FLORIDA – On Aug. 6, Robin Zelenak brought a stray cat she had been calling “Kitty” to Spring Oaks Animal Care Center in DeLand.
Something was wrong with the orange-striped cat Zelenak had been caring for for about two years at her workplace, which is the DeLand wastewater-treatment plant on South Amelia Avenue.
“I didn’t know if she was pregnant or if she had worms,” Zelenak stated.
And so, the vet did an ultrasound to check, but was unable to find the cat’s uterus. So, the vet moved on to doing an X-ray and — in a twist of fate — discovered that while “Kitty” was carrying nothing but a case of gas in her stomach, she did have a microchip on her shoulder.
A microchip, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, is a small chip which is enclosed in a glass cylinder approximately the size of a grain of rice that is injected under a pet’s skin.
The chip may be read with a scanner that’s on hand in most animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and animal-control offices. The chip is loaded with the pet’s name and a lot of information about its owner.
According to a 2009 study done by the AVMA, lost cats without microchips were reunited with their owners only 1.8 percent of the time, while micro-chipped felines made it back home 38.5 percent of the time.
Kitty is now among those in the 38.5 percent.
On the morning of Aug. 6, the McAskill family of DeLand received the phone call which, years before, they had given up hope of ever getting. Sarah McAskill and her daughters were returning home from a summer trip.
“We were driving back down from Philadelphia, and I almost rejected the call because it didn’t pop up as a known number,” McAskill stated.
However, she answered, and learned that Sugar, daughter Jane McAskill’s cat, had been found, after going missing four long years ago.
Sugar had come into the McAskills’ lives back in the year 2006.
“[Jane] had been praying for a cat, but my husband hated the idea,” Sarah stated.
“Yeah, I had always wanted a little orange cat,” Jane noted.
The family was out eating at The Old Spanish Sugar Mill in DeLeon Springs when they spotted Sugar outside the restaurant.
“We approached her, and she was super-friendly,” Jane stated.
Just seven years old at the time, Jane pleaded with her father, Stephen, for permission to adopt the kitty. It appeared Sugar was between 6 months and a year old, and she had noticeably had kittens recently. No one owned the cat, and no kittens were found in the area.
Jane’s father relented and so, Sugar had found her “furever” home.
The McAskills travel quite often. About six years after adopting Sugar, back on July 3, 2012, they left her with a neighbor and friend who lived in their building at Yorkfield Square on North Garfield Avenue in DeLand.
Sarah and Stephen thought this would be the absolute safest thing: leaving Sugar in an area where she already felt comfortable. But on Day 3 of her stay with the neighbor, Sugar had disappeared.
“She may have gone looking for us,” Sarah stated. “I thought she would stay because it was the same area, but I guess it just wasn’t quite home without us there.”
The family spent long weeks looking for their pet, but were still in Maine. Unable to search the area themselves, they relied on friends and also on social media.
“I was like 13 when she disappeared. I spent months crying myself to sleep about it,” Jane remembered.
“We just thought she may have gotten adopted by another family,” Sarah stated. “She’s just such a likable cat.”
When the McAskills first met Zelenak, they learned more about Sugar’s adventures.
The exploring feline may have been trying to journey back to the family’s old home in Bent Oaks, but settled instead outside the City of DeLand’s Wiley M. Nash Water Reclamation Facility at 1101 S. Amelia Ave., which is about a quarter-mile from the family’s former home.
Sugar stayed in the area for four long years, living on scraps fed to her by people who lived in the neighborhood, and on the occasional bags of cat food Zelenak brought. Zelenak has three feline friends of her own at home; she started actively caring for Sugar about two years ago.
“All of my cats are micro-chipped; I can’t believe I never thought to look for one on her,” Zelenak stated. “I thought she was just another stray.”
During her visit to Spring Oaks Animal Care Center, it was determined that Sugar had some slight skin problems which were caused by fleas and outdoor life, was underweight, and was slightly anemic, but, all in all, was in good condition after four years without veterinary care.
The beloved cat had been home for less than a week, and already her skin issues were begnning to clear up, while her eyes were appearing less sullen and sunken.
“She looks older; that was the one shocking thing,” Sarah stated.
Fenway, the McAskills’ 7-year-old cocker spaniel, was very excited to have his old friend return.
“He was looking in [her cat carrier] like, ‘I can’t believe it! It’s you! Where have you been?!’” Sarah stated.
Kitty, the family’s other feline, is a bit less pleased. Kitty was adopted a year after Sugar’s initial disappearance and hasn’t yet gotten herself accustomed to the idea of sharing the house with another cat. Jane and Stephen have been working with the kitty companions, and the two may be friends sometime soon.
Sugar is re-adjusting well to being an indoor cat again.
“As long as she stays inside, she seems really happy,” Jane stated.
Sugar has expressed absolutely no interest in going outside again. She now enjoys being inside her kennel and, after all of her adventures and no longer whines about being put into a cat carrier.
“She’s been sleeping with us since she got home. We forget all of her Sugar-isms. You know, when you pet her, she just spreads her paws in delight,” Sarah stated.
“She is super-comfortable with us. She just acts like she’s just back home,” Jane said, grinning.
Zelenak is equally as happy as the McAskills are.
“I was so happy to find out that she has a loving family to go back to; one that will take good care of her,” she stated as she was trying holding back tears of joy.
Perhaps French filmmaker and writer Jean Cocteau stated it best: “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”