A long way home

Robin Harris of Mission found this cat, Cleo, in her hay barn last weekend and called the number on her tags to find the owners. It turns out the 7-month old kitten was wandering for the last two weeks after its family lost the cat during a wreck in Interstate 84 near Harris' house.

A cat named Cleo will reunite with her family after a car wreck and days of wandering unfamiliar country.

The saga started Nov. 28 when a tire blew on Amanda Egan’s van. Egan was in the process of moving from Utah to Washington and drove on Interstate 84 about a mile east of the Wildhorse Resort & Casino. Her husband Shane was ahead of her in a Ford Tempo. He had pulled off at exit 216 to gas up and was waiting for her. Amanda had the couple’s three young daughters and the family’s pets — Cleo, a seven-month-old kitten, and a black Chihuahua-pug mix named Irene.

“The van started to shake. The tire on the driver’s side blew apart,” Egan said. “I tried to move to the side, but we swerved and rolled over and landed on the top.”

Egan believes she may have passed out for a short time. When she swam back to consciousness, she heard Elinor, 5, Molly, 3, and Adeline, 1, screaming in fright.

Amazingly, all were fine, except for scratches and bruises. A police officer at the scene asked if anyone else was in the car and Amanda instantly remembered the animals. Both had vanished. Soon came the discovery that the dog had run into traffic and been killed. No one could find Cleo.

Egan felt anguished as she assessed the kitten’s chances of survival. The family stayed in Pendleton three days to regroup. After renting a trailer and searching unsuccessfully again for the cat, they finally set off with heavy hearts for their new home in Bellingham, Washington.

That was that. The girls cried for several nights, but life went on.

Then, two weeks after the accident, the family got a surprise phone call from Robin Harris, who lives about a mile north of the accident site.

“I have this gray cat,” Harris said. “Her name is Cleo.”

Harris explained she had seen a blur of motion in her hay barn and spotted the kitten scampering up into the rafters. At first, she thought the cat was wild or had been dumped, then Harris noticed the cat wore a polka-dotted collar with bright pink tags. She climbed up a stack of hay to get a closer look at the tags and found the name Cleo and a phone number. The kitten snuggled into Harris’ arms.

Egan greeted the news with both exhilaration and incredulity.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said to Harris. “You found her?”

The girls, she said, had been missing their animals. Molly had slept each night since the accident with two stuffed animals she had gotten from the EMTs the day of the wreck — she’d named them both Cleo. After the call, Egan quickly shared the good news with her daughters.

“They were so excited when I told then Cleo had shown up,” Egan said. “Their mouths were wide open.”

Harris, who serves as a board member for the Pendleton Animal Welfare Shelter (PAWS), is working out a way to get Cleo back to her family. Unless she can find someone who is heading to the Seattle area soon, on Saturday, PAWS board member Cindy Spiess will likely add Cleo to a group of animals she is transporting to Portland and meet the Egans somewhere for a transfer.

Harris will have a hard time saying goodbye. Cleo won her heart and was quickly upgraded from the barn.

“She’s living in the house now,” Harris said.

Harris said she sees the kitten’s survival as a marvel considering the cold and the coyotes.

“I don’t know how she survived for two weeks with the temperatures we’ve had,” Harris said, “and I saw two coyotes just recently.”

Harris gave kudos to the Egans for placing a tag on Cleo with contact information. Even better, she said, would be a microchip that contains information that can be accessed at most veterinarians and animal shelters.

Cleo will head home soon as can be arranged. For those heading to the Seattle area and willing to transport the kitten, Harris urged them to email PAWS at pawspendleton@gmail.com.

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