"Pure shock." That's how Fairbanks resident Katie Robb felt when she got a phone call saying that her cat, Nigel, had been found, nearly a month after he had gone missing in central California.
Nigel had disappeared at a Sears Auto Center in Bakersfield, California, on Feb. 8, during a cross-country road trip. Days of searching for the 8-year-old orange tabby were fruitless, so Robb and her road tripping buddy, Trista Crass, were forced to continue on their journey.
Three weeks later, a voicemail from a shop employee who "sounded just as shocked in the message as I felt listening to it" brought her the good news, Robb says.
Nigel had been lost as Robb was moving back to Fairbanks -- "this time for good!" she wrote in an email -- after a three-year stint in Asheville, North Carolina. She decided that for the move, she would road-trip back to Fairbanks, with Nigel in tow.
"He has traveled with me across (the) country multiple times, and just been my constant companion for the last 7 years," Robb wrote of Nigel, whom she picked up as a rescue animal.
Robb and Crass traveled from North Carolina to the West Coast. In California, they ran into some car trouble: Two front axles needed to be replaced on her car, so the two stopped in Bakersfield.
Nigel had been sleeping in the car at night for much of the trip, and that's where he was the most comfortable, Robb wrote on a GoFundMe page that has since been removed. She left the windows cracked, told the employees that there was a cat in the car and to keep the windows up, and that she would return in the early morning. She and Crass went to a hotel for the night.
The next morning, Feb. 8, they returned soon after the shop opened and found the windows rolled down. Nigel was gone.
For the next three days, Robb and Crass searched for Nigel in every corner and nook in the auto shop and the surrounding mall parking lot while the employees, who Robb said never saw the cat, looked on skeptically. They canceled plans with family and friends, and day trips plotted out before their journey, to continue the search.
Once, after the shop had closed for the evening, they caught sight of his foot under the shop door and heard him meow. Elation was short-lived, though, as the next morning he was again nowhere to be found. But it still gave Robb hope.
"We now knew we weren't crazy, though all the auto center employees sure thought we were! Here are two ladies in their early 30s with blue and purple hair and elaborate kaftans crawling on their hands and knees making kitty noises. It was a sight."
Finally, the pair gave up. Having put up notices on Craigslist and Facebook, they ventured onward. After losing Nigel, though, the road trip lost much of its joy, and the pair trucked back to Fairbanks as quickly as possible, Robb wrote.
The weeks passed. Then, on March 2, the phone call came in: A manager had heard Nigel meowing in a back office and the cat finally emerged from the shadows. The shop sent Robb photos, and indeed, it was a Nigel, albeit a thinner version of him. Robb still wonders where he could have been hiding all that time.
The last step was getting Nigel home. A GoFundMe page asking for the $700 needed to get him safely back to Fairbanks was answered by friends and family in just one day. "I was blown away," Robb wrote.
"Nothing makes you want to wake up each day and do good things for the world more than an outpouring of kindness ... which I received," Robb wrote.
On March 5, Robb picked him up at the Fairbanks International Airport. With Nigel safely back home, he's adjusting to Fairbanks life once again. In September he'll need to do more adjusting, Robb concluded in her email, as he is going to need to share her attention with her first child, who is due then.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing