As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up with pet cats, and our beloved Marmalade was the last in a long line, living to the ripe old age of 18.
She was very much a home cat and never wandered far, unlike some of her male predecessors, who would spend far more time outside than in. Sometimes they would disappear overnight, occasionally for even longer than that, but they usually came back again.
When I was a student living in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the 1980s, we did have a couple of cats. The first was a tabby we named Pee-Wee and I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember what happened to her, but by the following year she had been replaced by a fluffy black and white tom cat, whose name I’ve also forgotten. He did once go missing for several days, and we were frantic, scouring the neighbourhood shouting his name (whatever it was!) for hours on end. He turned up a few days later, trotting up the garden path without a care in the world.
Cats have a reputation for being able to find their way home, even across distances of many miles, and in his column from 13th December 1980 my dad tells the story of a cat called Sampson who was said to have walked 250 miles from Wales to his home in London, having taken two years to complete the trip.
So-called ‘experts’ at the time cast doubt on this tale, declaring that it was likely to be a case of mistaken identity by Sampson’s owners, and believed they had simply adopted a similar-looking stray.
However, Dad did think it was not unreasonable for it to be the same cat when you consider the extraordinary homing instincts of other species of animal, such as racing pigeons that can find their way back across many hundreds of miles, even if they have never made that trip before. Migrating birds travel thousands of miles across oceans and continents to return to the same places, and sea turtles and salmon return to the very same beaches and rivers where they were born to give birth to their own young.
But in 1980 it wasn’t easy to prove that a cat could have made such a sterling effort to find its way home, let alone survive all the dangers along the route. These days, however, we have the help of the microchip to identify lost pets, and it has indeed been proven that some cats have made extraordinary journeys before being reunited with their owners, sometimes many years after first going missing. Microchipping for pets was introduced in 1989 and became compulsory for dogs in 2016. Although is not yet compulsory for cats, the practice is highly recommended by pet charities. The microchip, which holds a unique number, is about the same size as a grain of rice and is usually implanted between the shoulder blades in a quick procedure. It means that pets that are lost, stolen or involved in accidents can be easily identified and their owners traced, as long as the details are kept up to date.
My research threw up some fantastic stories, so I thought I’d share a couple here. Cats called Sampson must inherit some of the heroic traits of their legendary namesake, as another story of an intrepid feline with this moniker crops up in 2009. Tabby cat Sampson went missing from his home in Penicuik, Midlothian, in 2008. His owners had given up all hope of finding him until they received a call from a vet in Plymouth, 478 miles away. Sampson had been handed in to them and they scanned for a microchip. No-one could explain how he’d travelled to the other end of the country, nor where he’d been for more than a year.
In the October half term of 2008, the Davies family spent the week on a camping holiday near Loch Lomond in Scotland, and took their three-year-old tortoiseshell and white cat Georgie with them. But on the last day, Georgie disappeared, and despite their desperate efforts to find her, she was nowhere to be seen. The bereft family returned to their home in Rochdale, but as Georgie was microchipped, they hoped that someone would contact them if she was found. To their utter delight, they were right. They were contacted from Loch Lomond in August this year, almost 12 years after they lost her!
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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 11th Dec 2020 and the Gazette & Herald on 9Th Dec 2020