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Homeward bound: Cat makes dramatic escape

Alex Neal holds Frank after the cat’s return to the county fair. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Alex Neal holds Frank after the cat’s return to the county fair.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — Ten-year-old Alex Neal had a bad feeling Wednesday night, leaving Frank, the cat, behind in the cat barn at the Island County Fair.

It was the pair’s first fair appearance.

“I wanted to get him,” Alex said. But mom, Barb Caron, told him Frank would be fine at the fair.

“You said, ‘He’ll be fine,’” recalled older brother Chris. “Boy, were you wrong.”

Was she ever. Frank made a break for it and escaped from his stout cage in the cat barn at the fair. The missing feline prompted a massive, fair-wide search effort the next day.

Fair officials said the all-black cat snuck away, well, in the dark of the night.

“Cathi, my 4-H leader, locked up the barn at 10:30. By then, Frank probably knew he didn’t want to stay,” Alex recalled.

When Cathi Fisher returned to the cat barn at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Frank was gone.

He had pushed open his cage door, squeezed out, then found a tiny hole in the chicken wire at the back of the barn, pushed through the gap and hit the road.

Fisher called Alex’s mom right away.

“She called and said, ‘I’m sorry to say, but Frank is gone.’ I think she was crying,” Caron recalled. “We left as soon as we heard.”

A large group of 4-H campers had already canvassed the fairgrounds when the family joined the search.

“We started looking all over the fairgrounds,” Alex said.

“Frank, Frank,” could be heard from many different buildings.

“I thought somebody stole Frank,” Alex said.

The family went to the fair office and made missing posters.

The search team printed 60 to 80 flyers and plastered them all over the fairgrounds. They also took to the airwaves.

“They announced it on the speakers to see if somebody had seen him,” Caron recalled.

Alex said fair-goers and other 4-Hers were encouraging him.

“‘Keep looking. He is still alive,’” Alex recalled. “Almost the entire fair was looking for him.”

“I didn’t eat breakfast or lunch that day,” Alex added.

After four hours of intense effort and many tears, the search team caught the break that Alex called a “miracle.”

Chris decided to go home for lunch, more than 2 miles away.

“I was just standing there, enjoying some Top Ramen, when I started to hear this meowing somewhere. ‘Where is this coming from?’ I knew this couldn’t be Frank,” he said.

Chris stepped outside and looked around.

“I called for him once and he hopped on the porch,” he said.

Frank pushed by Chris’ legs, snuck inside and went straight for a snack.

Once Chris delivered the happy news to the fairgrounds, Alex and his mom went home.

“I was so happy,” Alex said.

But after a short break for the pair, it was back to work and back to the fairgrounds for Alex and Frank. There were multiple cat competitions on the schedule.

As the crowning achievement, Frank and Alex won a grand-champion ribbon Wednesday for “favorite cat” — a People’s Choice category.

However, Alex is pretty sure that Frank’s sudden celebrity status may have aided the cat.

Together the pair won six green ribbons, seven blue first-place ribbons and one red second-place ribbon in categories that included the Cat Olympics and “fitting and showing.”

Alex actually performed in the “fitting and showing” category with a borrowed cat while the search mission was under way, because it’s a 4-H requirement, he said. He pulled himself together to impress the judges enough to qualify him for the state fair.

Frank, a black short-haired feline, and Alex have been a team since Frank was a kitten and Alex was 5.

“He loves his boy,” Caron said about Frank.

Alex gets Frank to do tricks nobody else can get the cat to do, she added.

“Frank is a smart cat,” Chris said, adding that he’s stayed safe even while roaming the family’s property in the woods. “He is 4 years old and he hasn’t been eaten like my four cats.”

Alex said Frank may have learned from his out-in-the wild experience from another adventure, and that was what brought him home safely.

It was actually the second time that Frank ran away.

The family was on vacation and a friend came to feed the family’s animals, which include horses and a dog, but Frank was nowhere to be found.

“We thought he had become part of the food chain,” Caron said. “But we think he went looking for us. He thought, ‘My boy isn’t here. I am going on safari.’”

That time, Frank was missing for more than a week.

Alex recalled losing sleep over his missing cat because he was so worried. And then, out of nowhere, Frank came back home.

“I was on my bed and I heard a meow. And Frank was sitting outside the window,” Alex said.

In case Frank decides to go on a long hike again without permission, Alex said he learned to wait a while and then check at home first.

A few days after the drama, as Frank curled up on Alex’s lap, Alex summed up the adventure.

“An exciting day leads to a total disaster, turns exciting again, because of a miracle,” Alex said.

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