The prodigal son returns


In loving memory of Ryan, who brought BB back to me.

Written by Vanessa Naudé and professional photography by Phileen Lutge

It was the Human Rights Day weekend in March 2017 and we’d packed the car to the brim with Granny, two children, Mom and Dad, not to mention everything you need for fun and relaxation.

Sunday dawned and, after a long, lazy breakfast, my husband Garth’s phone rang while I was on another call. The caller had tried me and couldn’t get through so she called Garth. I gathered from the conversation that the caller had found one of our cats. When Garth couldn’t establish which one, he asked her to speak to me. We had left our three cats, two dogs, bearded dragon and fish in the care of an animal-loving couple while we were away. Garth was confused because they hadn’t mentioned that Snap, Sukiyaki Sunshine or Sassy had gone missing…

He disappeared without a trace

Samantha Fox is a cat-lover who spends her spare time trapping feral cats to sterilise and release them back into their wild homes; she explained that she had trapped a cat in the wooded area behind the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), approximately half a kilometre from our home. The cat was one of 15 trapped in four locations the previous night.

After keeping him at her home overnight, Samantha had scanned him and found a chip – and our details. The cat’s name, she said, was BB. When I heard that, my heart skipped a beat and goosebumps prickled my skin. It wasn’t possible… BB had disappeared years before, to the devastation of our family. It couldn’t be true.

BB had come to us in November 2011 as a tiny kitten when my ex-husband, Ryan, and his girlfriend, Carol, rescued him after his mom was run over. I had recently lost the beautiful grey striper – Coco – that had belonged to Ryan and me when we were married and he’d been as grief-stricken as I was at her passing. So, of course, there was no question about keeping BB.

The little tabby orphan whom we called BB – short for Beautiful Boy, which he was – had to be hand raised. Our neighbourhood vet helped me to rear him and treated him for a very persistent eye infection. While in her care, she taught him to lie on his back and have his tummy tickled, which he grew to love more than any other form of cuddles – and he was a huge fan of cuddles. Just under a year later, in October 2012, BB disappeared without a trace. Being found four-and-a-half years later in a wooded part of the park across a river was simply not possible.

But it was.

Beautiful Boy comes home

And so our prodigal son returned, somewhat more nervous, with torn ears and wild eyes, but as loving, playful and affectionate as we remembered him. It turned out that he’d been living with a feral colony of four cats near SANBS, where kind-hearted cat-lovers had been feeding the colony until Sam was called in to catch them for sterilisation.

During the time they were feeding him, he was always friendly, loved human contact and was clearly not a feral. After Sam caught and took him home, she kept him for two nights in her house, amongst her own (indignant) cats, until we could get home to welcome him back.

It was a bitter-sweet reunion. How was I going to keep him from wandering again? What if he simply had a natural wanderlust and I grew attached, only to have my heart broken again? How would he integrate with three cats – one a terrible big bully – and two dogs?

But from the moment he arrived, it was like he’d never left. In the ensuing two weeks we kept every door and window closed, fed him delicacies and lavished catnip on every available surface. He settled into a routine of keeping himself hidden during the day and emerging for cuddles and treats at night – but only when I gave the special call I’d created to entice him out of his hiding place: “Beebles, Beeb-a-roo-ba-roobles…” (Repeated five times!)

BB brought changes

We gradually introduced the other cats, culminating in the great big bully Snap. By now, they’ve developed a degree of tolerance for one another, although BB, who is a very petite little boy, doesn’t quite manage to stand up to Snap’s alpha-male ways. Sassy and BB have since become firm friends, chasing each other down the passage and hiding behind doors to pounce on one another. Our anxiety was at a record high the day I decided it was time to open the windows to let him go exploring. But BB wasn’t interested in moving out of the house he has claimed as his own and, a month later, has yet to go beyond the windowsill into the garden.

His return hasn’t been without some interesting consequences. Marking of territory has become the norm in our house, as has an increase in the monthly grocery bill with the addition of wet food for all four cats. Eleven-year-old Kyle’s study time is now broken by breaks to “stroke” BB.

And then there’s the change to our morning routine; when I return from making coffee, having woken the children and encouraged them to come and have breakfast, I find eight-year-old Kiara still in bed, only to be told, “It’s BB’s fault, Mommy. He just can’t get enough love,” while BB looks up at me with innocent eyes, turning himself into figures of eight in delight at the cuddles.

Love in abundance

The truly unique quality about this little creature is his ability to make you feel that you are his special person. Everyone, from Garth, Kyle and Kiara to my mom and I, believe that we are The One for whom BB has the most love; that we have the most special bond with him and that, although he loves everyone else, he loves ME the most.

The truth is that BB has so much love to give that we are all his special people – and he gives it in abundance. As I write this he is lying next me and, when I reach over to stroke him, he responds with a “pprrrrt”, climbs onto my lap and up my body, waiting for me to turn him over onto his back and tickle his tummy, just like I did when he was a kitten. Our prodigal son has returned, forever.

In loving memory of Ryan, who brought BB back to me. The night before Sam’s call, I’d looked up at the plentiful stars in Hartbeespoort, spotted Orion’s Belt, and asked Ryan to send me a sign. Ryan had passed away very unexpectedly in February and I was lost without my oldest and dearest friend.

The next day, the kitten that he brought to me four-and-a-half years before was returned to me – a gift of joy and remembrance of Ryan, Coco, and my other stripy grey cat, Muddy Maxi, who left this world last year.

Gratitude

With special thanks to Samantha, and to Felice and Diana Oxley, the sisters who fed BB and his feral family for close to two years before he was returned to us. Your unwavering love of felines and your commitment to their survival ensured that our BB could come home after so many years.

I leave you with one final message: Had BB not been chipped as a kitten we would not be reunited and we would still believe that he’d met a terrible fate; meanwhile he was fighting for survival just a short distance from his home.

Diana Oxley (left)<br>returning BB safely<br> to Vanessa  <br> <br>   <br> <br>   <br> <br>   <br> <br>   <br> <br>   <br> <br>