Leah our cat burglar

19th Dec, 2017

Written by Kerry Oberholzer and Jenni Davies

Photography by Hilette Hatting Photography

When toys and baby clothes started appearing overnight in one suburban family’s home – toys which did not belong to the children living there – no one could ever have imagined where they were coming from.

Things that go bump in the night

One morning in October, Kerry Oberholzer’s son, Damian, stepped out of his bedroom and found a colourful plush toy in the passage outside his door.

Fairly normal when you have children in the house, one may think, but the odd thing was that this this toy did not belong to nine-year-old Damian or his little sister, seven-year-old Kirsty.

The family found it a bit odd but gave it no more thought until, over the next few days, more toys started finding their way into the passageway, mysteriously appearing overnight. Stuffed toys found their way, one at a time, into the Oberholzer’s house and were placed reverently outside their bedroom doors.

And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. When the family awoke in the mornings, the passageway was as empty as it had been the night before. Although there were some suspicions as to the guilty party, the mystery remained unsolved.

The guilty party

Weeks later, the family were enjoying supper when a ghostly grey shape flitted past the lounge window. Something heavy dangled lifelessly from its mouth. The “ghost” leapt into the lounge, body tense, chattering and making strange noises. And clenched firmly between its teeth was a child’s toy.

At last, the culprit had been found: Leah, the family’s grey tabby cat! The Oberholzers had suspected that it may be one of their cats but Leah wouldn’t have been their first guess.

The oldest of five cats, four-year-old Leah had always been a bit snooty – possibly the least likely of all to hang around with cuddly toys. Strangely, since Leah started bringing toys home, she’s had something of a personality makeover. She constantly seeks attention and has become very affectionate. Gone is the “snob” of before and a loving lap cat has taken her place.

Says Kerry, “We have no idea what caused it or why she does it – our cats have all been spayed/neutered so it can’t be that. But I’m sure there’ll be more gifts in the future! Her latest was a huge Barney the Purple Dinosaur toy that she left on our doorstep – I think this one was just too big to fit through the window.”

Toy story

In an attempt to get the 20-odd toys, mostly Angry Birds and SpongeBob SquarePants plush toys (and a pink-and-grey baby slipper), back to their rightful owners, the family wrote letters explaining the situation and placed them in letterboxes around the neighbourhood. They knocked on doors and, aside from getting to meet their neighbours and inspiring plenty of laughter, had no luck in reuniting the toys with their homes.

Next, Kerry posted a picture of Leah’s haul onto the Animal Network Port Elizabeth’s Facebook page. The story captured the attention of Facebook supporters and was shared around the world; within hours, both The Herald and Die Burger newspapers contacted her to cover Leah’s story.

Despite the story being shared around the world, the toys’ owner has yet to be found. The Oberholzers have decided that, if the owners of the toys can’t be traced, they will donate Leah’s gifts to the children’s home.

Meet the cats

With the exception of Tequila, all the family cats were adopted from animal welfare organisations. Leah is the only girl of the five cats. This special tabby is queen bee among her cat friends. Kerry suspects that, when the latest two were adopted, Leah felt she needed to step up her game to grab more attention.    

Mogwai (named after the fluffy creature that turns into a naughty gremlin in the movie The Gremlins) is a friendly tabby. Tequila was born in the car park outside Kerry’s office, and was so feral that it took one-and-a-half years to win his trust enough that she could catch him and take him home; two years later, and he’s settled and happy. The youngest of the five are ginger ninjas Tiger and Simba, who were adopted by the children who saved up their birthday money for the adoption fee. 

Every one of these fabulous felines is a much-loved part of the family. But only Leah brings special presents from around the neighbourhood for her people.