Saturday, December 24, 2005

Home for the Holidays

Caturday is happy to find stories like this one. From

Feline Navidad - It's a purrfect Christmas story for long-lost Lu-Lu and her family
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian

Diana Syster, center, and her children Kaiam and Tristana hold their cat, Lu-Lu, Wednesday afternoon in the Stevensville antique shop where Diana recently discovered the cat living after it went missing about two years ago.
Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian
This is the story of the cat who came back for Christmas.

Lu-Lu was an old Manx cat, the beloved pet of Diana Syster and her children, Tristana and Kaiam. They lived east of Stevensville until about two years ago. While the family was building a new home, Lu-Lu disappeared.

"Lu-Lu came into our lives when I was pregnant with my daughter," Syster said. "She was there for both kids' births. She adopted them like they were her own kittens."

Tristana, 12, and Kaiam, 10, hunted everywhere for their missing pet. They called fellow ranchers with no luck. Finally, they resigned themselves to the loss, assuming Lu-Lu had run afoul of a coyote. Months turned into years.

Then, on Monday, Syster and her fiance, Jeff Chandor, were in downtown Stevensville running errands. Chandor saw a vest in Red Willow Dry Goods that he thought might make a good present for his son. They went in, and Syster noticed the shop cat, Mrs. Beasley.

"I went to pet it, and it just hit me like a bolt of lightning," Syster said. "I thought she was dead. This was like a resurrection."

The couple discussed the situation to Red Willow owner Janet Gronbach, and the story slowly came together. Lu-Lu had disappeared in the fall of 2003, during the construction. Syster now suspects Lu-Lu panicked around all the strangers and hid in someone's work truck. Then she took an unexpected 12-mile ride back to town.

About the same time, Gronbach noticed a sad-looking Manx cat in the alley behind her store. It was starved and skittish, but it slowly started to accept food she left by the alley door. After a few months of get-to-know-you, the cat finally entered the store.

"I think she was really traumatized," Gronbach said. "When it started getting cold last winter, she decided to come in and check us out."

A confessed animal lover herself, Gronbach already had three dogs, two cats and two fish at home. But she'd never had a shop cat. The name "Mrs. Beasley" just seemed to fit, although Gronbach's brother, Richard Browning, opted to call it "Murgatroid" just to be different.

"The window became Mrs. Beasley's favorite place,”"Gronbach said. "Everybody in town knew her. They'd ask about her if they didn't see her."

But when Syster explained Mrs. Beasley's former history, Gronbach understood.

"I've got 14 grandchildren," Gronbach said. "Where there's kids involved, they come first. It's a shame that too many animals are strays because people don't care about them. But when I saw how much they missed her, I knew this was meant to be."

But the story gets better.

On Tuesday, Gronbach got a message from a woman who lives across Main Street from her store. She had found a stray black-and-gray cat with a bobbed tail - had Red Willow lost its mascot?
"I said, well yes, but not in the way you're probably thinking," Gronbach recalled. The new cat is younger than Mrs. Beasley,, but has the same "M" marking over its eyes. Her grandson, Nicholas Riley, named it "Bobbie" for the bobbed tail. It now has its own blanket-covered chair in the middle of the store.

Meanwhile, Syster phoned ahead to tell Tristana and Kaiam that she was coming home with a surprise. Lu-Lu was welcomed home with her old kitty basket, a hunk of grilled salmon in the refrigerator and a new collar.

"If this were Christmas and this was all we had,""Syster said, "it would still be the best Christmas ever."

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