Christmas came early for a Doncaster widow when her long-lost cat was found 75 miles away and she made a cross-county dash to Skegness to bring him home.
Laddo became a much-loved companion to retired NHS worker Sybil Gillatt after the unexpected death of her husband Keith. So when the long-haired black cat went missing last November, she felt the great loss of the family cat.
Mrs Gillatt, aged 70 years, said: “Laddo didn’t come back as usual that evening. I didn’t worry too much because he’d sometimes do that and would sleep under the shed, but when he didn’t come when I called him in the morning, I knew that wasn’t right.
“The weather was quite bad that day so my son thinks that Laddo might have climbed in the back of a trailer from a nearby farm without the driver knowing. I looked for him for days and put up notices but nobody had seen him. He was gone.”
Even then, Sybil couldn’t allow herself to lose all hope. One year on she still kept his bedding, toys and scratching post in the hope that Laddo, three years old when he took off, might return.
Mrs Gillatt said: “I lost my husband, Keith the year before. We had so many plans, then suddenly it was just me and Laddo. He was company for me. So when he disappeared I was lost. I’ve had a horrible year without Keith and Laddo, I really have.
“My family kept saying they’d get me another cat but nothing could replace Laddo. Although I started to fear that I wouldn’t see him again, there had to be hope. People might think it sounds silly but I needed to believe that.”
What she couldn’t have known was that, for eight of those 12 dreadful months, Laddo was being fed and cared for as a stray in a garden near Skegness – 75 miles from home.
Cat lover Karen Rice, said: “In April what I thought was a feral cat started to visit my garden. When he turned up he was thin, his coat was a mess and he was very timid. He wouldn’t allow me anywhere near him but I took pity on him and named him Foxglove.
“I fed and wormed him and it reached the stage where I could get close enough to stroke the top of his head. That was a turning point and he enjoyed fuss on his own terms. Gradually over the months he gained weight and he is now quite a big cat. He’s a really handsome lad.
“As the nights got colder I tried coaxing him in but he seemed to prefer being outdoors whatever the weather. There was some tension with one of my other cats and I knew that if they couldn’t accept him, I would need to contact Cats Protection to find him a new home.”
Before that decision had to be made, Karen borrowed a scanner to check the microchips in her own cats. Luckily, Foxglove was around that day so she scanned him too and was surprised by what she found.
Karen said: “I couldn’t believe it when he was chipped. I contacted my local Cats Protection branch, gave them the chip number and the next day they phoned to tell me that the owner had been traced. She was over the moon that her cat had been found.”
Mrs Gillatt added: “I couldn’t believe it was true. I am so grateful that Laddo had been looked after by a cat lover like Karen and that Cats Protection were able to trace me. I’m so glad we got him microchipped. Without that chip, I wouldn’t have been driving over to collect my boy.
“When I brought him home, Laddo sat in the middle of the room and had a good look round. Then he went and sat by the settee where he always used to sleep. Later that evening he kept going to the cupboard where I always kept his food and I couldn’t think why. He’d been fed and had his treats, so he couldn’t be hungry. But then I remembered his favourite brush.
“As soon as I took it out he rolled on his back to be brushed. He really was so pleased to be home, he remembered everything. He hasn’t asked to go out once – and I’m just fine with that. I really am so grateful to have him home again. This is the best Christmas present ever.”
Laddo’s joyful homecoming perfectly illustrates the important message of Cats Protection’s Christmas campaign to encourage microchipping for cats. The tear-jerking animation created by multi award-winning Aardman Studios (www.cats.org.uk/christmas) is inspired by the true story of a young boy reunited with his missing cat, Casper.
Fiona of Cats Protection’s Skegness and District Branch said: “It is such a lovely story, especially at this time of year. It’s heartwarming that we were able to make Christmas special for at least one more cat and his owner, especially as the story was so similar to the magical Cats Protection Christmas animation.
Cats Protection’s work has continued throughout the COVID-19 crisis, thanks to the charity’s generous supporters who make it all possible. To donate to the Skegness and District Branch and support cats like Laddo, visit: www.cats.org.uk/christmas/donate
According to Cats Protection’s CATS report 2020, over a quarter (26%) of owned cats in the UK are not chipped. The charity is actively campaigning to change this by making it a legal requirement for cats to be microchipped, as it is for dogs.