During the hustle and bustle of a Florida family’s move to a new home outside Tampa in 2011, a garage door was inadvertently left open. Tragically, the family’s two cats realized this before their owners did, and the beloved pets vanished.
“We were very upset. Until I had my son, they were my babies,” said Candus, who asked that we not use her last name. “We went out every morning and every night taking walks around the neighborhood, shaking a bag of treats, calling their names, hoping they would come home.”
But they never did.
This isn’t just another lost cat story, and fortunately it comes with a happy ending. But getting there took eight years, an animal-loving flight attendant and a whole lot of luck.
In late March 2019, eight years after the cats disappeared, someone dropped off an older cat with dirty and matted hair at Angels for Animals, a nonprofit 24/7 animal intake shelter in Canfield, Ohio. The Siamese cat was found in a garage in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, said Sherry Bankey, cat feline manager at the shelter.
Protocol for an animal’s arrival is to make it feel comfortable and, most importantly, examine it for a microchip. The small devices are deposited just beneath the skin in the necks of pets and, when registered, can show information on the animal and its owner.
Bankey found a chip, which told her the cat’s name was Barley and that she lived in Tampa – 908 miles south of Canfield, as the crow flies.
How did a cat from the Gulf Coast end up in the Buckeye State? Bankey suspects that snowbirds – Northerners who winter in Florida — found Barley and likely took her home with them in the spring, also possibly losing her or maybe even abandoning her.
But the full story of how Barley traveled north – and stayed alive – is likely to remain a mystery.
Monica Serowik (left) poses with Sherry Bankey of Angels for Animals and Barley. (Photo courtesy of Angels for Animals)
Finding an angel
Bankey called Barley’s owner in Tampa a few times by phone.
“I received a call from an Ohio number, which I ignored a few times, thinking it was a random caller, until I read the text saying they are reaching out from Angels for Animals and have my cat,” Candus said. “I responded that I haven’t had a cat for a really long time.
“Then I received a picture and it was Barley. My stomach dropped; I was in shock. I haven’t seen this cat in eight years and I don’t know anyone in Ohio. I immediately picked up the phone and called her back.”
Barley was only six weeks old when Candus and her husband found her under a couch near a dumpster. After they got her settled, they got her spayed and “chipped,” a process both Candus and Bankey say should be performed for every qualified pet.
There was no question the family wanted Barley to come home, but their busy schedules didn’t allow them to make the long trip to Ohio. That’s when Angels for Animals stumbled upon an angel.
A social media post about Barley’s rescue came to the attention of Monica Serowik, a flight attendant with Allegiant Airlines for more than four years. One of her direct routes from Pittsburgh International Airport goes to St. Pete/Clearwater International Airport, just west of Tampa.
“I really care about animals,” Serowik, of Scott Township, Pennsylvania, told us. “They are like humans and they need a second chance at having a happy life, and this gave me the opportunity to do that.”
From Pittburgh, Serowik planned to make the nearly two-hour drive to pick up Barley in Ohio and then fly her on one of the four flights to St. Pete that Allegiant operates weekly.
Days before the trip, the shelter called and said Barley caught an upper respiratory infection and needed to be on antibiotics; a vet would have to clear her before she could travel. Bankey took Barley home for eight days while she recovered.
Monica Serowik (right) takes a photo with Barley and her owner, Candus, at St. Pete/Clearwater International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Monica Serowik)
With Barley on the mend, Serowik switched her work schedule and flew her normal route to Florida as a passenger, not a flight attendant. Barley was comfortable in the cat carrier under her seat, and even had a chance to take a quick picture with the Allegiant flight crew before arriving in the Tampa Bay area.
At the airport, Serowik met Candus and her husband and reunited them with Barley. As you can imagine, there were tears of joy all around.
“I was full of emotions and couldn’t believe it was finally happening. I don’t think it really sunk in until that night when our whole family was able to spend time with her,” said Candus.
She says Barley is adjusting well in her once-again new home. The family adopted a terrier mix puppy in November, and Barley is still adapting to the new “sibling.” If the dog gets too close, Barley puts her in her place.
But for Bankey, Serowik and Candus’ family, all that matters is that Barley is back in her place.
“She has been very friendly and sweet, especially with the kids,” Candus said, adding that Barley “came and laid on my chest the other day and for the first time I felt like she remembered who I was.”
The crew onboard the Allegiant flight from Pittsburgh International to St. Pete/Clearwater International poses with Barley. (Photo courtesy of Monica Serowik)