It was 6:30 p.m., and Sheba was nowhere to be seen.
The indoor-outdoor cat was known for being punctual for her dinner. Sheba's caretaker, Riley McDermid, wasn't immediately concerned, but when the food remained untouched the next day, it seemed that Sheba was missing.
McDermid checked shelters for the microchipped cat and asked neighbors through NextDoor -- a residential social media app that connects neighbors to each other -- about whether they had seen Sheba. McDermid searched for the friendly, black cat in the neighborhood, but to no avail.
A week later, after talking with a neighbor, it became apparent that maybe -- just maybe --the cat had taken a 1,600 mile trip.
To Omaha, Neb.
McDermid's neighbor had recently passed away and his adult children had come into town from Omaha to move out items -- including his three cats --from his apartment. On Sept. 19, the day the family had packed their U-Haul for Nebraska, the three cats had gotten out and the neighbor's son and daughter searched for the felines, including a black cat named Lucy.
Another neighbor told McDermid that they had seen the siblings leave town with a cat carrier.
"Sheba's not skittish and not wild," McDermid said of her cat. "She probably went up to them and they weren't familiar (with their dad's cats) and they had thought it was just one of the cats that had gone back (to his home). ... I briefly hoped that they had the cat."
Sheba was adopted by the family in February after being rescued from a coal factory in Crockett. The cat played well with McDermid's 2-year-old daughter, Frankie, and got along with their cattle dog, so McDermid felt she had to try and find Sheba.
Finding out the contact info for the son and daughter, McDermid sent Facebook messages and text messages, made phone calls to the two, but did not hear back from them.
Getting no reply, the question remained: What were the chances that Sheba was in Omaha?
Tracking down a cat in another state was out of McDermid's experience as a reporter, but having a strong clue that the cat was in Omaha spurred McDermid to try another avenue: A private investigator.
"I was sure we'd never see her again," McDermid said. "...This was a last ditch effort and if she was anywhere, she'd be with these people."
Looking up private investigators in Omaha, McDermid called around to see who would take a case like this. On her fourth try, she found Mona Kay, who was willing to give it a shot.
Kay's practice, Mona K. Investigations, rarely deals with missing pet cases, but she wanted to try and find Sheba for McDermid's family.
"Deep down in my gut I really thought I would (find Sheba)," Kay said. "I know my determination and I don't give up easily. I really thought if these people still had the cat, I would find it."
Researching the names, Kay came up with four addresses in the Omaha area. At the first house, Kay found Brittany Hulett and, armed with a photo of Sheba, asked if Hulett had seen the cat.
"I introduced myself and told her I was a private investigator and I showed her the picture and said, 'Does this cat look familiar? Have you seen this cat?'" Kay recalled. "... I said, 'I'm here to find this kitty, it belongs to a nice family that loves it and misses it and wants to get their kitty back."
Hulett told Kay that Sheba was inside her house. Kay saw Sheba -- wearing the exact same collar from McDermid's photos that she had sent along -- and knew she had found the right cat.
"They brought the cat out to me," Kay said. "It was much easier than I ever anticipated, which is shocking. I locate people all the time, some take weeks or months and then finding a cat (from) across the country takes three minutes."
Hulett said that it was Kay's surprise visit to her home that made her realize she had brought the wrong cat to Omaha.
"That's what convinced me that maybe it wasn't (my father's cat)," Hulett said on the phone. "Because who would really go to that extreme? That's why I was like, 'Just take it.' It had to have been true."
"What were the odds?" Hulett later added about the mix-up. "Two little black cats, green eyes, same neighborhood."
When asked why she took the case, Kay said she loved animals and if this happened to one of her pets -- the private investigator said she has three cats, fish and frogs -- she, too, would have hired a private investigator.
"I would be so upset if someone took one of my animals," Kay said. "I would do the same exact thing. I know most people wouldn't, but... I wanted to at least give (the case) a try."
"I don't think a lot of private investigators would take the case," Kay later added. "They would have said, 'Oh gosh, I'm not gonna go find a cat. I can't go find a cat, they all look the same.' I can't imagine anyone going to go look for a cat and so I thought she's lucky she found me ... I think a lot of people would have thought it's a wild goose chase."
Sheba had finally been found, after having gone missing for 18 days.
Bringing the cat home with her, Kay called McDermid to give her the good news -- only an hour after the two had first spoken on the phone about Sheba.
"I called her and said, 'Guess who's here at my house' and she said, 'You have my cat!'" Kay said.
"I just started crying," McDermid said of that phone call from Kay. "I couldn't believe it."
Saying she's not a "cat lady," McDermid said that her story got its share of opinions at work, drawing comparisons to "Homeward Bound" and "Milo and Otis."
"Half of my colleagues in the newsroom thought it's a great story, the other half thought I was crazy," McDermid said of her co-workers. "Once I knew where she was, I had to go get her."
"I'm not really a cat person," McDermid later added. "I'm not a big cat lady, I don't like cat memes, but Sheba's just so good with my daughter Frankie that I thought I need to figure out what happened."
McDermid disputes Hulett's account of the situation as a "mix-up," and said the siblings ignored two weeks of messages offering a reward and money to ship the cat back. McDermid had also filed a police report at the time the cat went missing.
Three days after Sheba was found, Kay shipped the cat home on a plane on Oct. 10 to San Francisco Airport. McDermid and her family picked up Sheba shortly after midnight, three weeks after her adventure first started.
And now, every day at 6:30 p.m., Sheba is home for dinner with her family.
Source: Times-Herald / Dianne de Guzman
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