One Florida woman’s concern for her lost cat is keeping her in Alaska in the wake of a fatal vehicle accident, and sheds light on a statewide animal issue.
Robin Wiesneth, 50, had been vacationing in Alaska with her husband since May.
Their travel plans were brought to an abrupt halt when they were involved in an collision with a pickup truck on the Kenai Spur Highway on Aug. 5, in which two people died.
While Wiesneth and her husband, Charles, came out of the accident with minor injuries, the 5-year-old cat traveling with them has gone missing, and Wiesneth said she is doing everything in her power to find it.
The cat — a 10-pound, black and white male named Tucker — was resting in a cat bed on Wiesneth’s lap just before the collision. When the motor home stuck the oncoming pickup truck that crossed over the highway’s center lines, Wiesneth said the windshield shattered outward.
“There’s every chance that the cat was ejected,” Wiesneth said. “He had a little round cat bed, and that was in my lap… and I had my arms around him, and I had my safety belt on of course. And as it happened, obviously everything goes forward.”
Wiesneth believes the cat escaped to the side of the highway during the accident and has since moved elsewhere.
Now, as her husband gathers what belongings are left from the crash to take them back to Florida, Wiesneth said she will remain behind in Alaska for as long as it takes to find her feline companion. She has gotten in touch with several local animal shelters and veterinarians, and is offering a $500 reward for Tucker’s return, she said.
“He is a family member,” Wiesneth said. “Five hundred dollars is nothing for me to get him back.”
Posters with the cat’s description can be seen along Kenai’s residential streets. Wiesneth has been back to the scene of the accident and has searched the surrounding area thoroughly with volunteer helpers, she said.
Linda Price-Albers, who lives on Birchwood Drive and could see the accident from her home, said her family will be on the watch for the cat. She said there are several places in the immediate area around the crash site where a cat could hide.
“I was just thinking of all the places that a kitty would hide, because they get frightened,” Price-Albers said. “It might be a little while before it might even come out. If it comes this way, we would surely keep an eye out for it.”
Wiesneth and her husband are convinced the cat is still alive, in part because she said emergency responders found no evidence of the cat, alive or otherwise, when they searched through wreckage from the collision.
“We searched every possible place in the (motor) coach, and of course through the wreckage,” Wiesneth said. “The fire department did an excellent job. As soon as they got us out of the vehicle safely, two fire officers went back into the coach and started looking in every possible place. They had a very long time to search through all the debris, and there was no cat, and there was no evidence of any injury.”
Wiesneth said Tucker is a house cat who is not familiar with the area. The cat is shy and is not likely to come to strangers, she said.
To complicate matters more, Wiesneth believes there may be a feral cat group with markings similar to her cat’s in the same general vicinity of where he went missing.
After the accident, Wiesneth received a call that a resident had found a cat with black and white markings, as can be seen on the posters. Upon visiting the resident, however, Wiesneth found a feral kitten instead.
An advocate for animal rescue herself, Wiesneth participates in efforts to decrease the feral cat population near her home in Miramar Beach, Fla. She practices a form of control that consists of capturing feral cats in humane traps, then spaying or neutering them before releasing them back into the wild.
Without receiving that medical attention, Wiesneth said feral cats will continue to multiply and create colonies.
“Alaska has very cold winters, so you’re going to have a huge loss rate by that, and you’ve also got some huge birds of prey. But, the growth rate of a feral cat population unchecked is exponential,” Wiesneth said. “I’m usually the person that’s on the other side (of this.)”
Indeed, one female cat can produce around 200 kittens in a single lifetime, said Barb Wright, vice president of Alaska Cat Adoption Team. The nonprofit organization responds to calls about feral or abandoned cats and places them in foster homes in the Anchorage area until they can be adopted.
Wright said the feral cat population is a problem throughout Alaska. The most common call ACAT receives is in regard to a pregnant female cat or a litter.
“Usually (it’s) either a pregnant mom or a nursing mom because the people haven’t bothered to spay,” Wright said. “It’s incredible. Most people just say, ‘Oh, hey, yeah there’s some cats over here’… and they just kind of ignore it, not realizing that within that colony there are females… (who) continue to build up that colony.”
Municipality of Anchorage law is worded in such a way that makes releasing a captured feral cat back into the wild illegal. Another animal rescue group began advocating for the wording to be amended in 2014.
Kenai’s municipal code allows for the use of humane animal traps, but does not specify whether captured animals can be released other than to an owner or animal control.
Getting one’s cat spayed or neutered is not a difficult process, said Dr. Richard McCartan of the Kenai Veterinary Hospital.
Because cats can be more difficult to transport to the vet, McCartan said it can sometimes deter people from bringing them in to be spayed or neutered.
“It’s relatively simple other than transportation,” McCartan said. McCartan recommends all cat owners get their animals spayed or neutered.
Another safety precaution many animal adoption agencies now take is to have cats microchipped. Vets can insert a small microchip between a cat’s shoulder blades, each with its own unique identification number, according to the website for HomeAgain, an organization dedicated to lost pet services.
Wiesneth’s cat is microchipped, she said. If he is found, his microchip can be scanned and his identification number entered into HomeAgain’s national database where it will show up as registered to Wiesneth.
“I am not leaving,” Wiesneth said. “I’m staying to figure out the where and how. Until I convince myself that he’s not there, I will be here.”
Anyone with information regarding Wiesneth’s cat can call 850-502-6707.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org