In Maine, it is inevitable that wild animals and household pets occasionally cross paths.
Often it occurs under the cover of darkness, or far enough into the woods that we don’t see those interactions.
That’s why Carolyn Meadow of Saco enjoys seeing the photos of all the creatures that walk past the game camera in her backyard. On Nov. 24, she discovered a photo that showed a cat and a red fox, face to face.
The cat showed up numerous times beginning in October.
“At first we assumed that that cat must belong to a neighbor, but it was strange that we only saw him at night; never any sign of him during daylight,” Meadow said.
She said the cat kept its distance while local deer were feeding in the yard. And she worried that it might cross paths with the fox, an occasional visitor.
Meadow could never have imagined the sightings would help her reunite a missing cat with its owner, who had given up hope of ever seeing it again. And the saga demonstrates that house cats are able to fend for themselves in the wild.
Meadow was relieved to find out that foxes and cats are capable of coexisting peacefully.
“Red foxes are opportunistic predators and could kill house cats, but it’s probably not that common,” said Shevenell Webb, furbearer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“House cats are very capable at defending themselves and can climb trees to escape predation,” she said. “The photo suggests curiosity from both the cat and the fox — neither appears to be alarmed at being so close to one another.”
Meadow thought the cat might be wild and began putting out dry and canned food. It remained at a safe distance initially but eventually went to her.
“One night he ‘talked to me’ and I approached him slowly, crouched down, spoke to him and he came over and touched his nose to my hand. This clearly was not the behavior of a feral cat,” Meadow said.
She began adding cooked chicken to the cat food and placing the dish closer and closer to the house, then on the porch. In time, the cat routinely arrived at dark and waited for the food to be served.
“I sat down on the porch and he came over and sat in my lap!” Meadow said.
Meadow’s sister-in-law suggested she try checking Facebook pages where folks in the area might be looking for lost cats. She had almost given up hope when she found an October post on the “Maine Lost Cat Recovery” Facebook page.
It turns out “Thumper” had disappeared from Old Orchard Beach nearly two months earlier.
His owner, Katy Kerry, had sold her home of 10 years and was preparing to move to Utah. In the meantime, she rented a place in the OOB village of Ocean Park.
“Thumper has been an indoor/outdoors cat since we’ve had him, about five years and absolutely loves to play outside,” said Chelsea Tarbox, Kerry’s daughter.
But a few days after the temporary move, the cat bolted.
“Unfortunately, it was this love of playing outside that led him to sneak out the front door while my mother was carrying in groceries and that was the last time we saw him,” Tarbox said.
The women’s two other cats had died during the previous year, so Thumper’s disappearance was particularly difficult for them.
“It was devastating for us,” Tarbox said.
They made flyers, posted on social media, spoke with neighbors, informed animal control and called the local animal shelter.
“We got nothing,” Tarbox said. “As time passed the hope that he would return faded and we began to grieve for the loss of our little guy.”
During the first week of December, Kerry departed for Utah and Tarbox returned to her home in Boston.
Despite living outside the entire time, Thumper had since made his way nearly 3 miles from Ocean Park to the Meadows home in Saco.
“When he was indoor/outdoor he was a good hunter, but he’s not a tough cat,” Tarbox said, marveling at his survival skills. “I don’t think I’ve ever even heard him hiss/growl before.”
After confirming that Thumper was the missing cat in question, the women arranged for a reunion. Tarbox feared he might not even remember her.
“He heard my voice as I was talking with Carolyn, immediately came out of his hiding spot and ran to my feet,” Tarbox said. “He let me scoop him right up and we had a few moments of snuggling and purring before turning around and heading back to Boston.”
Tarbox said Thumper is healthy and has been happy since the reunion.
“If I didn’t know he was gone for two months, I would have no idea. Truly the best Christmas gift I could have asked for,” Tarbox said, expressing appreciation for Meadow’s efforts in helping the cat.
In January, Thumper will be headed on another journey. He will accompany Tarbox to Utah.
“Thumps is happy to be safe and at home with me, but he really should be with his mama,” Tarbox said.