A cat whose good looks earned him the nickname “Big Sexy” is back at home after going missing for more than a month.
The cat, whose official name is Buddy, was participating in a photo shoot for New York City’s 2020 FDNY Calendar of Heroes, the New York Daily News reported when he first vanished. The fundraising calendar is set to include photos of firefighters and EMTs posing with pets adopted through the city’s shelter system.
Owner Leslie Silbert told HuffPost that her cat, whose nickname stems from his glossy fur, fluffy tail and large size, participated in one photo session at a Lower Manhattan fire station without a hitch. But when she took him for the second session on Jan. 20, Buddy decided he had other plans.
He “leapt right out of my grasp” and bolted underneath a giant fire truck inside the firehouse, Silbert said. Despite the fact that they were inside with the doors closed, no one was able to find him ― even after an eight-hour search that included the use of thermal imagers.
Silbert began a weekslong effort to find him, setting traps baited with food, hanging up hundreds of posters, employing the services of a pet-sniffing dog, and staking out nearby locations where he may have gone.
“I’d sit down in parking garages with an open tin of sardines and call his name,” she said.
She had several false alarms involving strangers sending her photos of cats that turned out not to be Buddy, so she was “skeptical” on Thursday when she heard from Michele Froehlich-Perosi, who lives in Staten Island ― across the bay from the fire station.
Froehlich-Perosi said a cat had been showing up in her yard who bore a striking resemblance to Big Sexy. Things started looking even more promising, however, when the fluffy cat in the yard responded to Silbert’s voice played over speakerphone.
“I called out his name and he immediately started meowing,” Silbert said. “I called again and he meowed loudly back.”
Bizarrely, Froehlich-Perosi had a New York City Fire Department connection herself. Her husband was a firefighter who worked during the 9/11 attacks and died a year ago of cancer they believe was connected to the toxic fumes and particles that filled the air in the event’s aftermath.
After so much false hope, Silbert was still paranoid that this cat ― noticeably skinnier than she remembered her beloved pet ― wasn’t really Buddy after all. But a scan of his ID microchip proved beyond any doubt that Big Sexy had found his way back to her.
“He’s been clingier and more affectionate since he’s gone home,” Silbert said, noting that his first night back, he “wouldn’t let me out of his sight.”
She doesn’t know how Buddy got across the bay to Staten Island. It’s possible he just hopped the ferry, but she suspects it’s more likely someone picked him up off the streets in Manhattan, then brought him onto the island. From there, he may have either escaped or the person may even have put him back outside.
Thrilled that her cat is finally home, Silbert also wants to make sure that others don’t make one critical mistake she did: mistakenly assuming that a pet’s microchip ― a tiny ID chip implanted under a pet’s skin ― has GPS capabilities.
Each microchip contains an ID number. A person can read the number by using a special scanner on a found pet. (Vet offices and animal shelters usually have these scanners.) The number links to a registry where information such as an animal’s owner’s name and contact information can be found.
The owner must make sure the microchip is registered and that the contact information is kept up to date. And at least at this point, microchips don’t have the capability to track a pet in real time the same way a person can track a smartphone.
Silbert said she’s grateful for the huge number of strangers and cat experts who reached out to help her in her search.
“People were so nice it was kind of mind-blowing,” she said.
This story has been updated to clarify how pet microchips work.