California community comes together to find beloved cat: ‘It is so appreciated’ | California

Posted by

Susie Heffernan was just returning from the vet with her beloved cat, Dundee, last Wednesday when she stopped to pick up pet food at a Tractor Supply in Paradise, California. She covered Dundee’s carrier on the passenger seat, locked her truck and ran inside.

When she returned, the truck was gone, as was the eight-year-old Snowshoe Siamese. Video footage from a nearby store revealed someone had broken into her vehicle and driven off with Dundee still inside.

“I went out and I didn’t see the truck. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it was right here – it’s not me being forgetful’,” Heffernan said in an interview with the Guardian. “I realized it’s gone.”

Her top priority was Dundee, who has a thyroid condition and requires medication each day, and Heffernan and friends quickly began searching for him.

Heffernan and Dundee were both survivors of the 2018 Camp fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history, and his story pulled on the heartstrings of residents in the state’s far north. The disappearance kicked off a four-day long community-wide effort to bring Dundee home, involving countless volunteers and uniting an area that has been devastated by repeated wildfires in recent years.

Dundee was feral when Heffernan adopted him in 2018, just before the fire. She lost her home in the Camp fire, along with a barn, and hundreds of acres of timber her family had tended to for decades. Despite the challenges of being displaced, Dundee grew into a warm and cuddly cat, Heffernan said.

Immediately after his disappearance, Heffernan and a group of about seven friends searched far and wide, driving the roads in and around the foothill community while others began posting his story in Facebook groups, advising people to be on the lookout.

The following day police recovered Heffernan’s vehicle about 13 miles away in the city of Chico, but there was still no sign of Dundee. Searches of the area came up empty. The group continued on, handing out fliers in encampments and driving along “every obscure road” in four nearby towns, hoping to spot his carrier, Heffernan said.

As his story made the rounds, people jumped in to help, reporting they had searched on their own, providing leads and even offering reward money. “I just drove down by Payless and Neighborhood church again,” one person said in a community group.

One man offered to contribute $1,000 – though Heffernan decided to cap the reward at $500.

People anxiously waited for developments along with Heffernan, pleading for the safe return of Dundee. “Just return the cat! Trucks can be replaced, and anyone living on the ridge has lost so much already,” one person said.

By the time the weekend approached, Dundee hadn’t been found, and bad weather was approaching – much of the area was under a blizzard warning. Heffernan was distraught. She had lost a pet cat to the 2018 fire.

“I still grieve over the cat that didn’t make it out of the Camp fire. It was just agony,” she said. “It’s that awful not knowing – that just eats away at you.”

But Heffernan and her friends kept searching, along with the independent volunteers and on Saturday, they received a call from someone who said they had Dundee. A group drove into Chico that evening, where Heffernan was greeted with a cat in the carrier. He started purring immediately – it was Dundee.

The anonymous caller received $500 in reward money, plus a $100 tip, and Dundee and Heffernan went home together.

He came home a bit skinnier, down a pound, but he’s back on his medication and settling in comfortably, Heffernan said. He was welcomed back by Heffernan’s dog, who had hardly eaten in Dundee’s absence.

The shy cat received attention far and wide, online and in local media reports, and Heffernan said she’s grateful for the way people rallied, something she has seen time and time and again during the area’s many wildfires.

“There’s something about the people – they just come together and they are there for you,” she said. “I just can’t even imagine the hours that people that I’ll never meet put in on his behalf. It is so appreciated.”