THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF BIG BEN

19th Jun, 2019

Written by Sharyn Spicer, Founder of TUFCAT Sanctuary

Professional photography by Jack and Jane Wedding & Portrait Photographers

I’ve had some amazing experiences involving cats over the years, but none as incredible and unlikely as that of Big Ben.

About a year ago, I was contacted by Elna Viljoen, an animal rescuer in Franschhoek, to help with a cat that had been found on a farm on Draaiberg Road, near Villiersdorp. According to the estate agent, he’d been left on the farm when his owners moved. Elna’s friend, Ilze Smit, had bought the farm and she asked Elna to assist, as her dogs were chasing Ben. He was taken to the local Villiersdorp vet, where I collected him.

Big Ben (he really is HUGE!) took a while to settle. He was not a happy boy. However, he decided to stay and spent his days on the roof, only coming down for his evening treats. Ben has never been affectionate with us; generally he doesn’t allow us to pick him up or touch him, and he continued to remain aloof. But he was happy and had accepted his new life at the TUFCAT Sanctuary.

On Monday I noticed that Ben had left his usual spot – the roof next to the cat courtyard. He was hanging around at the boundary fence on the other side of the property, where the “ferals” live.

I received a WhatsApp message from Bertus Human, my new next door neighbour (they moved in over December 2018). He sent a photo of his child holding what looked like Ben. Apart from being a big boy, he also has a distinctive mark on his nose and a kink in his tail, so it wasn’t hard to identify him. I wrote back and expressed surprise that Ben could be cuddled.

What he told me next blew my mind…

Ben is their cat – called Bonnie. He’d moved with them from Riviersonderend to a farm in Draaiberg Road (outside Villiersdorp, towards Grabouw). And then, about two years ago, he went missing.

Yesterday, Ben walked back into their lives and is clearly delighted to have found his family again.

What are the chances of this happening? His long-lost family moved in right next door (in Bossiesveld, outside Villiersdorp, but in the opposite direction towards Worcester), and they’re happily reunited. I still can’t believe this!

Carla Human, Ben’s owner, shares…

Two years ago, we moved from Riviersonderend to a farm near Villiersdorp (on Draaiberg Road). It was quite a hectic time, as I was seven months pregnant with our third child, and the other two were only four and two years old.  Needless to say, the moving was tough on all of us (animals included).

About a week after we moved, one of our cats, Bonnie (we had two), decided to walk away…

New to town, I didn’t really know where to start looking. I posted a picture on the Eerstehoop Facebook group and asked the few people I knew to please be on the lookout for him. (Contacting the vet never crossed my porridge/pregnancy brain!)

After a few weeks all hope was gone, as I thought he must’ve tried to find his way back to Riviersonderend. Shortly thereafter, our baby arrived and we got Lilo (the remaining cat) and a brother as well, named Nemo. (He actually looked a wee bit like Bonnie – same colour.)

But life went on. Unfortunately, we had to sell the farm after a year and thus moved again (last year December).

We bought a smallholding in Bossieveld, 10 kilometres past Villiersdorp, en route to Worcester. We’ve been here for just over four months.

So, one Saturday night in April, we were sitting on the front porch and I noticed a strange cat in the horses’ paddock. I laughed and told my friend the cat looked just like the one we used to have (Bonnie). Amused by the strange cat, I walked closer, thinking he’d run away anyway – but the cat sat! Getting closer – still intrigued – I started calling “Bonnie”. To my surprise, he meowed in the same way Bonnie did.

In utter disbelief, I kneeled down to touch the tip of his tail (Bonnie had a weird bend at the tip of his tail ever since birth). The moment I felt the bend, I was totally overwhelmed and filled with a thousand emotions – it WAS Bonnie! I picked him up and hugged and cuddled him. He was purring all the way, obviously delighted to see me again.

How could this be possible? Two years had passed, and we’d moved again (35km from the farm we first moved to!).

We contacted our next door neighbour, Sharyn Spicer, and asked if this was “her” cat. And so, the mystery about Bonnie, or Big Ben (he really is huge!), as she called him, was solved.

Apparently, right about the time Bonnie went missing, a kind lady from Franschoek picked him up somewhere on a farm along Draaiberg Road and took him to the local vet. He must’ve been there a while, but after nobody claimed him (stupid porridge brain) they contacted Sharyn and asked if she’d take him in. He’d been with her for over a year… living literally RIGHT NEXT DOOR (only a fibrecrete wall separating our two yards).

And so, after we’d been here for four months, he decided to walk on over and surprise us. And man, was this a BIG Ben Bonnie surprise!

In March we lost two of our dearest dogs (they were with us for over eight years – we got them all, Bonnie included, at about the same time). So why he decided to pop over the wall at that moment, only he will know. But he surely filled our hearts with tremendous joy (after the heartache of our other fur kids).

And the rest, as they say, is history! Bonnie is back as if he never left. Lilo definitely remembers him and accepted him back into her home. Nemo isn’t totally chilled about this big brother that’s moved back in, but he will come around, I’m sure.

This story is what I call a miracle – a story that teaches us never to lose hope. I definitely see God’s hand in this, and the saying for us is really true – “The cat comes again!”.