Cat lost amid Sonoma County firestorm in 2017 miraculously returns home 6 years later

Ozzie, long presumed dead after going missing during the chaos of the 2017 firestorm, was found alive and returned home to readjust to domestic life after six years on the streets.|

When the call came, and they said they had her cat, Patricia Duane could not believe it.

Lost in the midst of the 2017 wildfires, her brown tabby was ill-equipped for life on the streets, and Duane had long since given up hope of his survival.

An indoor cat accustomed to regular meals and a soft comforter, Ozzie had only four teeth when he went missing. A bad case of gum disease had required most of them to be extracted, so hunting was out of the question even if he’d had it in him — which Duane doubted.

But survive he did, for almost six years, aided by at least three individuals who fed him — unbeknownst to Duane — during an odyssey in east Santa Rosa that finally ended this week, when a neighbor brought him to Forgotten Felines to be scanned for a microchip.

It led them to Duane, who rescued Ozzie as a kitten in 2013 and raised him for four years at her family’s Kenwood home on Adobe Canyon Road before the firestorm. She raised his litter mate, too.

“It’s unbelievable,” Duane said Wednesday, a day after Ozzie was brought home and began transitioning back to a life of comfort and love. “He’s been through a second fire. He’s been through rains, freezing cold, any number of elements out there. And he’s pretty damn good, and I think he knows he’s home.”

“You hear about these stories,” she said, “and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Duane and her husband, Michael, had fled their home of 30 years in the early hours of the Nuns Fire, Oct. 8, 2017, as flames roared down their street, consuming houses all around theirs.

They landed with their two dogs and four cats briefly at the home of some friends on Kathleen Court, between Melita Road and Santa Rosa Creek, near Spring Lake.

But when their friends evacuated a short time later, the Duanes did, too — all except for Ozzie, or “Oz,” who had disappeared and likely was hiding under a bed or in a closet, Patricia Duane thought.

Their departure was urgent, but she thought she’d be able to find him when the friends returned home in what she expected would be a day or two.

Instead, when the family went back, Oz was gone — escaped somehow during a frantic night of raging wildfires that seemed to spread everywhere.

The Duanes would miraculously find a room at Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Hotel, for instance, only to have it be evacuated.

“We were going there to stay for a few hours, until we thought we could get to Kenwood or until we could figure out what we were going to do,” Patricia Duane recalled. “We didn’t know if we would have a home left, because when we left, the fire was raging down our road. Homes were burning all around us.”

She also tried to reach her vet to try to board her Persian cat, who was struggling with the smoky air. The cat would have benefited, Duane thought, from placement in a room with circulating air. But the veterinary staff was itself trying to find a place for all its animals.

The Duanes got lucky. A friend of Michael Duane, recently retired at that point from the Sonoma County Roads Division, called that night to say he was in their driveway and they still had a house — though little else. The blaze had blown out their windows and burned several outbuildings, as well as homes on either side of their acre lot.

The recovery, she admitted, has been trying.

In the weeks and months that followed, as their neighborhood rebuilt, Patricia Duane roamed the neighborhood where Ozzie went missing, searching for a sign.

“I walked all over and left word with neighbors, but as the months went by, I just resolved myself that there was no way he could be alive. He had only a few teeth and was not a hunter. His brother, who I had, would have survived.”

For ages, when she’d drive from Kenwood to Santa Rosa, she would take Montgomery Drive along Santa Rosa Creek and “just kind of be aware, like maybe he was down by the creek. Looking, looking, looking.”

She was so close.

Oz remained in the neighborhood where he had disappeared, she would learn, just across the creek. People were feeding him, until one recently observed how affectionate he was with humans, talked to a friend — the founder of Forgotten Felines — and captured Ozzie and brought him in, according to Executive Director Pip Marquez de la Plata.

He was captured on Gold Drive, a few short blocks from Kathleen Court. A scan turned up a microchip embedded under his skin that directed the agency to Duane.

Ozzie had been registered under his original name, Cool Hand Luke, a remnant from his life as a kitten, whose litter mates at the rescue agency in Auburn all were named after characters in the 1967 Paul Newman-led film.

That is what the Forgotten Felines representative called the cat when she phoned Duane with the news he had been found.

“I was, No. 1, so shocked, and No. 2, I can’t get too excited because I thought he had been found with other people in the past, and it hasn’t been him,” Duane said.

Once he was checked out in the Forgotten Felines clinic and she was told he was ready to come home, she “couldn’t get there fast enough,” she said.

“I held him and petted him, and he started purring, and he talked to me the whole way home.”

Once there, he roamed around but has mostly stayed in the bedroom, while he readjusts to domestic life. Duane has yet to introduce him to the other cats and dogs, and when she tried to hold him Thursday for a Press Democrat photographer, he scratched and fought his way out of her arms.

But in the quiet, when no ones around, he’s jumped on the bed and snuggled with Duane, kissing her neck and kneading her.

“There’s a little time that he’s going to need to transition,” Duane said, “but he’s well on his way.”

Marquez de la Plata said microchipping pets works, and urged people to chip their pets. If you’re feeding a stray, he said, make sure to get them scanned.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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