Belle relaxes in bed after a seven-week misadventure outdoors. Her sister, Blue, is in the foreground on the left. Belle has been very clear as to her boundaries since she has been back home, needing a little more space while she recovers. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Belle enjoys a cuddle with owner Carol DeRoy in their new Auburn home. DeRoy lost Belle just as she was moving to a new home. They were reunited after the cat was found huddled underneath a parked car. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — When Belle went missing — enticed outside for the first time in her life when a door was left ajar before a house tour — Carol DeRoy was devastated.

For days afterward, the 74-year-old canvassed her Auburn neighborhood on foot, looking for her cat, desperately hoping someone had seen her.

“Through woods, fields, sidewalks, for

days. Morning, noon and night, just calling her name,” DeRoy said.

At night she barely slept, listening for cat sounds, imagining she heard Belle crying at the back door.

After two weeks, DeRoy began to give up hope. She imagined the worst — Belle killed by a predator; Belle run over by a car.

“After six weeks, I knew I would never see her again,” DeRoy said.

Then, exactly seven weeks after Belle went missing, DeRoy got a text. A feral cat rescue volunteer had just found Belle and, thanks to the cat’s microchip, the group had tracked down DeRoy. Belle was bedraggled and extremely thin, but she was alive and coming home.

“That was a holiday gift,” DeRoy said. “I think it’s a miracle that she survived that long.”

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DeRoy had adopted Belle and her sister, Blue, from the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston a couple of years ago. They were named Itty and Bitty then and had been dropped off at the shelter with significant medical problems. DeRoy’s beloved Siamese cat had died and the house felt so empty. She saw a picture of Belle — then called Bitty — online and fell in love with the longhaired, blue-eyed snowshoe/Siamese mix.

“I noticed, though, the date they had posted that (picture) and it was probably six weeks prior. I thought surely she had to be taken home somewhere in the interim. But I thought, I’ll go anyhow,” she remembered. “My heart was racing, actually, as I was waiting in line. When it came my turn, I asked if Bitty was available and they said, ‘Yes she is!’ I was so happy. We bonded immediately.”

She brought the cat home, renamed her Belle. When her sister Itty got well and could be adopted a month later, DeRoy brought her home, too, and renamed her Blue.

“When they were reunited you could tell they were so happy to be together again,” DeRoy said.

Belle poses for a photo in her new Auburn home. The cat had been reunited with her owner with the aid of a microchip. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

They were a happy family for two years. Then this fall, DeRoy put her house up for sale. On Sept. 27, the sliding glass door was left open by the household just before a showing. It was open only slightly, but that was enough for a curious Belle to sneak through.

And suddenly she was outside alone and lost.

“One of my neighbors … noticed her and called. She said, ‘Did you let Belle out?'” DeRoy said. “That was really the last time that she was spotted.”

That night, as a thunderstorm raged outside, DeRoy could only think of Belle.

“All I could picture was how frightened she must have been. She’d never been in that situation. She must have been drenched,” DeRoy said. “It was very hard, very hard to accept.”

DeRoy wasn’t the only one heartbroken by Belle’s absence. Blue was upset, too.

“Her head was actually hanging low,” DeRoy said. “Every once in a while I would open the back door and I would just call, ‘Belle!’ And she just stayed there listening. I could tell she was sad, just very sad over this whole thing … I stopped calling (for Belle) out of the blue like that because I could see it was really hurting her.”

DeRoy sold her house and, six weeks after Belle went missing, moved to a different part of town.

“I knew I would never see her again. Even though I was only moving a few miles away, how would we ever be reunited?” she said.

Not long after that, and just a couple of miles from DeRoy’s old home, a volunteer for Community Cat Advocates would be the answer.

She noticed Belle had been hunkered under a car for several hours. The weather was bad and Belle wasn’t moving. The volunteer lured her out with food, brought her home and called Rachel Bray, one of the women who runs the rescue group.

Community Cat Advocates handles 400 cats a year. Most of those cats are feral, but volunteers sometimes encounter strays. It was immediately clear to the volunteer that this cat was lost, not wild.

“She just picked her right up,” Bray said.

The cat was thin and starving, bedraggled with dirt matted into her fur. She wouldn’t survive much longer on the streets.

Bray checked for a microchip. It’s something the group does with every stray, even though they rarely find one.

“Out of the years we’ve been doing this, there have only been a couple of cats, like two or three, who have had a microchip,” said Kaili Stalling, community outreach coordinator.

This cat had a microchip. And the microchip had current contact information for her family.

“I was astonished,” Bray said.

DeRoy was at an appointment when she got a text. Her cat had been found.

“Oh my god. I was in shock. I almost fell off the chair I was sitting in. I couldn’t believe it,” DeRoy said. “‘Please call this number.’ So nervously I reached for the phone and called. She told me Belle had been found and she is not well but she’s alive.”

Less than an hour later, Bray and Stalling arrived at DeRoy’s home with Belle in a cat carrier. Video of the reunion shows Belle stunned and hesitant but she makes eye contact with DeRoy and touches noses with her sister.

“Just right away she started purring, and that is not typical of Belle. Belle is pretty independent,” DeRoy said. “To see her so meek and mild but still so happy to see us, it was just wonderful.”

Despite her seven weeks on the streets, Belle was uninjured. She had, however, lost half her body weight and likely wouldn’t have lasted much longer.

“That night was the coldest of this fall. It got down to 13 degrees, and with the wind chill they said it would be close to zero. I just looked at Belle and I know as thin as she was and as weak as she was, I couldn’t imagine that she would have survived that night (outside),” DeRoy said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, just in the nick of time.'”

That was in November. Since then, Belle has steadily gained weight. Careful baths restored her clean fur. She’s regained her strength and stamina.

“She is running up the stairs now, not just taking a few steps at a time like she was initially. All very good signs,” DeRoy said. “But regardless, I thought she came home and however long she lives, she will have a happy ending. But I don’t think the end is near.”

Both DeRoy and the people at Community Cat Advocates credit Belle’s microchip for getting her home.

“That helped to make this a miracle,” DeRoy said.

Animal Tales is a recurring Sun Journal feature about animals and their people. Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].


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