Freddie Mercury, a lost Ithaca kitten, found safe 250 miles from home
It was the final Saturday of winter, but the air was warm when Rachel O’Brien of Ithaca headed out for a late afternoon walk around her Fall Creek neighborhood with Freddie Mercury, her 4-month-old kitten.
She had rescued him a few months before, driving to a Pennsylvania animal shelter with her dad the day after Christmas after seeing him on a website.
Freddie was black, with a brownish sheen in certain light, and tiny, about 5 pounds. He came with the name, given by the shelter staff in honor of the late lead singer of iconic British rock band Queen.
And O’Brien, 20, came with a Freddie Mercury tattoo. It was the first tattoo she got, as soon as she was old enough to do so.
“That is my cat,” O’Brien recalled of the moment she saw Freddie online.
While Freddie had mostly been an indoor cat, enjoying the company of O'Brien's roommate’s cat, Izzy, he had gone on occasional walks with O'Brien, secured in a tiny cat harness.
He had been a little nervous that day, O'Brien recalled, but he never tried to get away so she wasn't worried as they headed out near the Fall Creek Playground on March 19.
Not far into their walk, Freddie was startled by a person walking and “started freaking out,” she said.
Described as “a liquidy little man” by O’Brien, Freddie suddenly flipped out of his harness and dashed away down Queen Street.
O’Brien ran after him.
“I've never run so fast in my life trying to catch him and I still couldn't catch him,” she said.
Searching for Freddie
O’Brien, whose father owns Lincoln St. Diner, has lived in Fall Creek since she was a baby. She knows every street and alleyway.
She spent the next days scouring the area for Freddie and putting up flyers with his photo. She posted on social media and set out a cat trap that a neighbor lent her.
"I just spent like every waking moment pretty much trying to find him," O'Brien said. "It's terrible. It's what everybody goes through when their pet is missing."
O'Brien received a few messages from people saying they spotted black cats in Fall Creek or South Hill. She's very appreciative they reached out, but none of those cats were Freddie.
Days passed and O'Brien was overwhelmed with thoughts of Freddie, so small and helpless. He's her baby, she said, and he was gone.
'I found your cat'
It was March 25, around 10 p.m., when O'Brien's phone rang.
It had been 6 days since she had seen Freddie and his return seemed more unlikely each passing day.
"Once you do a certain amount of stuff, you have literally no control over the situation and you just have to hope for the best," O'Brien said.
As she prepared to go check the cat trap, her phone rang. She didn't recognize the number and thought it might be spam or a well-meaning person who thought they found Freddie.
On the other end was a little boy.
"I found your cat," he said.
"How do you know?" O'Brien asked him.
"Your number is on the collar," the boy said.
He described Freddie perfectly, O'Brien said, and when the young boy tried to pronounce the name inscribed on the kitten's collar "he had no idea who that was."
"Freddy Murky?" he said.
O'Brien asked for the address, ready to pick Freddie up that night. When the family told her, she thought it odd that she didn't recognize the street name. She'd lived in Ithaca her entire life and never heard of the street they told her.
She typed the address in Google Maps and was shocked by the location: Freddie was in West Berlin, New Jersey. Almost 250 miles away from Fall Creek.
Kindness of strangers
The next morning, O'Brien and her mother drove to West Berlin, New Jersey. It's a 4-hour drive from Ithaca.
The family told O'Brien that Freddie had simply walked up to their home to play with their cats and children. While they were not certain how he got there, O'Brien said they seemed to be under the impression that he was let out of a car near there.
They fed him and kept him safely inside until O'Brien could get there.
"It came down to the kindness of this random family," O'Brien said. "Not everyone would do that."
O'Brien said Freddie lost a little bit of weight on his adventure, he didn't have any cuts, scratches or signs of trauma; his silky black coat was still flawless.
Freddie slept in O'Brien's lap during the long drive home, waking only to eat pieces of deli turkey hand-fed to him.
He's been as happy as ever since his return, O'Brien said, just more vocal.
"Now he yells a lot," she said.
As for walks around Fall Creek, O'Brien said that Freddie will now be strictly an indoor cat.
"The likelihood that anything this miraculous is ever going to happen again, I'm not gonna get this lucky," O'Brien said. "I'm not going to risk it. I'm going to keep his little booty inside."
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