October 12, 2005

A twist of fate brought a Hood River pet owner and a stray cat together this summer — saving the life of the feline.

The bond between Maura Muhl and the homeless cat began innocuously in late June. She had lost her beloved house cat — and he matched the description of that pet.

Muhl had been distraught to return from a vacation in California to find her 6-year-old pet gone. She believed that Whitey, who had been named for his coloring, had run away from the residence near downtown Hood River after being frightened by nearby construction activity.

Whitey was not only deaf, he had always lived a pampered life, so Muhl did not have much hope that he would survive on his own. She and husband, Lee, launched an exhaustive search of their neighborhood. They also posted fliers around town to enlist public help in their quest.

It looked like that strategy had paid off when Muhl immediately received several phone calls. People who had viewed her flier said that a white cat matching that description was hanging around Mike’s Ice Cream.

Elated, she visited the Oak Street shop but was disappointed to learn that the cat on the premises was not her Whitey, although there was a resemblance.

The stray was only a few months old and appeared to be living off charitable donations of ice cream. One patron even told her that the animal came out of hiding to lick the grass every time someone dropped a cone.

In September, Muhl’s cat was finally returned by a local resident who had found and cared for him. She tried to settle back into her regular routine of caring for son Connor, 5, and four cats. But the plight of the homeless feline continued to haunt her. Especially since Whitey had been returned because the person sheltering him had seen the missing cat flier during a visit to the ice cream store.

Muhl finally came to believe that karma was in play and she needed to help the cat that she now referred to as “Mikey.”

“It was starting to get colder and I just felt that I was going to help this cat because we were linked somehow,” she said.

Since she had no experience at trapping a wild animal, Muhl asked for help from someone with that skill. She looked up Bonnie Edstrom, a local resident who specializes in rescuing abandoned cats, and they set up a plan. About two weeks ago Muhl began making daily visits to Mike’s where she fed the stray and talked soothingly while he ate.

She spent about 20 minutes each day letting Mikey approach her on his own terms. She was surprised and pleased when, finally, he just walked inside the kennel that she had brought to the site.

Although the lure of the food inside drew him, Muhl was pleased that he had been captured without a fight — and could now receive the care that he deserved.

“He was a sweetheart, he didn’t act like a feral cat. But he was probably around the ice cream shop long enough to get familiar with people,” she said.

Dr. Dave Stauffacher at Columbia Gorge Veterinary Clinic agreed to neuter Mikey for free. He determined that the cat was about eight months old and also needed to be treated for a host of fleas and ear mites. While he was at it, Stauffacher gave the animal all of the necessary shots. He believed, overall, that Mikey was in very good health.

The vet was also pleased with how quickly Mikey had adapted to the good life of having plenty to eat and plenty of attention.

“He was very accepting of the cards that he had been dealt and just did really well,” said Stauffacher.

While Mike was recovering from surgery, Muhl set out to get him adopted. Since she already had four cats, she didn’t really want to bring another one home. But she was willing to do the work to get Mikey into a loving family.

She placed an advertisement in the Hood River News and ended up drawing the attention of Liz Cole. The Dalles resident picked up the cat from the clinic last week and he began a new chapter in life.

“I’m just glad this story had a happy ending,” said Muhl.

However, Edstrom has eight more strays at home that haven’t been so lucky. These animals, ranging in age from eight weeks to eight months, are the latest guests at the unofficial Hood River shelter.

For the past three years, Edstrom and resident Linda Burris have been trapping cats abandoned primarily in Hood River, Mosier and White Salmon trailer parks. Edstrom has aquired expertise in civilizing feral cats and Burris helps her find them new owners.

They have gotten financial help from Promoting Responsible Ownership of Dogs (PROD) and a discount from Stauffacher to offset some of the spaying/neutering costs. Area businesses have also stepped forward to aid their cause by donating food supplies.

“We try to get as many strays off the street as possible,” said Edstrom. “It’s quite a job, and I’m just overwhelmed sometimes. But I guess this is my mission in life because I’ve been an animal lover all of my life.”

In 2004, Edstrom found homes for 90 cats and she has matched another 50 with owners this year. She said without intervention, these animals are lucky to live more than six months on the streets — just long enough to leave behind a litter of unwanted kittens.


Edstrom is hoping to bring as many cats as possible into the fold before frigid temperatures arrive in the Gorge.

She asks anyone interested in adopting one of her “boarders” to call 386-3776 for more information.

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