Freddie Mercury, a lost Ithaca cat, found in New Jersey, 250 miles away
It was the last Saturday of winter, but the air was warm when Rachel O’Brien of Ithaca left for a late afternoon walk around her. Fall Creek Neighborhood with Freddie Mercury, her 4 month old kitten.
She had rescued him a few months earlier, going to a Pennsylvania animal shelter with her father on Boxing Day after seeing him on a website.
Freddie was black, with a brownish sheen in certain lights, and tiny, about 5 pounds. He came up with the name, given by shelter staff in honor of the late lead singer of iconic British rock band Queen.
And O’Brien, 20, came with a Freddie Mercury tattoo. It was the first tattoo she got, as soon as she was old enough to do so.
“He’s my cat,” O’Brien recalled of seeing Freddie online.
While Freddie had mostly been an indoor cat, enjoying the company of O’Brien’s housemate Izzy’s cat, he had taken occasional walks with O’Brien, strapped into a tiny cat harness.
He had been a little nervous that day, O’Brien recalls, but he never tried to run away, so she wasn’t worried as they headed to the Fall Creek playground. March 19.
Shortly after they walked, Freddie was startled by a person walking and “started freaking out,” she said.
Described as “a liquid little man” by O’Brien, Freddie suddenly spun out of his harness and rushed down Queen Street.
O’Brien ran after him.
“I’ve never run so fast in my life trying to catch him and I still couldn’t catch him,” she said.
O’Brien, whose father owns Lincoln St. Diner, has lived in Fall Creek since she was a baby. She knows every street and alley.
She spent the next few days scouring the area looking for Freddie and posting flyers with his picture. She posted on social media and set up a cat trap that a neighbor lent her.
“I just spent almost every moment trying to track him down,” O’Brien said. “It’s terrible. It’s what everyone goes through when their pet goes missing.”
O’Brien has received a few messages from people saying they’ve spotted black cats in Fall Creek or South Hill. She is very grateful that they reached out, but none of those cats were Freddie.
Days passed and O’Brien was overwhelmed with thoughts of Freddie, so small and helpless. It’s her baby, she said, and he was gone.
‘I found your cat’
It was March 25, around 10 p.m., when O’Brien’s phone rang.
It had been 6 days since she had seen Freddie and his return seemed every day more unlikely.
“Once you’ve done a number of things, you literally have no control over the situation and you just have to hope for the best,” O’Brien said.
As she was about to go check the cat trap, her phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number and thought it might be spam or some well-meaning person who thought they found Freddie.
At the other end was a little boy.
“I found your cat,” he said.
“How do you know?” O’Brien asked him.
“Your number is on the collar,” the boy said.
He described Freddie perfectly, O’Brien said, and when the young boy tried to pronounce the name on the kitten’s collar “he had no idea who it was.”
“Freddie Murky? ” he said.
O’Brien asked for the address, ready to pick up Freddie that night. When the family told her, she thought it was strange not to recognize the street name. She had lived in Ithaca all her life and had never heard of the street she had been told.
She typed the address into Google Maps and was shocked by the location: Freddie was in West Berlin, New Jersey. Almost 250 miles from Fall Creek.
Kindness of strangers
The next morning, O’Brien and his mother drove to West Berlin, New Jersey. It’s a 4 hour drive from Ithaca.
The family told O’Brien that Freddie had just come to their house to play with their cats and children. Although they don’t know how he got there, O’Brien said they seemed to feel like he was let out of a car near there.
They fed him and kept him safely inside until O’Brien could get there.
“It came down to the kindness of this random family,” O’Brien said. “Not everyone would do that.”
O’Brien said Freddie had lost some weight during his adventure, had no cuts, scrapes or signs of trauma; his silky black coat was always immaculate.
Freddie slept on O’Brien’s lap during the long drive, waking only to eat pieces of deli turkey that had been hand-fed to him.
He’s as happy as ever since his comeback, O’Brien said, just more vocal.
“Now he screams a lot,” she said.
As for walks around Fall Creek, O’Brien said Freddie will now be strictly an indoor cat.
“The chance of something so miraculous happening again, I won’t be so lucky,” O’Brien said. “I won’t risk it. I’ll keep his little booty inside.”
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