Homeward Bound: the Incredible Journey… to Blythewood?

Minge Wiseman and her dachshund Buddy cuddle with Wiseman’s black cat Zira who came home exhausted and thin after what may have been a 95 mile walk. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – There are many well documented stories of animals, especially cats and dogs, finding their way home from locations up to 1,500 miles away, though most in the 100 – 400 mile range. One of those stories may have played out in Blythewood recently over 45 days and a distance of about 95 miles.

It all started the week before Thanksgiving as workers from a Greenville company were spending the final day installing solar panels on a roof at Bill and Minge Wiseman’s horse farm in Blythewood.

After Minge Wiseman fed the horses and the couple’s barn cats about 6 o’clock that evening, the worker’s truck pulled out of the farm about an hour or so later and headed back to Greenville. It had been parked next to the barn all day where the cats hang out.

“The next morning when I fed the cats, Zira wasn’t there,” Wiseman said. The couple had adopted her as a kitten about 10 years ago from the Fairfield County Animal Shelter in Winnsboro.

“I didn’t think much about it that first morning when she didn’t show up, but when she wasn’t there to eat that night and the next morning, I began to wonder if she might have jumped on that truck after she ate dinner that night and rode out the gate to Greenville?” Wiseman said. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time Zira had hitched a ride. The Wisemans rescued her from the bumper of a pickup truck as it was driving off from their house a couple of years earlier.

Bill Wiseman called the Greenville company to inquire if Zira had been in/on the truck when it arrived back in Greenville the previous day. The crew said they hadn’t seen a cat.

After a couple of weeks, Wiseman feared the worst for Zira. As a board member of the Hoof and Paw Benevolent Society, she was accustomed to sad endings to animal stories and had little hope for a happy ending to this one.

“Then on Monday morning, Jan. 3, a month and a half after Zira went missing, I was mucking stalls in the barn,” Wiseman said, “and I heard a cat meowing, meowing, meowing. I looked out the stall door and there was Zira in the barn aisle. I couldn’t believe it! She was thin, scruffy and very tired. Her meow was anxious and unusually raspy. As I picked her up, she couldn’t stop meowing and ‘talking’ to me – like she was telling me what she had been through.”

The Wisemans can’t help believing that Zira did, indeed, somehow go to Greenville with the truck and then walked back home – a 95 mile trip that can be driven in about an hour and a half in light traffic. Had Zira traveled that many miles during the 45 days or so that she went missing, she would have clocked a little over two miles a day, a feat not unheard of in many documented stories about cats finding their way back home over long distances.

A story published in the Jan. 19, 2013 issue of The New York Times told of a cat named Holly who survived an experience similar to Zira’s.

In November of that year, Holly’s family, Jacob and Bonnie Richter, who lived in West Palm Beach, FL, took Holly with them in their recreational vehicle to an R.V. rally in Daytona Beach, about 190 miles from their home. According to the Times, while there, Holly bolted when Ms. Richter’s mother opened the vehicle’s door one night. Fireworks the next day may have further spooked the cat, and, after searching for days, alerting animal agencies and posting fliers, the Richters returned home catless.

Months after she went missing, an animal-loving family spotted a weak and emaciated cat staggering through their West Palm Beach back yard. They ‘rescued’ the cat and took it to a veterinarian. A chip in the cat’s neck documented that her name was Holly and that the location at which she was rescued was only a short distance from what was most likely her destination – the Richter’s home.

As reported in the Times, there is little scientific research on cat navigation. Migratory animals like birds, turtles and insects have been studied more closely, and use magnetic fields, olfactory cues, or orientation by the sun to reach their destinations.

“I really believe these stories, but they’re just hard to explain,” said Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Colorado, who was quoted in The Times.

Roger Tabor, a British cat biologist, cited longer-distance reports he considered credible: Murka, a tortoiseshell in Russia, traveled about 325 miles home to Moscow from her owner’s mother’s house in Voronezh in 1989; a cat named Ninja returned to Farmington, Utah, in 1997, a year after her family moved from there to Mill Creek, Washington.; and in 1978, Howie, an indoor Persian cat in Australia ran away from relatives his vacationing family left him with and eventually traveled 1,000 miles to his family’s home.

Now that Zira is finally back home, The Wisemans keep wondering what happened.

“Did she actually walk home from Greenville?” Minge Wiseman asked, incredulously, then answered her own question.

“I think she did. She certainly looked like it when she got back home, Wiseman said.”

What do you think? If you have had a similar experience, email us at [email protected] or call 803-767-5711.