Dexter greats Diane Walters in the Tim Hortons parking lot shortly after arriving back home in Williams Lake. Dexter escaped while the family was evacuated due to wildfires seven months ago. Tara Sprickerhoff photo

Evacuated cat finds his way home seven months after B.C. wildfires

‘He just decided he was going on a holiday — an extended holiday’

Gail Robinson and Mary Huntington are fans of happy endings.

That’s why they drove more than 600 kilometres in a snowstorm to deliver Dexter the cat to his home in Williams Lake on Wednesday.

The two are from Pritchard, a small community outside Kamloops, and their story, and Dexter’s, is one you can’t help but feel good about.

The story starts last July, as two cars stuffed with six adults, seven cats, two dogs, one rabbit and all the personal belongings that could fit, evacuated from Williams Lake at the height of the wildfires.

One car belonged to Diane Walters, Dexter’s owner, and the vehicles included relatives and a friend.

The group landed in Pritchard where Brian and Violet Hall, complete strangers, welcomed the group and set them up with a beautiful fifth wheel, litter boxes, accommodation for those who needed it and even a hutch for the rabbit.

“They said they’d take the critters and the people that you need,” says Diane.

Read more: Dogs and cats get love from volunteers in Kamloops during wildfires

“Everything was fine, except I have a cat, Dexter, who is used to coming and going as he sees fit. And he knows how to open screen doors,” she says with a laugh.

On the night before they were set to return home, Dexter got tired of the fifth wheel and headed to the hills, leaving his family none the wiser on where he went.

Despite a sighting a week later, Dexter had not been seen or heard from since.

Mary Huntington (left) and Gail Robinson (right) reunited Diane Walters with her cat, driving him up from Pritchard in a snowstorm. Tara Sprickerhoff photo.

That is, until Gail and Mary got a phone call last Sunday.

The two, who are roommates, volunteer with the Pritchard Volunteer Fire Department, which sent members to Williams Lake, 150 Mile and 70 Mile House during the summer’s wildfires.

They were also on the front lines of the start of a wildfire near Pritchard during the summer.

This phone call was nothing of the sort, however.

The local ecodepot, a dump-transfer station, was calling to request aid for a cat trapped in one of the dump areas.

“They said, there’s been a cat in there since yesterday and we don’t have a long enough ladder,” says Gail.

Mary, Gail and another volunteer headed over.

“He sticks his head out from the cardboard meowing, ‘help me!’” says Mary.

Read more: Dogs stick with sheep through wildfire

While reluctant to get into the carrying case, Dexter was friendly, and the group soon determined he wasn’t a stray.

“He was so friendly and happy,” says Gail.

They put a picture of the cat on the Pritchard Facebook page, and didn’t get many results. They tried the next day, and still hadn’t determined who the cat belonged to.

Then, when they recalled a cat had gone missing over the summer during the wildfires, a friend suggested they post it on the BC & Alberta Emergency Livestock/Animal/Horse Evacuation Support Group.

Within an hour, they had located Diane’s family’s original posting and were in touch with a family member.

From there, Diane was only a phone call away, and Dexter a short trip to the vet to check his chip, before they confirmed the two belonged together.

“When I saw the picture, I had no doubt,” says Diane, noting her dog probably missed Dexter the most.

Two days later, Diane and Dexter were reunited, as Mary and Gail refused all offers to pick Dexter up and made the trip to Williams Lake themselves.

While a tad shy, (likely because of all the attention he was getting) it was obvious Dexter was happy to be reunited with his human.

“The fire department comes to the rescue again!” says Mary with a laugh, admitting, alongside Gail, they were remarkably touched driving to the Cariboo and seeing the welcome home signs that are still in place along local roads.

“He just decided he was going on a holiday — an extended holiday,” says Diane.

She says she had worried when the winter hit that Dexter wouldn’t make it home, particularly in a location heavy with coyotes, but the cat seems to have become an expert mouser.

He’s settling in now, says Diane, and he’s relaxing in the only place he can escape from the dog, who is “so excited to see him she won’t leave him be.”

As for Mary and Gail: they’re just happy to see Dexter home.

“I wanted to see the reunion,” says Gail.

“We wanted to see the end of the story,” adds Mary.


@Tspricker
tara.sprickerhoff@wltribune.com

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Dexter is happy to be home, taking a perch out of the way of the dog who is “so excited to see him she won’t leave him be.” Diane Walters photo.

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