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Kitty in car crash only had a prayer

By Lucy Luginbill/Tri-City Herald (TNS) • Jul 30, 2017 at 10:00 AM

BELLINGHAM, Oregon — It must have felt like heaven — a comfy lap, two gentle hands holding the kitten close as the miles sped by. But then without warning, Cleo the cat felt its world begin to spin.

“I could see it coming and I could feel we were starting to slip,” Amanda Egan said as she remembered the tire blowout and her van swerving uncontrollably. “I tried to brace myself, but there’s not much you can do. You just have to put it in God’s hands.”

Headed straight toward an Oregon Interstate 84 milepost marker and unable to turn the wheel, Amanda’s three little girls sat behind her in their child-safety seats, unaware of impending danger. The family pets — a small family dog and 7-month-old kitty — were the center of their attention.

“We’re already off balance on the shoulder of the highway — and I think that’s why it rolled,” the young mother said, her voice tightening at the memory. “I hit my head really hard on the window and so I was unconscious for a few moments.”

Thankfully, when Amanda came to, disoriented and fearing the worst, the first sounds she heard calmed her initial distress.

“I could hear all my girls crying in the back,” Amanda said. “I’m glad there wasn’t a moment I couldn’t hear them crying.”

But what had been a bit of paradise for the Russian blue feline and the chug (Chihuahua-pug) became chaos and the two pets panicked.

Before motorists could gather to help Amanda and her shaken daughters, the kitty and canine leapt through the shattered windows. Cleo, the cat, turned one way and Irene, the dog, turned the other. Sadly, the beloved pup ran into traffic while Cleo disappeared into the open grasses and sagebrush.

“My cellphone was ringing, but I was so disoriented I couldn’t figure out where it was,” Amanda said, recalling how she was badly bruised, a cut on her wrist and her eyeglasses broken. “My husband, Shane, never saw the accident and he was calling me. He was a mile ahead of us in Pendleton where we’d planned to meet, but he could see cars pulling off the highway.”

Already, the family was traveling on a “wing and a prayer” from Cedar City, Utah. Amanda and Shane, a photographer, were moving their belongings in their Ford Tempo and their overflowing Dodge Caravan; the destination Bellingham. Now, in the aftermath, it would take a couple of days to regroup in a hotel, rent and load a U-Haul truck and then search for their missing pets — well, at least one.

“We didn’t know how to tell them about Irene,” Amanda said, remembering how they had wanted to spare their children added grief. “So they prayed for them both to make it back to Utah, or that they could find us in Bellingham.”

While 5-year-old daughter Elinor looked wistfully at the receding town and baby Adeline began to doze, 3-year-old Molly tearfully snuggled her plush toy — a cat she’d named Cleo. Worries loomed large for their lost Cleo. Hungry coyotes, freezing December temperatures and hawks circling for prey; the odds a young cat could survive for more than a few days were slim.

Hope diminished with every day that passed after the Egans were forced to leave their much-loved pet behind. Still, the little ones prayed, asking God to have someone nice find Cleo.

“That day it definitely was cold. I’m not sure if it was in the single digits, but it’d been really cold,” Robin Harris of Pendleton, Ore., said as she remembered her drive to the open-sided hay barn, a place she only visits once a week or so. “When I walked over to the tractor to move the hay, I saw a flash.”

Robin had often seen feral or abandoned cats in the rural countryside, but when she reached for the frightened gray cat, something pink caught her eye.

“She was in the rafters of the barn and I climbed up the hay bale stack — luckily, I’m tall enough to get to her,” Robin said, recalling how she could see a collar with a metal heart tag. “There was a phone number, and that’s unusual. You never get cats with collars out here.”

Quickly Robin tucked the friendly, thin kitten inside her jacket and walked to the out-building to place an unexpected call.

“I answered my cellphone and I hear, ‘Hi, I have a gray cat on my lap and I think it might be yours,” Amanda said, reliving the surprising moment. “I’m stunned, it’s been two weeks! It definitely felt like an answer to our girls’ prayers.”

Robin — the perfect person to find a homeless pet — serendipitously is on the board for the Pendleton Animal Welfare Shelter (PAWS) and planned the logistics for getting Cleo home. By the end of another week, an “angel” traveling through Pendleton to the Northwest hand-delivered a very precious cargo.

Amanda reflected on her daughters’ excitement at seeing their long-awaited pet again, “They all wanted to have a turn holding Cleo right then,” she said.

A comfy lap, gentle hands holding it close. Cleo was back in “heaven” again.

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