24 January 2013
Holly the cat lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. She was born feral, then adopted and lived as an indoor cat. Last year her humans started taking her on road trips, Holly seemed at ease. Things changed one night during a stay at an RV gathering in Daytona Beach, 190 miles to the north. Someone opened the RV's door, and Holly bolted into the night. Disoriented by strange people, hundreds of RVs and fireworks, she did not reappear. Her humans were distraught, but eventually had to return home, without Holly.
Time passed ~ two months, in fact. Who could have predicted that on new year's eve, her humans would receive a phone call from neighbors saying that Holly, "staggering, weak, and emaciated, struggling even to meow", had appeared in their backyard. Against all odds, Holly had found her way home.
No one knows how. We know from scientific studies that migratory animals (birds, insects, turtles, fish) are able to navigate over long distances using olfactory cues, the position of the sun, or the orientation of the Earth's magnetic field. Lost domestic animals who make epic treks to return home are more of a mystery. Documented stories of dogs covering unknown territory exist. Stories of cats are more rare.
But they happen. In 1989 a lost cat in Russia found its way home, 325 miles away. In 1997 a cat's family moved from Utah to Washington, but the cat determinedly returned to Utah, a journey of 835 miles. That same year an Australian cat traveled 1000 miles to reach home.
In America, probably the most famous animal trek appears in the book The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Three pets owned by the same family ~ two dogs and a cat ~ trekked nearly 300 miles through the wilderness of northwest Ontario to return home. The story was made into a 1963 movie, and remade in a 1993 movie.
The NYTimes article on Holly's story has been making the rounds on the Internet. In the article, animal behaviorists speculate on how she managed to find her way, but there is much yet to learn. All I can say with certainty is that if one of my two cats became lost, my heart would break. And if, weeks later, that lost cat appeared at my door, I would be weeping for days.