Florida Kitty’s Long Journey Home Stumps Experts

Pet Cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • An amazing Florida cat returns 200 miles to her home after escaping from her family’s R.V. while on vacation.
  • Holly, a beautiful 4 year-old tortoiseshell kitty traveled from Daytona Beach to West Palm Beach on foot, in about two months. She was found staggering around a backyard about a mile from home, weighing only half what she should, and too weak and debilitated to even meow.
  • Today, Holly is safely back in the arms of her owners, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever solve the mystery of how their cat found her way home.

By Dr. Becker

Holly is a 4 year-old tortoiseshell kitty who, after going missing two months earlier, magically resurfaced very close to her home in West Palm Beach, Florida. Her return was all the more miraculous for the fact that Holly, an indoor housecat, was separated from her owners during a visit to Daytona Beach, 200 miles away!

Holly was found staggering around a backyard about a mile from her own home, weak and weighing only seven pounds, having lost half her body weight.

Holly’s Travels Leave Scientists Stumped

Scientists have been asked about Holly’s amazing feat, and they seem as stumped as the rest of us. John Bradshaw of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in the U.K. suspected it was not Holly, but another cat. However, not only does Holly have distinctive markings, she also has a microchip.

Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Colorado concedes stories like Holly’s are difficult to explain. “I have no data for this,” is what he told the New York Times.

Unlike migratory animals that use magnetic fields, their sense of smell or the orientation of the sun, it seems there’s very little research on how cats navigate.

An animal behaviorist in New York theorized that Holly may have followed the Florida coastline somehow.

New research, including the Kitty Cams Project indicates the behavior of domesticated kitties is incredibly complex. Some free-roaming cats visit other families to get food and attention. And the majority take risks in the outdoors, like darting across roadways and ingesting things that could be unsafe.

Holly Isn’t Alone...

Holly isn’t the only “homing kitty.” According to Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist who stars on Animal Planet in a show called “My Cat from Hell,” he too had a cat that disappeared after a move and reappeared over a week later at his former residence. The trip required Galaxy’s cat to traverse five miles of completely unfamiliar terrain.

Other documented cases include:

  • Murka, another tortie in Russia, who covered 325 miles to return home to Moscow from her owner’s mother’s house
  • Ninja, who returned to her home in Utah after her owners moved from there to Washington State
  • Howie, a Persian kitty in Australia who escaped his sitter’s home while his family was on vacation and traveled over a thousand miles to get home

In Holly’s case, though some suspected she might have hitched a ride down I-95, her little feet said otherwise. Her pads were bleeding, according to her mom, and her front claws were very sharp, while the back claws were almost invisible they were so worn down.

The appearance of Holly’s paws is proof she walked a very long distance, with her back feet propelling her, and her front feet used for tearing and similar activities.

Did Holly’s Start in Life Make Her an Adventurer?

Holly’s kittyhood also holds no real clues to how she did what she did. She was born inside an air conditioning unit to a feral mother and came to her owners with scars on her tummy, presumably from the switch on the A/C equipment.

Scientists don’t think Holly’s early hardships lasted long enough to explain how she developed the toughness to make her way 200 miles down the Florida coast on her own. They think it could, however, point to innate personality traits. According to Dr. Bekoff, Holly may have “the personality of a survivor,” and being an indoor cat does not extinguish survivalist behaviors like the ability to hunt or get information from the orientation of the sun.

According to Holly’s owners, Bonnie Richter, 63 and her husband Jacob, 70, they only began taking Holly on road trips last year, but she seemed quickly comfortable with whatever lodging they provided, whether a hotel room or their motorhome. But in Daytona Beach, in a very crowded R.V. park, Holly scooted out of the R.V. door one evening and disappeared. The Richters alerted local shelters, posted fliers and searched for days, but eventually they were forced to make the sad trip home without their cat.

Rescued and Returned

On New Year’s Eve, a woman in West Palm Beach was startled by the sight of a scrawny cat in her backyard who seemed too weak to stand. For the next week, the woman and her children took care of the cat, putting food outside for her, until eventually the kitty ventured inside.

They named her and took her to a veterinarian, who reported the cat was thin, dehydrated, and her feet were a mess, but she was otherwise healthy. The very nice lady who rescued the cat didn’t want to ask about a microchip, but knew she should. When the vet confirmed the kitty was chipped, the woman started to cry.

Of course, the Richters did some crying, too, when they were reunited with their beloved Holly.

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