BENNINGTON -- Karen Halvorsen lost her cat three years ago, and after hundreds of phone calls, false leads, and a battle with an ornery raccoon her "Monster Cat" is home.
Monster Cat is white with gray markings atop his head. He had become familiar to many in the area through a classified ad Halvorsen placed in the Bennington Banner regularly since he went missing. He was adopted when he was six months old from the Second Chance Animal Shelter with the intention of being a playmate to Halvorsen's other cat, Lucy.
His name then was "Sketti," but his pestering of the more laid back Lucy earned him the name "Monster Cat." Halvorsen said she and the cat formed a strong bond. Monster Cat picked up the habit of splashing water onto his face before drinking because he had seen Halvorsen wash her face at the bathroom sink, and he became especially fond of a certain pillow she kept on her bed, sleeping there at night.
Their time apart began Oct. 28, 2010. Halvorsen said it was the one time she let the cat outside and did so at the encouragement of her youngest son and her father, who were working on a project outside. There is not much traffic on Stark Street, where Halvorsen resides, so she let Monster Cat out. He went to investigate the playground across the road, which was when Halvorsen noticed a large muscle car of some type was parked there. She said in an interview Monday that she remembers there was a couple outside the car and one of them was making a "come hither" gesture toward Monster Cat.
She called out to her cat so the people know it was not a stray, but then her attention was grabbed by something and she went into the house. When she came back outside, the car and Monster Cat were gone.
This kicked off a three-year ordeal that Halvorsen said consumed much of her life. Her son left for college a month after the cat went missing and her happiness for him was muddled by the loss of her pet. The classified ads she placed in the Banner drew most of her leads, mainly from people living in the Adams, Mass., area and eastern New York.
She began to do research on muscle cars and meditation techniques to jog her memory as to the people she had seen. Halvorsen learned that cats respond to odors above anything else, so when she would go to an area where a white cat had been seen she would take a bit of Monster Cat's hair from his pillow. She would also try to lure him in with familiar noises, such as the sound of a food dish being filled.
Halvorsen reunited at least one other pet owner with their cat during her search, and she adopted a third cat, "Scooby," which someone had brought to her thinking it was the lost Monster Cat.
She studied maps of the area, knowing cats are known to follow railroad tracks feasting on "train kill." Once she contacted a person's landlord after hearing the tenant might have her cat and would be unwilling to give it up. No pets were allowed there, and the person had moved on. On one occasion she encountered a raccoon on the third floor of an apartment building and had to fend it off with a shovel.
Her search methods became more eccentric over time. Halvorsen said she had not previously been a believer in mystical things, but she would use an "etheric weaver," a crystal wrapped in wire suspended on a chain to send her lost cat positive thoughts and reassurances. She even consulted with a purported psychic to narrow her search.
People told Halvorsen she was crazy. People told her to get a new cat and move on with her life.
"I couldn't live not knowing," Halvorsen said, adding that she would have been content to know Monster Cat was safe and being taken care of elsewhere. She said she could not have given up on him anymore than she could have forgotten one of her children.
Ultimately it was Facebook and a group in Adams dedicated to helping lost cats that led to Monster Cat's homecoming.
An animal fitting Monster Cat's description had been spotted in an Adams neighborhood by people who had taken to feeding him, said Kaila Drosehn, rescue manager for Northern Berkshire Cat Rescue. They had seen Monster Cat's picture and used Facebook's "tag" function to notify Drosehn who sought the cat out.
Drosehn said none of the area shelters would take the cat without euthanizing it. This was because it appeared to have been wounded by other animals, making it a potential rabies risk. Drosehn, who has 13 years of rescue experience, said the cat had the worst case of fleas she had ever seen, and she knew the wounds were from it scratching itself. Still, there was not enough money at the cat rescue to take on the animal's veterinary needs.
"I had a white cat that somebody poisoned, so I had a soft spot for him," Drosehn said, who paid for the extensive treatments the cat needed at the Wahconah Veterinary Hospital.
The cat was in bad shape, Drosehn said. Its mouth and ears were white, signs of severe anemia from fleas, and it was vomiting up parasites. Drosehn found the cat on Sept. 6 but did not call Halvorsen for a few weeks because she did not know if the cat would live.
Halvorsen said she was not sure if the cat was Monster Cat when she first drove to the shelter to take a look. Years of roaming had altered the animal's more distinctive markings. Nonetheless, when Halvorsen returned to the shelter on Oct. 1 she brought Monster Cat's pillow.
She broke into tears recounting the experience, when the cat recognized its old sleeping pillow and then his owner.
The plan had been to let the cat recuperate for a few more days but Halvorsen could not bear to part with him again and so took him home. While Monster Cat is getting better, eating more and getting accustomed to his house mates, he still bears the marks of a hard three years. His white fur has taken an orange tinge in some places, which he obsessively cleans. He may need more veterinarian care in the future, but for now Halvorsen plans to let him rest.
Northern Berkshire Cat Rescue is affiliated with Great Danes Around New England Rescue, said Drosehn. Monster Cat's plight marks the longest time she has seen a cat or dog be lost and reunited. Finding lost cats is rarity, she said, having seen it only three times and even then only after the animal has been missing a short time.
Halvorsen paid for a second classified ad to run after Monster Cat was found. It reads in part, "I would like to thank all of the people who cared, prayed, & kept their eyes open for him!"
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.