing Holly, who instantly relaxed when placed on Mr. Richter’s shoulder. Re-entry is proceeding well, but the mystery persists:  Are all animals, humans included somehow programmed to search out, make the journey and find their “home”?
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