GANDER, NL – A desperate plea from a pet owner on social media tugged at the heartstrings of many Gander residents and prompted them to help look for a cat called Maggie.
The ordeal began for Denise Whelan on Sept. 22. Her white cat, Maggie, did not return home as she normally would in the evening. Whelan said Maggie tended to roam an area around six houses in the area, but in hindsight said she should not have been let the cat out.
“I made a mistake of letting her outside, but she never used to roam away,” Whelan said.
When Maggie went missing, Whelan turned to social media and put out a plea to anyone who could help sight and trap Maggie.
The response from the town was overwhelming after a description and image of Maggie went out — white cat, pink collar and a heart-shaped identification tag.
Whelan said she received constant texts from Gander residents looking for Maggie while out on their walks, carrying cat food and treat with them.
“Some drove around Cobb’s Pond or Yeager where she was last spotted,” Whelan said. “The response from the public was phenomenal.”
The physical and mental toil soon overtook Whelan. It began to affect all aspects of her work, personal and family life.
“I was in very grave condition — I could not sleep night time, just about thinking about Maggie being in the cold, lost and looking for me, and I could not give up,” Whelan said.
The outpouring of social media support did not let her give up easily. People were writing to Whelan to share their stories about lost pets that were found, and continued to offer help by setting up and watching traps.
“The response from the public was phenomenal and that kept me going,” Whelan said, and so did her daughter Robyn, who continued to remind her that “Maggie was going to come home.”
After eight weeks of intensive search for Maggie, Whelan resigned to defeat, “more for myself to let go of her,” she said.
An unexpected phone call to Whelan’s husband Jeremy was almost ignored because he did not recognize the number calling.
The call was about Maggie – she was found eight weeks after she went missing, and a long way from home, near Joey’s Lookout on the Trans-Canada Highway near Gambo.
The couple who found Maggie, Jean and Paul Garrett, were unaware of the social media storm and the rally from the town to find Maggie.
They said the words Whelan longed to hear.
“Are you missing a cat?”
“I fell to the floor when Maggie was found,” said Whelan.
As she tried to piece together Maggie’s travel and where she was found, Whelan thinks the cat – who has been known to hitch-hike in the past – might have jumped into a boat on a trailer or a pickup truck and been carried unbeknownst by the driver, jumping out when the vehicle stopped and continuing to roam.
“Somehow, she managed to drift into a dirt road and made it to a cabin, and she scratched the door, and a lady took her in,” said Whelan.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle — two miracles actually, that the town did not give up, and she was adopted by Gander looking for her.”
This is the second time the town has rallied behind Whelan in a time of need.
Four years ago, a tragedy occurred in her family when Whelan’s mother was killed in a car accident and her father was injured. He had been in the middle of renovating Whelan’s house to make it accessible for her daughter, who has cerebral palsy.
He could not complete the work, but the town responded with donations of $90,000 in materials and labour, finishing the work in two weeks while Whelan grieved for her mother and ran funeral arrangements.
“This is the second time I’ve seen people pull together because I am going through something, and this is pretty amazing,” said Whelan.