Owner: Maura McErlane, from Enniskerry
Animals: Tom, a 20-year-old cat
Background: Tom disappeared for nearly three months
Maura McErlane took on Tom as an adult rescued cat when she was living in Cabinteely 15 years ago. He became a much-loved pet, and had been with the family ever since, including a three-year stretch living in France. Tom had settled comfortably with Maura and her family in Enniskerry for his retirement.
As an elderly cat, he didn't do any more than stroll around the front of the house, then back inside to his favourite sleeping place. He ate well, but had begun to lose weight, and Maura suspected that he might be nearing the end of his days.
Just after Christmas, on Monday, December 26, Tom went missing. Maura and her family searched in all his usual haunts, but there was no sign of him. Maura was told that cats sometimes wander away to die and she presumed that this is what Tom had done. Her family quietly grieved for their pet and time moved on.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, December 29, a kindly lady from Enniskerry had arrived at our vet clinic holding the motionless body of a cat in her arms. She had found the animal outside, lying on his side. He could barely lift his head. She had never seen the cat before, but she knew that he needed help.
When I examined him, I could see that he had three immediate problems: starvation, hypothermia and some other, as yet undiagnosed, underlying disease. The only way that the cat could be properly helped would be by carrying out a complex work-up including blood tests. But this seemed to be an ownerless stray cat, so who would pay for this type of work-up?
Such investigations can be expensive, and often the outlook is hopeless for such an unwell cat in any case. Sometimes it's kinder just to carry out euthanasia rather than putting the animal through complicated procedures.
When I scanned the cat, I found a microchip, but disappointingly, the number was not registered on any database. We knew now that the cat was not just a stray: he was somebody's pet, and it was just a case of finding them.
We tried all sorts of publicity: we posted details on Facebook, Twitter, local newspapers and via notices in local shops. Nobody came forward, but we did receive plenty of general support. Sympathetic people on Facebook even made donations so that we were able to treat him and he made a full recovery. One of our kindly vet nurses offered to look after him.
Then, just last week, a friend of Maura's son saw a poster in the local post office. It turned out that he had been microchipped more than a decade ago and his details had not been maintained on a current database.
For some reason, Tom had wandered much further away from home than normal. He'd even managed to clamber over a high wall.
Tom has now been reunited with Maura and her family. He won't be allowed outside any more: one attempt to wander off and die is more than enough.