Cat hunters prowl to reunite Santa Rosa felines and families separated by fires
Who does that?!
The question burst from fire-displaced Kristy Militello upon learning that one of the two pet cats she long feared were killed in the October inferno, and then the second, were painstakingly stalked and rescued by a convalescing federal policeman who night after night, on his own time, employs fairly sophisticated technology and infinite patience to catch lost cats.
For weeks, Militello and her family mourned the loss of their home off Riebli Road and of their brother-and-sister cats. Out of the blue, the actions of a good Samaritan brought Cleo and the seriously burned and starving Brutus back to the family.
“Who goes out at 3 or 4 in the morning and catches cats for people?” Militello marveled.
Shannon Jay does.
He lives in Forestville and has worked in law enforcement for 29 years. At present he’s on sick leave following the removal three months back of a benign brain tumor.
Jay is nearly 53, and a cat lover. A year ago an indoor cat he adored ran off.
“I was completely beside myself,” said the compact and gentle-edged National Park Service police officer.
He searched for his cat but was foiled, so he consulted with renowned cat detective Kim Freeman. Some of what she advised seemed counterintuitive, Jay said, but he found his missing cat.
Then came the historically deadly and destructive North Bay fires. Aware that many residents could not round up their pets before fleeing, Jay weeks ago set out to find cats that survived but were terrified and possibly injured, and prone to hiding in daylight and looking for food at night.
Jay also brought Freeman from Texas to Sonoma County to lead a seminar on how to find lost cats. Many nights, Jay, a 1983 graduate of Forestville’s El Molino High School, puts into action what he has learned from Freeman and from experience.
He actively searches burned areas for cats, concentrating on the hills and flats of Riebli and Wallace roads and Fountaingrove. Other volunteers are focusing on finding, catching and reuniting cats with their families in the ravaged Coffey Park area.
Often accompanied by his girlfriend, Heather Eisenberg, Jay cruises burned neighborhoods armed with flashlights, motion-tripped trail cameras, a thermal imaging scope, night-vision goggles, trapdoor cages “and lots of smelly bait.”
He may track a wary and elusive cat for days or weeks before at last enticing it with mackerel to enter a trap cage.
“Trapping is the culmination of a long effort,” he said.
So far he has trapped 14 cats.
The best known is Thomas. That catastrophic morning of Oct. 9, Thomas leapt from the arms of 15-year-old Lea Stockham as she as her family made a hasty evacuation of their doomed home off Skyfarm Drive, just south of Mark West Spring Road.
Lea and her folks returned to the ruins days later and found the body of a burned cat on the porch. They assumed it was Thomas.
But just over a week ago, Jay trapped a cat near Skyfarm Drive and a scan of its microchip revealed it to be Thomas. The story of his rescue almost two months after his presumed death and burial made news across the country.