With our sons grown and raising their own children, our house was feeling empty. My husband Mike and I adopted two feral kittens, orange tabby brothers who we named Hunter and Buddy. They’re now four and a half years old and a huge part of our lives and family. Hunter is my big boy, weighing twenty-three pounds. Buddy is smaller at eighteen pounds.

We love to camp and hate the thought of leaving the “boys” at home, so we’ve turned them into our “camping cats.” In our car, they travel in a pet playpen so they can watch the world go by. We also travel with a trailer, and they love being in it. It’s a five-hour drive to our main camp, which is on an acre of land we own in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Plumas County at a place called Little Grass Valley, California. We set up camp in May once the snow has melted and leave it up until October when the weather gets cold. Hunter and Buddy love exploring during the daylight. We keep them indoors at night.

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On July 19, 2019, we decided to leave after work for our week in the mountains instead of waiting until morning. It’s a long drive, and we wanted to get it over with. We arrived at our camp at ten. The cats went from the car to the trailer as usual. I asked Mike to tether them since we were unloading, and it was dark. He tethered Buddy and was reaching for Hunter when Hunter jumped out the trailer door and into the darkness. We didn’t think much of it because he never strays far from us. We called him and went looking with flashlights in hand, but found no Hunter, not even a peep. We went to bed, expecting him to show up during the night, but he didn’t.

The next day, we hiked the mountains, calling and calling, still nothing. We didn’t know until the next night that there had been a bear near our camp whose smell must have scared Hunter. We went cabin to cabin talking with people. Everyone was very kind and said they would keep an eye out for him. After a week of searching, we had no choice but to go home without him.

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I was devastated, to say the least. Two weeks passed before we could go up again and resume our search. I printed fliers with his picture and the location of our camp; there’s no cell phone service there, which makes communication difficult. People would drive by asking if we’d found him yet. They were putting out bowls of cat food on their decks. One man was carrying cat treats in his pocket “just in case.”

The most frustrating thing was that Hunter wouldn’t show himself! We weren’t sure where to continue searching; it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. We came home empty-handed again and again. We contacted a pet psychic, who said he was still alive. Buddy was crying for his brother and losing weight from stress. People started telling me to “face reality, he’s gone for good” and “he’s perished,” but I had to keep searching! I could feel in my heart that he was still alive, and I had to find him before winter.

On Labor Day, September 2, we received a call in the afternoon from a Forest Ranger named Sierra. She had spotted Hunter in a campground three miles from our camp. I packed up my gear and left the next morning, ready to stay as long as it took. I wasn’t going to come home without him again. I drove straight to the Little Beaver campground site #25 where she had seen him. I brought clothes and towels with Buddy’s and Mike’s scent on them and placed them around the campsite. I set up my tent, scattered cat treats around, and set out a bowl of food. For seven hours, I called and called him. No response. As the sun went down, I sat in my chair, crying.

Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bead I had picked up off my dresser before leaving home. It’s a silver bead with the word HOPE spelled out. I had found it on one of our campouts years before. As I held it in my hand, I realized I needed to have enough hope for both Hunter and myself, that we would find each other again. I walked to the bathroom to wash away my tears.

As I walked back to my campsite, calling him, he showed himself! I called to him, and he popped into a culvert. I grabbed my flashlight, his bowl of food, and a towel with his brother’s scent. I couldn’t see Hunter; he was too deep inside the pipe. I sat down on the ground, talking calmly to him the whole time. Hunter was crying but wouldn’t come out. I sat there talking to him, telling him I wouldn’t leave without him, and I would sit there as long as he needed to feel safe. I pushed the food further into the pipe, talking and soothing him. After half an hour, he finally came to eat the food, but he wouldn’t let me touch him yet.

Slowly, I pulled the food bowl out of the pipe as he continued eating. I touched his neck to pet him, and he started purring. When he finished eating, I wrapped him in the towel and carried him to his kennel. He struggled to get free, but I refused to let him go. I decided then that we were going straight home. I didn’t want to take the chance that he’d get away again. He talked in the car, telling me his tale as we drove 200 miles home in the night. I only stopped to call Mike to let him know we were on our way, together again. Hunter had lost half his weight, but the saving grace was that he had made it to the lake, which meant he had water to survive.

It’s been three weeks since he returned to our family. He’s regaining weight, spending time with his brother and our beloved grandkids. He’s back to sleeping on his favorite chair, and he cuddles more than he ever did before. He has nightmares sometimes, which I wake him from. He is definitely our miracle cat!

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