Winnipeg Family Is Astounded by Tiger Lily's Miraculous Return after Having Been Believed Dead for Fourteen Years
"We thought a fox got her. She just disappeared. We put up posters but she was never returned."
-- Ingrid Kerger
Stories about prodigal cats just keep getting more fantastic all the time. Take, for example, Tiger Lily who was reunited with her family back in January after having been believed dead for almost fourteen years!
"We thought a fox got her," Ingrid Kerger told the Winnipeg Free Press on February 2nd. (See "Cat Came Back: Fourteen Years Later.") "She just disappeared. We put up posters but she was never returned."
That was way back on October 12, 1996 when the orange-colored cat was only three-years-old and Kerger and her family were living in Lockport, 31.6 kilometers north of Winnipeg. Eventually, she assumed the worst and gave up looking for Tiger Lily. Life went on and she later relocated her family to Winnipeg.
Imagine then the jolt that she received in late January when she received a surprise telephone call from the Oakbank Animal Hospital, fifteen kilometers east of Winnipeg, informing her that it had found Tiger Lily. "I was in shock when they called," she told the Winnipeg Free Press. "My sons were incredulous."
In circumstances that are not exactly clear, Tiger Lily wound up in the hands of a staffer at Oakbank who noticed that the cat had an ear tattoo. From that number, the diligent team at Oakbank was able to pinpoint Kerger's old address in Lockport and eventually track her down in Winnipeg.
Tiger Lily apparently had been either homeless or severely neglected for some time because she was thin and dehydrated when she finally wound up at Oakbank. The staff generously gave her intravenous fluids, food, and a bed without charge.
Since being returned to the Kergers she has been eating like a horse and appears to be in remarkably good shape, especially for a now seventeen-year-old cat. (See photo above of her with Kerger.)
The key question is, of course, does she remember Kerger and her two sons, Richard and Mark? Kerger believes that is indeed the case because on her first night back home Tiger Lily chose to sleep with Richard just like she did so many nights all those years ago.
While that very well could be true it is a rather dubious assertion to make. After all, the Kergers have aged considerably and occupy a new house.
Cats belong to places, dogs to people, as the old Sprichwort goes and that would tend to mitigate against Tiger Lily remembering the Kergers. Since she always has been a loving cat who liked to cuddle, she therefore might be prone to curling up with almost anyone who feeds and is kind to her.
Anyway, determining exactly what cats retain would be a fascinating topic to explore if it could be done in a noninvasive fashion that did not involve either confinement or cruelty. Since that most likely would be impossible, such issues perhaps are best left to speculation.
It is interesting to note in passing, however, that researcher Carol Sankey and her colleagues at the University of Rennes have determined that horses are able to remember individuals who have treated them well even after eight months of separation. Needless to say there are big differences between cats and horses and a separation of eight months is in no way comparable to one lasting fourteen years. (See Discovery News, March 17, 2010, "Horses Never Forget Human Friends.")
Kerger attributes Tiger Lily's longevity to the fact that she had been sterilized before she disappeared. She also must have benefited substantially from spending the better part of her fourteen years away with a good family who cared for her everyday security, nutritional, and veterinary needs.
Considering that Tiger Lily turned up in Oakbank, there is a good chance that she was stolen off the streets of Lockport and driven there. She then was confined indoors for a period of time so as to prevent her from attempting to return to her old home. That is mere supposition, however.
This incident once again demonstrates that tattoos, microchips, and collars are totally useless when it comes to protecting cats against thieves. Moreover, collars can come off, tattoos can fade and be defaced, and microchips have been linked to cancer. (See Cat Defender post of September 21, 2007 entitled "FDA Is Suppressing Research That Shows Implanted Microchips Cause Cancer in Mice, Rats, and Dogs.")
Because records of this sort are not compiled, it is difficult to say with any authority but fourteen years very well could be the longest period of time that a tattooed cat has been missing before being successfully reunited with its owner. With microchips, these types of long-lost reunions are fairly commonplace.
For example, Marmalade was reunited with his owner, Allegra Strauss, in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick in 2007 after having been away for eleven years. (See Cat Defender post of February 16, 2007 entitled "Marmalade Receives a Tepid Homecoming After Having Been Missing for Eleven Years.")
Sneakers, a longhaired black cat who disappeared from Allison MacEwan's Seattle home in 1996, turned up at a Sacramento shelter ten years later. (See Cat Defender post of June 16, 2006 entitled "Given Up for Dead, Sneakers Is Reunited with His Owner After Having Gone AWOL Ten Years Ago.")
Distance does not seem to be any barrier either when it comes to reuniting microchipped cats with their owners. For instance, a black American Shorthair named Cheyenne, who disappeared from Pamela Edwards' Bradenton, Florida, home in 1997, turned up at a shelter in San Francisco in 2004. (See Cat Defender post of December 9, 2005 entitled "Adventurous Wisconsin Cat Named Emily Makes Unscheduled Trip to France in Hold of Cargo Ship.")
Then there are enterprising cats that find their way home the good old-fashioned way by apparently navigating by the stars. Mimine, for example, spent thirteen months walking eight-hundred kilometers in order to rejoin her family in Treveray, northern France, after she had been abandoned by them in Toulouse in the southern part of the country. (See Cat Defender post of April 27, 2007 entitled "French Chat Named Mimine Walks Eight-Hundred Kilometers to Track Down Family That Abandoned Her.")
As remarkable as all of these lost cat stories are, Kerger hit the nail on the head when she bemoaned the fact that Tiger Lily is unable to talk. Therefore, the only thing that can be said for certain about any of these truly remarkable cats is that no one knows the half of what any of them endured during their travails away from home.
Photo: Winnipeg Free Press.