Tampa woman saves Wesley Chapel cat in Carrollwood
By Ashley Dunn
WESLEY CHAPEL — It’s said that cats have nine lives. If that’s true, Zeke, an orange tabby, is down to eight.
After traveling 20 miles from home and being hit by a car, the fortunate feline is back home in Wesley Chapel.
Zeke’s adventure began Sept. 26. His owner, Nicole Johnson, was visiting family in Seattle and had left him in the care of her friend, Matthew Luckie. Zeke, an indoor cat, must have escaped from the comfort of his cozy home when Luckie took out the garbage, Johnson said.
When Luckie realized Zeke was missing, he felt terrible, Johnson said. He called her immediately and posted fliers around the neighborhood. Johnson flew home Sept. 28, a day early, in order to help find Zeke.
That same morning, Tammy Blackburn, of Tampa, was driving to work on Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood, preparing to turn onto Fletcher Avenue. When traffic began to move, Blackburn spotted something out of the corner of her eye. She looked closer. An orange cat hobbled along the road. It peeked around and meowed.
Blackburn is a self-described animal lover. She’s taken care of animals all her life. She’s trained horses and rescued helpless creatures. She has a 2-year-old dog that she rescued from the side of the road who’s “the best thing that ever happened” to her.
“I can’t help it,” she said. “I’ll stop for a squirrel if I see it’s still OK.”
“I just don’t like to see animals or children hurt,” she added.
Blackburn pulled over, ran across traffic and scooped the weak male cat up in a towel. She drove him to VetCare Village Animal Hospital, made sure he was in goods hands and headed on to work.
Dr. Nadia McLean examined the cat. He didn’t have a microchip, or any identification.
Animals with names seem have a better chance of surviving trauma than those that are unnamed. It’s a superstition, but the staff wasn’t about to take a chance. They named the fragile feline Fletcher after the location where Blackburn had found him.
McLean determined that Fletcher had been hit by a car. He was in shock and terrible pain. He had difficulty breathing, his face was swollen and there were cuts all over his body and on his tongue. He had bruising on his lungs and pulmonary contusions.
McLean took X-rays and blood work. She gave Fletcher oxygen, pain medication and antibiotics.
Six hours after she had dropped him off, Blackburn returned to check on Fletcher. She decided that she would attempt to find his owner. If she couldn’t, she was prepared to keep him.
In Wesley Chapel, Johnson arrived home. Two hours later, she was on the Internet, posting a lost cat announcement on Craigslist.
Johnson had had Zeke for four years. She rescued him as a kitten in Seattle. Her parents had found a litter of kittens on their property. A coyote had gotten all but one of them. Johnson’s parents called her and asked her if she’d take him. She didn’t have to think twice before saying yes.
“He was itty bitty,” Johnson remembered.
Zeke is her only pet and a lovable companion. He greets her when she comes home after a long day, and he even plays fetch like a dog. He has his “ornery” moments, but he’s a great cat.
“He’s real sweet,” Johnson said.
After visiting Fletcher at VetCare Village, Blackburn went home and got on her computer. At about the same time Johnson was posting her lost pet announcement, Blackburn was posting her found cat announcement on Craigslist.
It wasn’t long before Blackburn’s phone rang. Johnson was on the other end.
“I think you’ve found my cat,” she said.
Blackburn said she wasn’t sure. She had found Fletcher in Carrollwood and Johnson lived in Wesley Chapel.
Blackburn asked if Johnson’s cat, Zeke, was male of female. The answer was male.
She asked how much Zeke weighed. The answer was 13 pounds, same as Fletcher.
As they talked, it became clear that Fletcher and Zeke were the same cat.
“Everything matched up,” Blackburn said.
Johnson and Luckie went to VetCare Village the next day to see if Fletcher was in fact Zeke. Dr. Nadia McLean was there for the reunion.
“Their cat — as soon as they brought him in, he was purring,” McLean said. “It was very emotional.”
So how did Zeke get from Wesley Chapel to Carrollwood? McLean said he probably hitched a ride atop an engine in one of Johnson’s neighbor’s vehicles. The corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Fletcher Avenue was likely the car’s first stop, and Zeke hopped out unnoticed. Zeke’s whiskers were singed, which seems to corroborate the story.
“The cat would have been much easier to identify if it had had rabies tags, a color or a microchip,” McLean pointed out, stressing the importance of owners properly identifying their pets. “Microchipping would have been a huge benefit for the cat.”
Johnson and Luckie made a donation to VetCare Village for the care that staff had provided for Zeke. They also made a donation to Kitty City Rescue, an organization that helps stray cats and kittens find homes.
“They are amazing,” Johnson said of VetCare Village.
Zeke is now recuperating at home with Johnson. He’s still limping a little, but he’s on his way to a full recovery.
Johnson and Blackburn have never met in person, but they plan to stay in touch. Johnson said she would periodically e-mail photos of Zeke to Blackburn and keep her updated on how he’s doing.
“It’s not very often that you actually end up finding the owner,” Blackburn said. “I’m just so happy that he came back home.”
But likely no one is happier than Johnson — except maybe Zeke.
“It’s fate because who does that?” Johnson said of Blackburn’s kind actions. “I’m really, really grateful.”