Somehow, after being separated from her owners on a family excursion, a cat named Holly traveled for two months to return home. The 4-year-old tortoise-shell has scientists scratching their heads, leaving little to help understand how she managed to survive such a journey. In early November, she and her owners, Bonnie and Jacob Richter, were separated at an RV rally in Daytona Beach, Fla. appeared emaciated and staggering on their doorstep again, according to the NYTimes.
Some experts suspected it might be a different cat, since people who lose pets tend to project their longing onto a stray animal, hoping it’s the one they’ve been missing. “[T]he cats are just strays, and the people have got kind of a mental justification for expecting it to be the same cat,” said John Bradshaw, director of the University of Bristol’s Anthrozoology Institute, to the NYTimes. Fortunately, the Richter’s had not only Holly’s markings to identify her; she also had a microchip implanted in her to help identify her should she ever get lost. It appears to have been a worthy investment.
Marc Bekoff, animal behavioralist at the University of Colorado, was baffled, saying he “[had] no data for this,” though he does believe these kinds of stories. He theorized that perhaps Holly, and other cats who have found their way home after being lost, were able to get un-lost by, “maybe being street-smart, maybe reading animal cues, maybe being able to read cars, maybe being a good hunter.”
Peter Borchelt, a New York animal behavioralist, thought Holly may have “followed the Florida coast by sight or sound, and tracking Interstate 95 and deciding to ‘keep that to the right and keep the ocean to the left.’” Cats, apparently, can navigate familiar environments extremely well by memorizing locations by sight and smell, and easily figuring out shortcuts. “But,” Borchelt said, “nobody is going to do an experiment and take a bunch of cats in different directions and see which ones get home.”
Dr. Bekoff said that Holly might simply have a natural tendency to survive. “You’ve got these real variations in temperament… Fish can be shy or bold; there seem to be shy and bold spiders. This cat, it could be she has the personality of a survivor.” He said being an indoor cat would not extinguish survivalist behaviors, like hunting mice or being aware of the sun’s orientation.
Though the mystery still persists, Holly is home regardless, making easy and relieved her family, who until now, feared she was gone forever.