|Cat missing after Hurricane Irma reunited with owners after month on
knoxnews.com-Jane Smith and her husband Larry drove 18 hours to escape Hurricane Irma last month, landing them in Lenoir City, the first place they could find an available motel room after leaving their home in Largo, Fla.
They were exhausted and unpacking their belongings, including their cat, Josephine, in the motel room, when Smith ran down to the car.
It was shortly after she returned and opened the door that Josephine, a six-year-old orange tabby, escaped.
"She ran through my legs, out the door and across the parking lot," said Smith, 55. "My heart sunk."
Days spent searching
The couple spent 10 days riding out the hurricane and looking for Josephine in early September. Eventually, it was time to go home, without their beloved pet.
The cat is a support animal for her husband, who is wheelchair-bound, said Smith, adding she didn't think she'd ever see Josephine again. Her only hope was in her daughter, Elizabeth Lee, who lives in Knoxville and would continue to look for the cat and put out the word on social media.
"After a while I really didn't (think we would find her)," Smith said. "I was hoping she was being taken care of by someone."
Lee, who works as an administrative assistant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said she would get an occasional phone call about the cat, but every lead would turn out to be a dead end.
Then she got the idea to send out postcards to the neighborhood around the motel in Lenoir City, asking people to respond if they had seen Josephine and listing her name and contact information along with a picture.
Postcards helped find Josephine
Soon she got a phone call from Dewey Brown, who said he thought he had seen the cat in his barn.
Lee was skeptical.
"I just didn't expect it to be her, because she's a small, shy cat who got out in an area where there were already a lot of cats," she said.
But Brown, who did not respond to calls seeking comment, set up a humane trap and while it caught some possums first, it eventually trapped Josephine. He called Lee, who came out to his house after work last Monday, Oct. 16 - more than a month after Josephine had gone missing.
She immediately took pictures of the cat and sent them to her mom, then called her to ask if it was Josephine.
"When I saw them, I immediately knew it was her, without a doubt," Smith said. "She was a little ragged but it was definitely her. I was so excited."
A happy reunion with 3-pound kitty
Last weekend Smith flew to Knoxville to reunite with Josephine, an indoor cat whose weight dropped to three pounds during her adventure outdoors. Lee took her to a veterinarian, who said Josephine should be on the path to recovery soon.
And while the cat coyly hid from visitors on a recent afternoon, Smith said she expects her to be back to her normal self back in Florida.
Meanwhile, the mother and daughter said the experience has left them grateful for the generosity of East Tennesseans.
"A lot of people came by on their own time to help," Lee said. "I'm not used to that and I was really surprised and relieved that people would do that. It was cool to see the community coming together to help."