If the age-old adage about cats having nine lives is true, then 19-year-old Sydney is only on number two.
It was 11 days ago that Maddie Eustis, a 16-year-old East Greenwich high school student noticed that she hadn’t seen her cat, Sydney, all day. She asked her mother, Maureen, if she had seen the domestic short-hair Maddie’s parents had adopted close to the time they got married. Maureen hadn’t seen the cat either.
The pair scoured the house: Sydney wasn’t in her favorite spot in the basement; she wasn’t hiding under the couch; she wasn’t anywhere inside.
Although Sydney wasn’t typically an outdoor cat, she did sometimes venture into the back yard. Maddie confessed they hadn’t been keeping a close eye on Sydney that day since her grandparents were over.
“She must have slipped the fence,” thought Maddie.
Maddie, a volunteer at the East Greenwich Animal Protection League (EGAPL), texted her friend Nancy Dyer, who also serves as the head of cat adoption at the League. Maddie told her how sad she and her family were about their missing cat. Dyer offered her sympathies; she understood.
Still, there was no sign of Sydney. Hours passed. Night fell. They Eustis family began to lose hope.
After eleven days passed, Maddie and her mom decided that Sydney, as some animals have been known to do, went somewhere to die. Being a small, 5-pound cat with old age and hearing problems working against her, the Eustis family was certain they would never see Sydney again. Life went on, Maddie went off to field hockey camp, and the Eustis family tried to cope with the loss of their companion of nearly 20 years.
It was July 27 when the East Greenwich Animal Control picked up a stray cat wandering around a residential area. She was an older cat that didn’t like to be held but was otherwise friendly. They kept the cat at the North Kingston Animal Hospital for three days, and once they determined she was healthy, they contacted Nancy Dyer at EGAPL. She said she would come by to pick the cat up.
On August 1, Dyer brought the cat, which they believed to be 8-years-old, to the shelter to be adopted. Since the cat was said to be half Sydney’s age, and because Dyer had never seen a picture of Sydney, she never thought the stray could be Maddie’s missing pet. Instead, Dyer readied a cage for the stray, and named her Juliette.
Maddie’s duties at EGAPL include everything from giving baths to puppies to cleaning litter boxes. Having been away at field hockey camp, Maddie was ready to return to those duties this week, and made her way to the shelter Saturday afternoon. She spent some time with the dogs and made her way to the cat room, where adoptable kittens and cats are kept.
She spent time playing with the cats she has come to know, chatting with other volunteers about how she had just lost her 19-year-old cat. Little did Eustis know, her cat was just feet away from her at the time.
After about an hour, Dyer stopped in to introduce Maddie to the cats that had arrived since she had been away, and mentioned they had taken in an 8-year-old stray. At the time, Maddie didn’t know the cat had been picked up just a few houses away from her own.
“I looked at the cage card and it said eight, and I thought, how are we going to get another older cat adopted?” said Maddie, who has come to learn the difficulties of getting senior and special needs animals adopted.
She peered into the cage and saw the small cat rolled into a ball at the rear.
“She said it looked like her Sydney,” said Dyer.
But Maddie couldn’t be sure. She opened the door and reached in, and began petting the curled-up cat. When the cat raised its head, Maddie knew.
“I just burst into tears,” she said. “I thought, oh my god, that’s her!”
The 8-year-old cat named Juliette was really the 19-year-old cat, Sydney.
Meanwhile, Maureen Eustis wasn’t far away. Maddie picked up the phone and dialed. Maureen heard her daughter’s voice, hysterical, on the other end.
“I thought something bad had happened,” said Maureen. But Maddie finally regained her composure enough to say: “Sydney’s here.”
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” said Maureen, who thought she would never see her cat again.
“My mom was a mess,” said Maddie. “Sydney is older than me, so she’s almost like her baby.”
The Eustis family had spent hours shedding tears over Sydney’s death 11 days ago, but cried tears of joy over her safe and unexpected return home Saturday.
Maureen said she is grateful for the East Greenwich Animal Protection League, a no-kill shelter, for keeping Sydney safe. She chuckled to think about what might have happened had Maddie not visited the shelter on Saturday afternoon – Sundays are the League’s adoption open houses.
“She might have been adopted tomorrow!” said Maureen.
But that’s not the case. Instead, Sydney was back to her regular routine on Saturday night.
“She’s upstairs now,” said Maddie during a telephone interview from her home. “She just had her tuna dinner.”