Written by Brenda Bryden
Professional photography by Annelie Jonker Photography
This is a tale about a tabby cat from Uitenhage whose curiosity took her on an interprovincial adventure from the Eastern to the Western Cape. Fortunately for the lockdown-regulation-defying heroine of our story, recently named Baroness, her curiosity did not cause her demise as the age-old proverb predicts. Instead, it saw her being flown home in style to take up her rightful residence with the man who had been caring for her for the past year and a bit. But, let’s not digress, that story is for later.
RIDING AND ARRIVING IN STYLE
Our story begins in a motor dealership in Tokai on the 27th of June 2020. It tells of a young tabby cat who was discovered happily ensconced in the front seat of a VW Polo Vivo Max that had just been offloaded from a vehicle carrier. Easton Fredericks of Barons VW dealership in Tokai tells us more. “Every week a carrier delivers new vehicles from the VW Uitenhage factory to our dealership. On this particular Saturday, when taking delivery of vehicles, an employee opened the front door of a new Polo Vivo Max and spotted this grey tabby sitting on the front seat. He quickly drove the car into a secure yard before the cat made a hasty exit.”
Easton, who was off sick at the time, only learnt of the cat’s existence later. He, together with other Barons’ employees, provided food, water and shelter for the cat who they noticed was skittish and a little fearful. They aptly named her “Baron”. “Being cat lovers, my wife, Anthea, and I wanted to give this cat a home. But, from previous experience with stray cats and having already spent an hour and a half trying to catch this kitty, I knew we needed help.”
TEARS TO THE RESCUE
Anthea called Marilyn Hoole, co-founder and director of local animal rescue organisation The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS), to assist with trapping the cat and to check her for a microchip. “If it turned out that the cat was not registered to an owner, we intended to adopt her,” explains Easton.
The cat was taken to TEARS, where she was found to be unsterilised and unchipped, and was renamed Baroness when they realised she was a female. TEARS gave Baroness the full royal treatment, in line with the shelter’s policy. She was microchipped, sterilised, vaccinated and tested negative for feline leukaemia (FelV) and immunodeficiency virus (FIV). “But,” says Easton, “before a stray cat can be adopted, attempts to find an owner must be made.”
A SEARCH FOR THE OWNER
So, a search for Baroness’ owner was undertaken. Mandy Store, TEARS Operations Manager, picks up the tale: “According to our standard procedure, we advertise and the rightful owner has seven working days to claim their pet; if the animal remains unclaimed after seven days, we put the pet up for adoption. So, we advertised on our usual platforms, but because it was a cat from another province, we decided to advertise in national newspapers. Die Burger, part of media giant Network 24, picked up the story, which was then published in the UD Express – a community newspaper covering the Uitenhage/Despatch area. So it was sometime after Baroness arrived here that I received a call from Brandon Wait in Despatch claiming ownership of the kitty. He said he’d seen her photograph in the UD Express and she’d been missing for a while. Once I was happy that he was the rightful owner, we wanted to get Baroness back to Brandon as soon as possible, but lockdown regulations complicated her return,” Mandy says. “Firstly, regulations state that an animal must wait two weeks after a first vaccination before they can travel inter-provincially, and of course interprovincial travel was prohibited at the time. So, Baroness stayed with us for a month before we could arrange to get her home.
“Brandon and I had been in contact throughout Baroness’ stay and he assured me he’d wanted to take her home so many times, but she never let him get close enough. This, I believe, is because she had a master plan that involved a trip down to Cape Town to meet the wonderful people at TEARS and find out more about this place that offered shelter and love to cats. And she must have known that if she stayed here a while, we’d have her remodelled and teach her to trust humans. So the time she spent with us was good in that it did make her more used to people and being handled. And, of course, she’s been sterilised, which also made her calmer.
“I was so invested in this kitty and her incredible journey that as soon as it was possible and interprovincial travel was allowed, I organised and personally paid for Baroness’ flight back to the Eastern Cape.
“It was a bittersweet farewell when she left TEARS for the airport on Friday the 31st of July. Brandon and I chatted via WhatsApp throughout that day. I sent him photographs of her safely secured in her travelling cage, and he sent me photos once she’d arrived. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that she was finally happily reunited with her human.”
BACK HOME WITH BRANDON
Brandon Wait tells us how he came to be Baroness’ human.
“I work for a company that transports vehicles from the various motor manufacturers in East London to dealerships around the country. The company has several mobile offices on various sites in Uitenhage and Despatch. At one of the VW sites in Uitenhage, there’s a small wooden office from which I work. Some time ago, I noticed three little kittens hiding in the tiny space between the bottom of the office and the ground. I looked around but could find no mother cat, and so I began to feed the little ones,” he explains.
“After a while, the other kittens left, but this little tabby cat stayed. I took care of her, giving her food and water. Although she wasn’t very friendly, she was around and greeted me, sometimes even letting me touch her. I wanted to take her home with me, but she didn’t allow me to pick her up, and I was concerned that she may have babies in the area, so I just kept providing food for her.
“Sometime during lockdown, she disappeared, but I didn’t think much of it,” Brandon says. It was only when he saw her picture in the UD Express that he realised where she’d gone. “I contacted TEARS and was told that the cat was going to be adopted by Easton from Barons. After speaking to him and with help from Mandy, I was told that Baroness would be coming home to me.
“When I went to fetch her at the airport, she was quite sleepy, but she recognised me immediately. I resisted opening the cage and holding her as I was scared she’d run away. So, I took her home, and when I opened the cage, she allowed me to touch and pet her and promptly made herself at home, despite having never been in the house before.
“It was quite amazing how quickly she became a calm housecat and claimed me as a human and how easily and quickly she made friends with my chihuahua,” says Brandon. “She definitely seems to be more used to, and enjoys, human contact. No doubt because she was given such loving care while at TEARS.”
And so, Baroness the Travelling Tabby has decided that she’s had enough excitement for a while and is concentrating her energies on making Brandon’s home her personal kingdom from where she’ll rule the household, as is the unquestionable right of all felines.
And, to help ensure that she never strays too far from home and gets lost, Jimmy Tsegas of Rock & Cricket PromoGames and PromoConcepts, which stocks and sells Walk &Track Pet Trackers, has donated a Pet Tracker Girafus to Baroness. “The tracker runs off radio frequency and pinpoints the cat to within several metres. You walk and track, then when the device picks up the tag on the cat’s collar, it beeps. The closer you get to the cat, the more it beeps,” explains Jimmy.
It certainly seems that along her journey, Baroness, the Travelling Tabby, has met and made many special friends.