The spring of 2019 arrived.
And with it came the historic floods in Nebraska.
It was a tragic scene in many places, including in the area of the home of an orange cat who has an upside-down heart marking on his nose.
In the dark, in the heavy rain and rising waters, the cat struggled to find safety. He succeeded, but also lost his way and found himself alone in a world he didn’t recognize.
He managed to keep himself alive long enough to be found by kind rescuers.
“He’s so thin and afraid,” the humans said as they tried to catch the terrified little animal.
Exhausted, he eventually gave in and decided to let the humans help him.
They took him to a warm, dry place where there were other cats. He ate his first real meal in a long time and eventually sat still long enough for the nice people to groom his dirty hair.
“This poor guy,” they said to each other while he wondered what would become of him.
“Where did he come from?” one of the nice humans asked the other.
“They pulled him from the flooded area in Fremont,” the other responded. “We will put his picture on the internet and hopefully his owners will see he’s alive and well in Lincoln, so he can go back home.”
Not knowing his name, the gracious humans decided to give him one – it was fitting they called him Fremont because that’s really all anyone knew about him.
“Yes, Fremont it is, until his owners arrive and say it’s something else.”
Fremont saw many other cats come and go – but no one claimed him and no one new seemed to want him. Days grew into weeks, weeks into months . . .
“Will anyone ever love me? Will anyone want me?” he may have thought as he closed his eyes each night, longing for a home of his own.
Meanwhile, far away in Neligh, my sister Kelly was exhausted and emotionally drained as she had just raced her beloved cat, Phuz, to the veterinarian once again.
Phuz had been a part of her family for many years. He greeted her each time she returned home, snuggled with her each night in bed. He wasn’t a typical cat – he verbally asked to be let outside to relieve himself and play in the trees. He knocked on the windows and doors when he wanted to come inside.
His meow was more like talking than a sound a cat would make. Kelly understood what he was saying, he listened to all her thoughts and dialogue. Kelly is known to have a lot to say . . . Phuz was known as Antelope County’s greatest listener.
Their dynamic was unique, their bond was unbreakable.
But things were changing.
Phuz had been having respiratory issues and the frequency of emergency visits to the animal clinic was becoming often.
Kelly was willing to do whatever Phuz needed . . . she didn’t care about the cost of the medication or what lengths she had to go to, just to get him to swallow it.
“I’ll do everything I can to get him back to normal,” she said, crying to me over the phone. “I just can’t take it, seeing him like that.”
And then came the last time, the last rushed trip in the car as she begged Phuz to breathe. The doctors saved him again, but this was getting to be too much for the furry little guy.
Kelly knew it was time. It was time for her to do what all good humans must do for the animals they love, when humans just can’t make the inevitable go away.
Kelly said good-bye to Phuz and he peacefully crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
“I know it was the right thing to do but my heart is broken,” said a sobbing Kelly. “I come home and he’s not there. He doesn’t need me, I miss not feeling him lying on my chest in bed every night. I keep thinking I hear him at the window, asking to be let in. I know this is stupid, to be this upset, but I just am and I just can’t get over it.
“And I wonder, will I ever love an animal like that again?” she asked. “Will I ever find an animal I love as much as I loved Phuz?”
Her heart was upside-down.
Weeks went by and while she didn’t cry as much, Kelly still had hurt in her heart and tears in her eyes each day as she went home to a house without Phuz.
Meanwhile, in Lincoln, weeks went by and while he wasn’t as thin as he had been, Fremont still was living in the animal shelter as no one had claimed losing him and no one seemed to want to take him home.
At some point, Kelly took a deep breath and decided it was time to go online, out into the world, to see if there was a cat out there she could save.
“There has to be a feeling,” Kelly said, as she prepared to move on without Phuz, with another cat. “I think I will just know him or her when I see them. I just have this feeling there is a cat out there waiting for me.”
She got on a popular website designed to help people see animals available for adoption, in many different shelters around the country. There were a lot of cats out there . . . she scrolled, and scrolled, and scrolled. They ranged in colors, sizes, types, temperaments, locations and ages.
“But no one really spoke to me,” Kelly explained. “I just knew he was still out there.”
And then, her eyes fell upon the photo of an orange cat – a red-head, Kelly says. He was in Lincoln.
His eyes seemed to look into her soul, she had a feeling like this was meant to be.
And when she saw the marking on his nose, which looked like an upside-down heart, she knew he was the one.
“Instantly, I knew I’d found my new beloved cat and I knew Phuz would approve,” she said.
Quick contact was made with the humans running the shelter where this special cat was being housed. Kelly told them she would be making the trip to Lincoln as soon as she could and an appointment was scheduled.
“I’m so nervous and I just can’t wait,” an excited Kelly said, as she prepared to welcome home her new bundle of happiness – should their real-life bond match what her emotional self told her was possible.
“This is Fremont,” the kind human told Kelly as she stood in the space where destiny had led her.
“I just knew, the second he looked at me and I looked at him,” Kelly said, describing how she reached out to the little guy and he accepted her right away. “He jumped on my lap and immediately rubbed his face on mine,” upside-down heart and all.
“I asked him about his journey and what he had been through, to survive the flood waters and all,” Kelly said. “My heart ached for him, thinking about such a situation . . . and it made me want to take him home even more. By now, his previous owners would have found him, had anyone been looking. I knew it’s now my responsibility to take care of him.”
And he takes care of her. He knows he needs to be attentive when she comes home each day, be sure to talk to her and enjoy all the toys she’s brought home just for him. He doesn’t know about his predecessor Phuz, but everyone’s pretty sure if he did there would be an extra special contract between here and the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.
Now Kelly can’t wait to go home, snuggle with Fremont, give him his favorite food. He hates it when it rains – understandably – and she’s there to comfort him. “I got this,” she whispers and he purrs in response.
This cat, just a few months ago, fought for his life and then wondered if he’d ever find a home.
Kelly, just a few months ago, wondered if she’d ever love an animal so deeply or fill that void that Phuz left behind.
Both of their questions were answered. Hearts are now right-side up – all through finding Fremont.