Written by Paula Kingham
Professional photography by Keith Lotz Photography
After finding Phoebe on the 8th of July 2018, I was initially optimistic that we’d find Oberon soon. I believed it would be just a matter of a few weeks, and then he’d be safely home. The searches intensified, and with the help of friends and volunteers, we set several traps in and around where Phoebe had been found.
But as the months wore on and the costs mounted, it became apparent that Oberon wasn’t going to be found that easily. Also, the weather was extremely cold and wet, and I feared for his health in those conditions. I made more than 80 trips to Atlantis over this period and spent thousands of Rands on petrol, a cat trap, food for the traps, tips for factory workers who were keeping an eye out for Oberon, posters, and other costs that crop up in such circumstances. I also kept putting posts on the Atlantis community Facebook page to ask people to look out for him.
The search began to feel futile, and hopelessness was taking hold. Every time I posted to the Atlantis community Facebook page, a few people would call me about possible sightings. I’d then drive out to Atlantis, set the traps for a couple of days, and catch cats that were often not even remotely similar to Oberon.
Then, at about 8pm on Wednesday, the 20th of March 2019, I noticed that I had a missed call on my phone. I called back, and it was the Vet-Clin in Blaauwberg Road, Tableview. The receptionist asked me whether I’d lost a Maine Coon cat. I was a bit confused. Oberon is a large, semi-fluffy tabby, but he isn’t officially a Maine Coon. I told her that my large tabby was still missing.
She then informed me that a couple had brought in a cat which they’d caught at their factory in Atlantis. When he’d been scanned, a microchip had been detected, leading them to call me, as I was identified as the owner. I couldn’t believe it: after more than nine months, Oberon had been found!
I was shaking so much that I could barely speak clearly and writing was difficult, but I managed to write down the name and phone number of the lady who’d brought Oberon in and who’d now taken him back to her home in Parklands.
I then composed myself and phoned her. She explained to me that she’d first seen the cat two months before in the grounds of their factory, but then he’d disappeared, only to reappear on Tuesday the 19th of March. She’d put some food out for him and on the 20th of March had managed to catch him and put him in a box. She’d been won over by his friendly nature, and if the vet hadn’t been able to detect a microchip, was considering adopting him.
She invited me to come through and collect him. I immediately got in my car and drove over to Parklands, which was in darkness due to load shedding. It felt very odd, arriving at a strange house in the dark and being ushered in by the light of a torch and a mobile phone.
The lady showed me through to a bedroom where the cat was hiding under a bed. I knelt down, and there was Oberon, crouching on the floor! I started talking to him and reached out my hand, and after a couple of seconds of staring at me, he moved towards my hand and began rubbing against it. Then he started purring. I’m not sure who was more in shock… him or me! I’d started to doubt whether this moment would ever come. The reality is that if Oberon had not been microchipped, I would probably have never been reunited with him.
I thanked the lady and her husband for rescuing Oberon and for taking him to the vet. They said that if he had not had another home, they had been willing to take him on as a member of their own household. They indicated that they didn’t want their names to be publicised and that they wanted the reward that I’d offered for the return of Oberon to be donated to animal welfare organisations. I undertook to make sure this happened and to confirm when it had been done.
The lady explained that her vet had given Oberon a health check, had dewormed him and given him anti-flea medication. But I felt it was important to get him tested for FIV and leukaemia before I took him home and risked him coming in contact with my other cats. Because they’re open 24 hours, I took Oberon off to Panorama Veterinary Hospital and had him tested for FIV and leukaemia. Fortunately, both tests came back negative, so he was clear to go home.
It turns out that the factory where Oberon was found was less than 500 metres away from the spot where he was dumped on the 11th of June last year. Phoebe was found less than 500 metres on the other side of the same dumpsite. She was dumped two days later on the 13th of June 2018. They’d taken off in opposite directions. I’d dropped off flyers at both factories where the cats were found, but the flyers, which were given to workers, never got to the owners of the factories. It turns out that the factory where Oberon was found was just two factories away from one where I’d helped Paulette from the Kitten Cottage trap about 20 feral cats, which the Kitten Cottage had then sterilised for free before re-releasing them during the time we were hunting for Oberon. In fact, Oberon might have occasionally eaten at the factory where we did the mass trapping exercise!
Since returning home, Oberon’s spent a lot of time sleeping deeply, probably making up for all those nights in the wild where he couldn’t risk sleeping too soundly in case of danger. He seems very relaxed and is reacting non-aggressively to my other cats’ lack of enthusiasm about his return. They were all a bit shocked to suddenly have a large male cat back in their territory. I’m confident that they’ll all soon be getting along again.
The one who’s most upset is Lily, a little one-year-old female who joined the household in Oberon’s absence – she was handed to me in Witsand township outside Atlantis while I was hunting for Oberon. She doesn’t know Oberon from before and thinks he’s an intruder. He’s being very patient with her, and when she panics and growls or hisses, he just lies down and licks himself, indicating that he means her no harm.
I can still hardly believe that Oberon is home, and for the first day or two I was alternating between feeling elated and bursting into tears of relief. It’s been nine months of hell, for me and for Oberon. I’m so relieved that it’s over.
Meanwhile, the court case against the man who stole my two cats is continuing in the Bellville Magistrates’ Court. Many animal lovers and animal welfare organisations are eagerly awaiting a positive outcome.