Source: USA Today (Extract)
Posted: September 1, 2023

Millions of pets go missing every year in the U.S. It’s a scary number for pet owners and especially cat-lovers, who are statistically less likely to find their beloved friend after they are lost.

Despite the best efforts of shelters, advocates, animal lovers and pet parents alike, sometimes these situations don’t always produce a happy ending, with many once-beloved pets ending up in shelters or otherwise accounted for. And while posters, social media posts, search parties and microchips can help, sometimes people are forced to come to terms with the fact that they will probably never see their pet again.

This was the case for Witchita, Kansas animal lover Carol Holmes, who has last seen her black-and-white cat, Bob, 10 years ago this summer. Imagine her surprise, then, when an email from a veterinarian in Fuquay-Verina, North Carolina appeared in her inbox on Aug. 19.

“I was just stunned,” she told USA TODAY. “I just opened it up and saw they had found Bob and I just could not believe it, truly. I was absolutely stunned.”

Before making it into the vet’s office where his microchip was scanned, Bob ended up on the front porch of a couple living 1,200 miles from where he had originally gone missing. The couple, wondering if he was stray or a lost pet, brought him to a local animal hospital, where his still-working chip returned Holmes’ information.

A “sign from heaven”

Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Holmes was having a rough day. Her mind was on her late father, also named Bob, who would have turned 94-years-old on Aug. 19. She was dearly missing her dad, after whom she named Bob the cat.

“It was all very surreal and very significant to me because I got the word on dad’s birthday,” she said. “To me, it really felt like a message from heaven. I had been missing my father a lot.”

She said that Bob the cat had been fortunate enough to meet his namesake before disappearing just months after being rescued from the shelter. At just around a year old, the animal-loving family had taken Bob home, where he settled in and seemed ready to be loved, said Holmes.

Only four months after becoming a member of the family, however, Bob didn’t return for dinner one night. After weeks of tireless searching, scouring the neighborhood, handing out fliers and posting on social media, Holmes thought it possible that Bob had been taken in by another family, perhaps one unaware he already had a home.

She believes this might be how Bob ended up over 1,000 miles away – after being “catnapped,” he moved locations with one or possibly multiple families, eventually ending up all the way in North Carolina.

Bob was found in good, healthy condition and seems to get along well with the elderly cat owned by the couple who found him, who graciously offered to hold onto Bob until he could make it back to Kansas.

Over 1,000 miles to go

However, transporting a cat 1,200 miles, or roughly a 17-hour drive, is not the easiest of tasks. According to Holmes, her decision to go public with Bob’s story in the first place was at the behest of loved ones who were trying to help her figure out the many logistics.

“We were all trying to privately raise funds to find a way to get him back,” she said. “The more we delved into it, a lot of the cat transporters want to be paid a hefty sum. And then we found an all-volunteer cat transport, but they do require a lot of vetting up front before they will let the cat travel under their nonprofit.”

The nonprofit in question, Imagine Home, has a network of volunteers across the country who work together to help cats in need of long-distance transportation. Because they do this without a high fee associated, they are backed up with requests, meaning Bob may not be able to make it home until late September, when space is available, said Holmes.

Without a reliable car and feeling the repercussions of a tough economy, Holmes turned to her community for help. Cat lovers across the country enthusiastically came to her aid, surpassing her GoFundMe goal in just a matter of days.

“It gives people hope to be reunited with their beloved pets and it drives home the importance of microchipping,” said Holmes, who has been blown away by all the attention.

“I am just so grateful,” she said, “this has been overwhelming. I did not anticipate anything like this.”

For now, there are still a lot of logistics to figure out and smooth over before Bob can officially make it back home. For now, he is staying with the family who found him and gaining fans from all across the country.

“It really, it feels like a message from heaven,” Holmes reiterated. “It truly does, from my dad.”