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Smith: Santa Rosa’s Trapper Dave at last catches his Moby Dick

Trapper Dave and Romeo

CHRIS SMITH, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An obsession? That’s probably not too strong a word.

Dave Yarger Jr., one of the magnificent volunteers who’ve gone to heroic lengths to rescue animals scattered by the October fires, locked onto this one cat.

“I’ve been out every night, trying to get him,” said Yarger, better known as Trapper Dave.

The wary, handsome orange tabby would not go into Dave’s food-baited, trap-door cages. He moved about a fair bit and wouldn’t let Trapper Dave get near him.

“He’s been trapped before, so he knows all the tricks,” Dave wrote on Facebook. “I used every one of mine, plus a few new ones.”

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THE CAT IS ROMEO. He lived in the ravaged Fountaingrove area.

Shortly after the firestorms, Dave, an aerospace machinist, learned about Romeo and caught his image on video while helping Fountaingrove residents search for their cats.

Night after night, week after week this past fall, then into winter, Dave tried to entice and outsmart and trap Romeo. The cat would have not of it.

Dave made it his mission to catch Romeo. At the same time, he stalked, set out food and traps and tried to get into the heads of other cats that ran from the flames.

It was Trapper Dave, you might recall, who painstakingly pursued and ultimately caught Tiger. The gray-and-white tabby fled Susan and Jim Decker’s Fountaingrove house as it burned.

When Trapper Dave handed Tiger to the Deckers, the cat had been on the run for 95 days.

All totaled, Dave has rescued and returned to their families about 15 cats.

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ROMEO STANDS OUT.

“He was probably my biggest challenge to catch,” Dave said. “He was my white whale.”

Sunday evening, Dave returned to the area of Fountaingrove where he most often saw Romeo in recent days. Foiled in all previous attempts, he tried the sort of trap we used to see in cartoons: a bottomless wire box propped up on one end by a stick, with a long string tied to the stick.

Trapper Dave placed some Friskies beneath the trap. He set up a motion-activated trail camera that sends pictures to his cellphone, then backed way off.

He waited. About two hours into the night’s vigil, there appeared Romeo.

The cat looked all around, then cautiously stepped in below the propped-up cage and settled down to eat.

Trapper Dave pulled the string.

It worked!

Nearly five months after Romeo fled the flames, he was caught. Dave greeted him and took a good look. The cat was dirty but looked healthy.

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DAVE TOOK HIM HOME. Not long afterward, he was asleep and felt something on his chest.

It was Romeo, all a-purr. “He’s just the sweetest cat,” Dave said.

Monday, he scanned Romeo for a microchip and found one. Later in day, he obtained from the microchip company a phone number of the person who had registered as Romeo’s master.

Once he got off work, Dave dialed the phone number embedded in the cat’s identification chip. He reached an older couple.

In North Carolina. Dave said they moved from Fountaingrove “a few years ago” and decided it was best to leave Romeo.

Sounds cruel. But Dave said the couple explained that Romeo loved to roam the neighborhood and spend time with neighbors.

Dave continued, “They spoke with neighbors before leaving and were told he would be cared for.” It certainly appears, from Romeo’s loving disposition and good health, that even after the fires he found food and company.

Dave said the folks in North Carolina “were happy to hear he was safe and wanted to know what would happen to him. They were happy to hear he was on my couch.”

Already, Dave loves Romeo. He figures there surely are many people, many fire survivors, who would like to adopt him.

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BUT AT LEAST for the time being, Dave and his wife, Vikki Dannecker, who took part in the pursuit of Romeo, will give him a home.

Dave has a confession: As much as he’s enjoying Romeo, he rather misses the epic, monthslong, almost Herman Melvillean hunt.

With Romeo rescued, said Trapper Dave, “a chapter in my life has ended.”

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.