Zeke’s whereabouts during those five years away, and how he travelled thirty miles from his London home to the streets of Stevenage remains a mystery.
Relieved owner David Blane said: “Zeke spent most of his time in the house but he is a very trusting cat and would venture out to visit other people and play with their cats, if they would let him. Everyone knew Zeke locally.
“But then we got two new cats, both of whom were quite territorial. Although we didn’t realise the full effect on Zeke at the time, it’s clear now that he was being bullied by them.
“Before he went missing, he was spending more time outside and then, after a few weeks of going to pick him up from people’s houses and even a nearby hospital where he was being fed, Zeke disappeared. Despite him being very distinctive and well known in the area, there weren’t any reported sightings, so we feared that Zeke had been stolen.”
David did all he could to find Zeke, who was two-and-a-half years old when he went missing, leafleting the neighbourhood and asking staff at the local hospital to keep an eye out for him. He also posted on social media and registered Zeke as missing on pet alert service PetLog.
David lost all hope of seeing his much-loved cat again, but Zeke’s story was to take a turn for the better five years later, when he was handed in as a stray in Stevenage.
Zeke was scanned for a microchip but, as vets were unable to contact the registered owner, he was signed into the care of Cats Protection’s North Hertfordshire Branch.
Bianca Kubler, Branch Coordinator, said: “He was dishevelled and his coat was quite dirty when he arrived but he was a healthy 9kg boy with an insatiable hunger and, despite needing five teeth removed and a good bath, he was in good health.”
The necessary dental work was arranged and Zeke’s vaccinations were updated while he was cared for by volunteer fosterer Shelagh, but he was still subdued and reluctant to engage.
Bianca said: “I felt so sad for Zeke as he seemed depressed. He was eating OK and toileting fine but wouldn’t play and didn’t want to interact much. We really needed to find his owner if we were to put the spark back into Zeke’s spirit.”
Spurred on to trace Zeke’s owner, Bianca extended her search to websites for breeders and lost Maine Coon cats, while not giving up on his microchip details. She said: “We were starting to lose hope by the end of a long weekend of constant searching, but my partner decided to ring the number on the microchip one last time. To our total surprise, a man answered.
“We asked if he had lost a cat and, clearly bemused, he said that his cat had gone missing five years ago. He was in a total state of shock when we said that we’d found his cat, Zeke.”
David said: “I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never get him back, so to get that call out of the blue was utterly amazing. You don’t expect to hear that your cat has been found safe and well five years after he has gone missing, especially considering the likelihood that he had been taken by someone. It was an utter relief to hear that Zeke was ok.”
As soon as possible, David went to collect Zeke from his foster carers and take him home to North London. He said: “It was utterly fantastic to see him again. Words can’t describe that feeling. I was dreading taking him home on the train as previously he could be rather loud and unhappy in his cat carrier, but it seems that time has mellowed him in that respect.”
Bianca said: “It was amazing to see Zeke when David came to collect him. He stopped and looked at him for some minutes and then it seemed like a light had come on. He recognised Dave and Zeke’s body language changed. It was heart-warming to see.
“Dave was so grateful for us persevering in trying to find him. He insisted on paying for Zeke’s medical costs and gave us a very kind donation there and then. It was a wonderful gesture and a welcome acknowledgement of the work we do.
“We’ll always wonder how Zeke got from North London to Stevenage and where he spent those five years but what counts is he’s home, thanks to a microchip and some determination.”
Understandably, Zeke took a little time to adapt back to his old surroundings, where he is now the only cat. David said: “The first days he was a little unsettled so I kept him in the bedroom where I work so he had company. Now I am encouraging him to take little walks around the house and he is slowly expanding his boundaries.
“He follows me around and it seems he definitely remembers me. It’s amazing to have my baby boy back. He’s more affectionate than I remember, which is good. Previously he could be a bit aloof but now he comes for cuddles and plays a lot more. He’s found a fair few comfy spots to make his own and it seems that he’s very glad to be home after so long.”
David has only gratitude for the volunteers who reunited him with Zeke. He said: “I’d like to thank John and all the volunteers at Cats Protection’s North Herts Branch. They do fantastic work and really have made a massive difference to my life by reuniting me with my baby – now giant – boy. It’s the best Christmas present I could ever imagine.”