Written by Natalie Morrissey
Professional photography by Keith Lotz Photography
“Was there ever a cat so clever as magical Mr Mistoffelees…” sang the feline cast in the musical Cats – and that’s where the hero of our story got his name. And he seems to have lived up to it.
Mr Mistoffellees is a black cat known for his “magic tricks” like disappearing acts, sleight of hand, balancing, and hiding in plain sight; his family would call him in for hours, only for him to have been there all along… or was he?
It was a gloomy Sunday in 2001 and we’d just moved home in Newlands; I’d kept Mistoffelees and his brother, Taco, in for the normal two weeks to accustom them to the new flat. But, on that fateful day, somebody started drilling nearby and Mistoffelees got such a fright that he bolted.
In the rain, I stood outside calling him, treats in hand, for hours and hours; I hunted everywhere but simply could not find him. Mistoffelees was gone.
Leaving no stone unturned
The following day was rubbish collection day and, fearing that he could have been knocked over by a car in his frightened state and ended up “thrown” away in the trash, I called the rubbish department. They explained that all deceased animals that get picked up are scanned for microchips and that, if they found him, they’d let the owner know.
Not wanting to give up, I printed out heaps of “Lost” posters with his photo and my contact details and posted them everywhere – all over the street poles in Newlands, on the fence along the railway line, and at the rugby stadium, surrounding shops and vets. Being winter, I even laminated them to ensure they wouldn’t spoil in the rain. These remained up for months. I contacted the SPCA and Animal Anti-Cruelty League as well.
For several weeks I followed up with them daily and then called them weekly, right up until I had to leave Newlands a year later.
We moved away from Newlands but I NEVER stopped searching for my boy. Because the company I worked for was located in Newlands, I was still on the lookout every day.
Once, I literally climbed out of my office window thinking I’d spotted him in our company’s garden. On another occasion, I came across an identical-looking cat and was so convinced that it could be him that I gathered it up and drove to the nearest vet to be scanned, thinking that maybe I just didn’t recognise him. It turned out to be a ten-year-old female, so I drove back to Newlands to put her back from where I’d “abducted” her!!
The years went by
The months turned into years and, over the next 11 years, we moved to Upington, Johannesburg and Durban; at the beginning of 2013, we returned to Cape Town. Of course, whenever I happened to drive through Newlands, I’d always be on the lookout for a black cat, hoping that maybe, by some miracle, he was still around.
Right up until November 2017 I still stopped to look for him around the area. My husband said it was time to stop looking as he was, in all likelihood, long dead by now, given how much time had passed. Reluctantly, I had to accept that that may be the case.
He just started purring
Imagine my surprise when the phone rang on Friday 12th January 2018 and it was Cape Animal Medical Centre in Kenilworth saying that they had my cat, Mistoffelees!
I burst into tears. I was in total disbelief. Seventeen long years had passed since the terrible day when he’d disappeared and, as if by magic, he’d reappeared. This year, my boy will turn 19 years old.
The moment we got together he put his little head on my arm and just started purring. How he survived and where he was for those years we will never know. He has many health issues owing to his age, poor nutrition and, essentially, his many years on the streets. But he has really taken to home life now; he lounges on the dog beds and has finally started cleaning himself again and meowing to be picked up. He just wants to be in my arms with his head on my chest, purring continuously.
Our story is bittersweet as we really don’t have much time left together, but I believe we were brought back together to stop searching and to be able to say goodbye and that my boy can go with some dignity still. He is the most loving and amazing cat.
I wish I could find out if anybody in the area ever came across him in the past 17 years. I know that he was being fed by a kind man named Hoosain for the last two months, along with a few other “strays”.
To all the kind people out there who feed the homeless and strays: thank you! Please keep up the great work.
To Identipet I owe a huge gratitude. When I had Mistoffelees and Taco microchipped, it was a new thing that we were sceptical about, but the pet medical aid required it. Not in all my imaginings did I believe that that small act would one day bring my boy home.
There was an annual fee, but after two years I’d stopped with the payment for Mistoffelees, although for Taco and my subsequent fur kids, I took out lifetime membership and kept the details updated. It’s incredible that a 19-year-old microchip, which was no longer even paid for, was still able to identify him when he was scanned.
I can actually feel that little rice grain-sized microchip in his neck now that he’s so thin and each time I just think: wow – this tiny little thing brought him back to me!
I would like to urge all people to have a microchip inserted in their precious pets. I’d also like to remind all vets and animal rescues and shelters to please always check – you never know! Mistoffelees would not have looked like a cat that would have belonged to anybody, and yet he did. I’m so grateful that the vets did scan him and that we could be reunited. Whatever time we have left together is precious.