Stowaway cat’s 700 km car ride
By Bev Mortimer
An amazing tale of a cat that went awol and hid in the undercarriage of a car that travelled from Rondehosch in Cape Town to St Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape
A cat, called ‘Kooks that went missing on a Saturday in Rondebosch, Cape Town, was only found the following Thursday night almost 700kms away in St Francis Bay thanks to Blue tooth GPS.
So many people from Cape Town to the Garden Route and St Francis were on tenterhooks in the hope of finding her by tracking her movements. Such an incredible story of how her owner, frantic with worry got cat lovers to help follow the movements of her cat with their phones. When the tag remained more stationery in St Francis Bay, Kooks’ owner, Celeste Perry, jumped on a plane, hired a car and drove to canal Road to search for her. I received the following account of this worrisome, but amazing tale with a happy ending, here slightly shortened, from Celeste.
Kooks went missing on Saturday afternoon, 19 March, last week. Celeste was working late and she and her family only realised on Sunday that Kooks was nowhere to be found.
Her tag kept showing different locations around Rondebosch near to where they live and the family tried to trace her following the tag on their phones. Celeste realised with alarm that Kooks must have crossed a busy road at one stage and this was a cause of great anxiety. “She’s quite a homebody; she’s not a wandering cat,” Celeste says. “But only once before she climbed into the engine of the next-door neighbour’s car. So that was worrying me. We searched and searched and couldn’t find her.”
On Monday morning, Celeste got an alert the tag was moving to Athlone and then to Strand. She also thought the tag might have fallen off and someone had picked it up. So she suggested they wait and see what happens later, see if the tag comes back to Rondebosch so they could find her. So all day on Monday, the tag was tracked and it just didn’t stop moving.
She got pings from Peregrine then other places. She even phoned the nearest police and asked them to check at a certain address if the cat was there but by the time the police could go the tag had moved to Riversdale South.
She then remembered it had been the Argus weekend and the cat, she thought, might have climbed into a vehicle belonging to competitors who were heading back home. So messages were sent out on the Rondebosch group, asking if anyone knew someone heading towards the Garden Route.
“A wonderful lady, called Sally, shared the tracking story on surrounding areas’ groups. An amazing story,” Celeste comments.
Later on, the tag stopped moving until miraculously it suddenly started moving in the St Francis area. Celeste waited, thinking the tag would keep moving and perhaps whoever had travelled to St Francis would stay the night. So she updated FB groups with the current status and then got a call from Rose Prew who has a holiday home just off Canal Road. She said: “Celeste, I live just around the corner from you 9in Rondebosch) and I left at 7 am this morning. And these are the stops that we made…”
The pair backtracked all the stops and compared notes. Rose said Kooks must have been in her car, a car full of cat-loving woman who had gone to St Francis for a holiday, none the wiser that an errant feline was ensconced in the depths of the undercarriage.
The first day in St Francis the tag showed near the Blue Bottle store in St Francis, where Rose stopped upon arrival in the town. Celeste recounts that Bluetooth tracking works by pinging and attracting other cell phones nearby that have the same brand and Bluetooth switched on.
“And it’s got to be a newish device that has the SmartThings app on it , that comes pre- installed,” says Celeste. “So we don’t know why we didn’t get a signal for nearly a day and a half after that and it was showing she was still in the town centre.”
Anyway, Rose searched her landrover without success to find Kooks and then took it to Continental Tyres in Humansdorp for inspection – to find out if there was a place where the cat could have hidden. Mechanics raised the car and they looked into the undercarriage with a torch. Inside they found a semi-enclosed space between the cooling system and a spare tyre under the passenger driver’s seat, where she had been lying in, as they found cat hair there.
“Rose and I were so relieved!! We were worried at one stage Kooks had been in the engine. If so she would have ‘cooked’ and she would have been totally fried! Rose was too scared to even look in the engine area.”
Then a whole lot of the St Francis Bay residents started contacting Celeste, offering to help to look for her. “I couldn’t believe how amazing this community is and how they were all trying so desperately hard to trap her, to find her, to search through the bushes.
“One of my friends from Rondebosch, Belinda Barrows, had moved to St Francis and she was looking throughout that area trying to find Kooks unsuccessfully.”
Then, on Wednesday evening, Celeste got a ping showing the tag was in Canal Road. She phoned Rose to give an update on the location. So they realised Kooks did not jump off at the bottle store. She must have stayed in the car until Rose parked and everything went quiet and then she slowly had the courage to come out.
Several St Francis residents started searching that area of the town but could not find her either. Everyone was also sharing apps but nothing definite occurred. No sign of Kooks!
“So on Thursday afternoon I got home from work and I just thought I’ve got to go there (to St Francis),”Celeste continues. “I knew I’ve got to go with my phone. And I’ve got to try to find her…
“But I was in the throes of restaurant work and my son’s birthday party was on Saturday and he was leaving for camp on Monday. I just couldn’t get my head around how I was ‘gonna get away’ from Cape Town. I didn’t know for how long I’d need to be there so it was a bit of a stress.”
But then she says her wonderful husband, Sam, just booked her a ticket and said: “You are flying at 4.55 pm on Friday. Get yourself on an airplane, hire a car and go and find our cat! And that’s what I did!”
She drove to St Francis from PE airport and checked into a guesthouse. “It was amazing… As I got there, nearly everybody in the town knew who I was. They knew I was coming to find the cat.”
Celeste then went to Rose’s house in Beauvallon and they were expecting her. She took a high-powered torch she bought on the way to airport as she knew she would be looking in the dark. Outside the house, her phone started to ping and Celeste knew “Kooks is close by”. “So I just sat close to the land rover in case she was still in it. I sat still, looking into all the trees, calling her over and over.”
After a while, with no response, Celeste then got up and started walking down towards the canal. Then, suddenly, she saw these two little bright eyes, running up towards her. She immediately thought it was ‘Kooks’, but as the cat got closer the phone played a song, the cat got a fright and ran away into a garden of a house. Celeste rang the bell. A man came out and he said he cannot believe the cat is in his garden.
“I said: I can see her. She is right there. Please open the gates!” And then he and his wife were astonished. They could not believe the cat was there.
Celeste stuck her hand under a wooden platform and picked Kooks up and tucked her into her carrier jacket and zipped her up “so she was all snug; how she likes to be carried.”
And then she showed Rose and her friends that Kooks had been found! They couldn’t believe that I’d actually find her so quickly. But Rose was just so, so happy! She burst into tears when I walked into her house with Kooks!”
Celeste then went back to the guesthouse with the cat in a cat box and a tray with cat litter provided by a neighbour. Celeste had already bought food for Kooks and says: “Kooks and I had wonderful night together and we woke up early and hit the road back to Cape Town.
“I was hoping to make it back for my son’s birthday party but we didn’t, we missed it. ‘It’s okay,’ he said to me: “Mom, the best birthday present is just that my cat is home!”
“Kooks has come back about 70% needier than she was before,” Celeste further recounts. “She doesn’t want to let me out of her sight. She was a mute cat before and never made any noises. But she found her voice in St Francis and if I move out of her sight she makes a very croaky yowling until I answer her and tell her where I am.
“It’s just such a sweet story. And I can’t believe that it had such a happy ending. I really had my doubts at times.
“I’m blown away by the St Francis community and all the animal lovers and how kind and helpful everyone has been. I really wish to give an extra thanks to Rose because I feel like my cat ruined her holiday!
“I was also surprised as I thought if I found her I would have to take her to a vet after a week of no food. But she must have found food around that community as people were putting things out for her, I had been told. All’s well that ends well!” a grateful, happy Celeste adds.