Rhu and Avi Bikszer sat on their back porch in Bend as the sun shone on Wednesday. Between them a gray cat stuck his head out from a cardboard box.
“I was astonished,” Rhu said. “We assumed he’d been eaten, because we have so many predators around us. Owls and hawks and coyotes and badgers and so, we just assumed the worst.”
She was referring to 10-year-old Ash, their barn cat who went missing about a year after they got him.
That was five years ago.
14-year-old Slade remembered Ash as being “majestic” and “cool.”
“Just the other day it was funny, I was talking to my dad and I was like, ‘remember that cat Ash? Was he the one who used to follow you into the field when we were changing the water pipes?'” he said. “It was funny we were talking about him, and a few days later we got the call that he was alive.”
Rhu had taken the call from the Humane Society of Central Oregon just a couple of days ago.
“They scanned his microchip in and they’d found Ash, and he’d been living six miles away from us, I guess under someone’s home,” she said. “They’d been feeding him, because he was becoming more scrawny and ill-appearing. I guess the person wound up turning him in, hoping that they could assist him.”
Some people in a nearby neighborhood had been feeding him for the past 6-8 months. Ash had grown scrawny and weak in his time away, but his memory was still intact.
Lynne Ouchida, the Community Outreach Manager for the Humane Society of Central Oregon, was there when Avi, Slade, and 7-year-old Cheyenne came to pick up their long-lost pet.
“Ash came in pretty frightened and shut down, so of course kind of hiding when the family first came in,” she said. “But it was really heartwarming to see how Ash warmed up, as you could actually see the cat sniffing the family members and then starting to relax, and eventually with a few more strokes of love, Ash was quickly purring.”
“He sniffed my hand, I called him, and he came out of his cage and the lady was like ‘oh my god, he sniffed you, he remembers you!'” Avi recalled with a laugh.
Ash might still have some spring in his step, and even jumped out of his box a couple of times on Wednesday. But his days in the wild took a toll on his body.
“When we were picking him up I thought he would be in better condition,” Cheyenne said. “And so when we saw that he was that bad, we didn’t know if we should put him in the barn or not.”
The family quickly took him to the veterinarian for an assessment.
“The vet thinks it’s either a really bad oral abscess, or he potentially has a tumor and it’s cancer and we’re waiting for the biopsy results,” Rhu said. “I hope it is a tooth abcess and he responds to the antibiotics and he starts to become rejuvenated and vibrant again, because he really is majestic and beautiful when he’s at his optimal health. He’s like a wild lion. He’s really a big tall huge cat, so he’s tiny and scrawny right now.”
It’s a return riddled with health concerns, but a return nonetheless.
Ouchida said the Humane Society has seen stories like this multiple times.
“This is a commonplace occurrence for animals to have been missing for months, years, and then finally being brought to the Humane Society, and then upon arrival we check all of our animals for a microchip,” she said. “We’ve had reunions from maybe one month, up to I believe it was nine years that a cat was missing and we were able to reunite them due to a microchip.”
A simple microchip, ensuring that Ash spends the rest of his days with his family members, who intend to provide some much-needed TLC.
Slade said he plans to “just keep giving him medicine and keep improving his morale and petting him and making him happy.”
Rhu wishes that someone had taken Ash in to check for a microchip when they first found him.
“We could’ve been reunited years ago and that would’ve been greatly appreciated, but obviously not everybody recognizes that a stray truly has an owner, and there really is no way to identify from the outside of the body unless they have a collar on,” she said. “Definitely keeping up with your membership with a microchip and updating your most current status and contact information I think enables you to be reunited with your animal.”
Ouchida said folks can visit the local veterinarian or the Humane Society to get their pets microchipped.
“Microchips are vital for reuniting families with their pets quickly,” she said. “They’re also a permanent form of identification. We really encourage people, if they find an animal, please take it to a veterinarian animal shelter, or to us, so we can check for a microchip. It’s really important for those people who are heartbroken and missing their animals.”