Cats That Find Their Way Home

Holly the cat with her owners.

Holly the cat with her owners.

Stories like this are not uncommon, but they always amaze me.

Holly, a four-year-old indoor house cat, got lost 200 miles from home. The owners, Jacob and Bonnie Richter, were attending an RV rally in Daytona, and one night Holly bolted out the door. They searched for several days in van, and finally returned to their home in West Palm Beach.

Two months later, Holly turned up at a home one mile from the Richters’ house. A family found Holly in their backyard, “barely standing” and struggling to meow. The pads on her feet were bleeding, her claws worn; she was dehydrated, and lost nearly half her weight, falling from 13.5 pounds to 7 pounds. This family fed her for a week, took her to a vet…and that’s when the embedded microchip was discovered, with information on Holly’s real owners.

I’ve heard many such stories involving dogs returning to a far-off home. Why? Perhaps because dogs are more often taken on family trips, and thus, they more frequently get lost. But it happens with cats, too. Here are some other stories. Perhaps some of them didn’t happen, or didn’t happen exactly this way–I’m not gonna try to verify these stories. But there are too many to discount.

  • In Boulder, Col., a man moved fives miles across town. His indoor cat fled and showed up, 10 days later, at the previous house.
  • In Russia, a cat was left with relatives, but traveled 325 miles over a year’s time back to the owner’s apartment building in Moscow–hungry, dirty, pregnant, and missing the tip of its tail.
  • A year after a family moved from Utah to Washington, their cat showed up back at their home in Utah.
  • In Australia, an indoor Persian cat left with relatives traveled 1000 miles to get home.
  • In England, a Siamese cat hopped a train and got off at the right place, walking another couple miles to get home.
  • In 2002, a cat disappeared while vacationing with his owners in Wisconsin, but showed up at their home in Minnesota, 350 miles away, 140 days later.
  • In 1973, a couple gave their cat to a friend when they moved from Georgia to South Carolina. The cat traveled 200 miles to show up at the South Carolina home, which the cat had never before seen.
  • In Louisiana, a 17-year-old cat traveled for three weeks and 300 miles–including crossing the Mississippi and Red rivers–to be reunited with his owners.
  • In 1985, in Dayton, Ohio, a cat named Muddy Water White jumped out of a van driven by his owner. Three years later, the cat showed up at his home in Pennsylvania, 450 miles away. “He came and flopped down like he was home,” said the owner. She fed him for three days before realizing it was her lost cat.
  • In France, a family lost their pet cat, who showed up 8 months later at their summer home on the French Riviera, 480 miles away.
  • In 1949, a ginger tomcat named Rusty traveled from Boston to Chicago–950 miles–in just 83 days to return home.
  • A family in Australia lost their cat while traveling. The cat showed up 9 months later at their home in Melbourne, 1472 miles away.
  • In 1981, a Turkish worker in Germany returned for a visit to Turkey, but his cat, Minosch, disappeared at the Turkish border. Two months later, Minosch was found scratching at the family’s door on the island of Sylt in northern Germany–1485 miles away.
  • When a family moved from California to Oklahoma, they left their cat with a neighbor. Fourteen months later, Sugar, a two-year-old Persian, showed up on their doorstep in Oklahoma, 1500 miles away, having averaged 100 miles a month to a place Sugar had never seen.

To me, the most amazing story involves an English Terrier, whose owner left England to fight in France during World War 1. Somehow the dog crossed the English channel and showed up in his owner’s foxhole on the battlefield. Or so the story goes. Believe It, Or Not.

How would our cats, Jordie and Molly, do? When Jordie is outside, he just spaces out; he starts walking in a direction, and keeps going. I highly doubt he could find his way home. But Molly–yeah, I think Molly could. But she’s so scrawny, and so skittish and afraid of everything, I wonder how well she could survive in the wild. She’s an indoor cat for a reason.

How do pets do this? Here are some explanations.

  • Some animals have a “mapping” ability, remembering landmarks, scents, sounds, etc. In the wild, some animals hunt over a vast territory, but still need to find their way back home.
  • Birds are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field. It is suggested that cats are, too, though to a lesser extent.
  • Many animals have keener hearing than humans, taking in ambient and other sounds and remembering them as a way to orient themselves. Likewise with smells.
  • Perhaps animals take in the stars as a directional guide.
  • And, of course, there are theories about psychic connections between pets and owners.
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