January 23, 2013

She Walked How Far?

We say our pets are part of our family, and most of us treat them like they are the better part of our family. But what if your pet ran away? What if they got lost far from home? How far would you go for your pet? Would you travel hundreds of miles to get him or her back? Would you go without food, or shelter, or friends?

For some of our pets, that’s exactly how far they would go for us.

Science World Report today had the story of Holly, a house cat who was lost on vacation in Daytona Beach, Florida. Holly’s family searched for her but had to give up and go home – 200 miles away in West Palm Beach. Holly took two months to get back to West Palm Beach, but get back she did. “Staggering, weak and emaciated, but still alive.”

Is Holly extraordinary? So far, science says yes. There are anecdotal stories of dogs and cats making their way home from long distances, but science can’t really give us answers for how this happens. Why? Well for one thing, they haven’t studied it. They have studied turtles and doves and even butterflies, but not the homing instincts of the common house pet. So far, scientists chalk up the stories of dogs coming home to latent wolf instincts for navigation. But they don’t know for sure.

So is Holly alone in her miraculous journey? Not even close. Just a tiny Google search today found more stories on Animal Planet.

Meet Howie, the Persian cat. Howie was staying with relatives of his family, 1,000 miles from home, when he went missing. Howie’s family was on an extended overseas vacation for months (and why noone thought to call and say “Hey, your cat is missing!” I’ll never know. Take note friends, if you are animal sitting for me, go right head and ruin my vacation.) Howie’s family came home months later to find out that he had run away. Now, Howie was an indoor cat (Persian, right? Who would have guessed that one?) so his family gave him up for lost. One YEAR later, Howie showed up at home after crossing 1,000 miles of Australian Outback.

Tony was a mixed breed dog living in Aurora, Illinois when his family had to move to East Lansing, Michigan. For some reason, they couldn’t’ take Tony with them and found him a new home in Aurora, 260 miles away from their new home. Six weeks after the big move, Tony comes trotting down the street in East Lansing looking for his family. Tony is a wonder mutt, he didn’t find his old home, he found his old family in a brand new home.

Madonna the massage parlor cat (yeah, I know.. there are SO many jokes waiting to be made in that one) traveled 150 miles from Kitchener, Ontario back to her home base of Windsor, Ontario. Madonna’s owner had moved to Kitchener to open a new branch of the family massage parlor (no! no! I will not make the jokes!) but Madonna did not approve, and went back home to the parlor in Windsor.

Next up, my personal favorite, a dog named Troubles. Troubles was a scout dog in Vietnam in the 1960’s. He and his handler were dropped off by helicopter in South Vietnam, where his handler was wounded by enemy fire. The soldiers rescued his handler, but forgot about Troubles. Three weeks later, Troubles walked in out of the jungle to his home base at First Air Cavalry Division Headquarters in An Khe, South Vietnam. Troubles wasn’t finished, however. He not only made it back to his home base, through a country that considers dog a delicacy, but he found his handler’s quarters, and curled up to sleep on a pile of his clothes to wait.

Last, but certainly not least is Misele, the French farm cat. Misele’s owner was 82 years old when he went into the hospital, and she missed him a lot. She proved it too, by walking across pastures full of cattle, a rock quarry, forests and highways to find his hospital room – where she had never been before.

These aren’t enough stories to even form a statistical blip on the radar, they are outliers by themselves and even as a group. But it is enough stories that some scientist somewhere should be wondering, right?

Well, meet the folks at the Kitty Cams project. They are part of the National Geographic CritterCam project. They have put cameras on 55 house cats to see exactly what they get up to when they are outside without human supervision. They collected about 37 hours of footage per cat and have some idea of what Kitty really does when you aren’t around.

Not surprisingly, Kitty eats, sleeps, hunts, roams the neighborhood, gets in fights, has sex, and does all the things you imagine her doing. A few things you might not imagine is that some Kittys have second homes. Kitty Cam caught a few feline friends going to someone else’s home for food and affection.

Even all this research, however, doesn’t answer the question of how Holly got home from Daytona. Maybe we will never know.

Welcome home, Holly.

Image Credit: Okssi / Shutterstock

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