The Rapidian

Facebook used in locating lost cat, supportive community

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Owner Michelle Hoey-Heath chose this image as Gerard's Facebook avatar

Owner Michelle Hoey-Heath chose this image as Gerard's Facebook avatar

Darla Alexander snaps a photo of Gerard in Michelle's arms

Darla Alexander snaps a photo of Gerard in Michelle's arms

Michelle Hoey-Heath, husband Jay, and Dr. Bradfrod Lemke of Plymouth Road Animal Clinic after Gerard's checkup.

Michelle Hoey-Heath, husband Jay, and Dr. Bradfrod Lemke of Plymouth Road Animal Clinic after Gerard's checkup.

On January 6 at 7:54 p.m., Gerard Heath popped up on Facebook.  His avatar, an orange tabby cat wrapped in a blanket. His first wall post reads, "I am lost. Please look at my photo and see if you recognize me. I was last seen on Jan. 2 in the evening on Wallinwood Ave. in Grand Rapids NE side by Michigan/Plymouth. I need to find my way back to my family. Please help!"  A few minutes later, pictures of him were added to his profile and the hunt began.

Wall posts of well wishes began pouring in:

  • "Gerard, we are all praying for your safe return home. If anyone spots this kitty, please contact his parents whose email is on the info page."
  • "Gerard, we are all waiting for your SAFE RETURN HOME!"
  • "Saying prayers for your safe return, Gerard! I hope you're o.k.!"

Almost every day, Gerard's owner, Michelle Hoey-Heath, kept followers updated.  On January 8, she wrote, "Cat prints at our side and front door and up to our garage. This has to be him. I'm staying up all night. He is coming home tonight!"  The next morning, discouraging news was reported, "Almost 1 a.m. and no sign of Gerard. Another cat appeared that may have left the tracks last night! So disappointing. Gerard, where are you?"

The days lingered, and the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride continued as Gerard's new friends kept a close eye on his Facebook page. Michelle posted report after report of Gerard sitings. They even placed a live trap out to try to catch him, but Gerard proved too smart for it. "Well, what a frustrating night! At 11:30 p.m. we caught a cat in the garage who was not Gerard. We let it go, seemed to be a house cat that had gotten out. At 1 a.m., the motion sensor triggered and I woke up. Gerard was in the garage. Went to close the door, it went down and then somehow he triggered the sensor and it went up again! He ran. Now what? He's probably too scared of the garage now!"

The days lingered on, and not only did Michelle's frustration grow, but her lack of sleep started to catch up with her. On January 17, she wrote "Well, night # 4 with no sign of Gerard. Mom stayed over so Jay and I could get some sleep. Someone may have spotted him on the West side, but no luck there yet. We have had so many ups and downs in the last few weeks. He has been gone for 15 days now!"

Day after day Michelle reported that they had not seen Gerard.  Could Gerard really still be outside?  Had he found his way into a friendly warm home?  Or could some horrifying thing that happens to outdoor cats have happened to Gerard? 

On the 24th morning of Gerard's abscence, the snow began to fall. One supporter wrote "The snow is a lucky break. TRACK THAT CAT!"  Later that evening, Michelle wrote, "This is the BEST day of my life! Gerard is HOME! We spotted him while we were eating dinner. He was in the back yard and hid under a neighbor's deck. I traced his tracks. It took some coaxing with food, but eventually he came out little-by-little and I grabbed him. He has lost half his body weight, but was checked by our Vet and looks good!!"

What followed was a flood of celebratory wall posts. Those waiting desperately could finally breathe - Gerard was home!

Gerard was taken to his vet, who gave him a clean bill of health, despite having lost half his body weight.  He has already gained a pound back.

Just a few days later, Michelle and her husband Jay opened up their home to anyone who wanted to come and meet Gerard.  They served up pizza, pop, and beer. All of Gerard's fans brought gifts and were able to meet Gerard in the flesh.  Around 40 people came to the party. Michelle says about half the people who showed up she was meeting for the first time.

Even though Facebook did not help locate Gerard, Michelle says that having the Facebook page for Gerard helped immensely.  "It gave me hope and strength knowing that so many people were rooting for Gerard to come home."  When Michelle was feeling frustrated, she said "just knowing that I could post on Facebook if I was feeling down and within a few minutes or hours, I would have support and would be sent new suggestions on what to do to find him. Knowing I always had people to listen to me was a comfort. Everyone understood how horrible it was to not know where he was."

When asked if she ever thought she should give up looking for Gerard, she responded, "Even when I was exhausted and couldn't eat, I never stopped walking the neighborhood, calling him, putting fliers out and keeping food out each night. It was my mission to bring him home.  I felt like he was depending on me and I couldn't let him down."

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Comments

Great story, Kolene. I was really glad to hear they found Gerard. It was exciting to see it all play out online.

I could totally sympathize with Michelle - I have naughty escape artist cats and I don't know what I would do if I went a single night without them, let alone 24 days!  I think that this story touched alot of people because we could all sympathize with that situation.

I'm so happy the cat was found. As of yesterday, though, the "lost cat" signs were still up in the neighborhood. I hope the cat's family takes them down soon to avoid litter.

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