When Aphrael Dunston got a call Wednesday from yet another person saying they found her cat, she wouldn’t let herself believe it.
“We’ve heard from so many people who saw an orange cat they thought was Snowball,” said Dunston, who lost count of all the pictures she’s seen since her 10-year-old family cat disappeared March 19, and has tried to forget all the times she drove out in the middle of the night to look at a dead cat someone found on the road.
But this week’s call finally had a happy ending. It started when two people thought they recognized the cat they had been taking care of for weeks on a flier Dunston posted in downtown Ukiah. And this time when they sent a photo of the cat to her, it was actually Snowball.
“And I wanted to get him that night, but they live out on the Greenfield Ranch, and they said they would come into town the next day,” she said, speaking Thursday just hours after her cat was returned. “He’s very skinny, but he’s OK.”
Snowball is easy to recognize because of scarring around one eye, caused by an unknown injury and a very expensive vet visit.
“We used to call him our $1,300 cat,” she said a laugh. “Now we call him our $2,000 cat, because I’ve spent hundreds of dollars making fliers and in gas, driving everywhere, always putting up new fliers in Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Willits, and Ukiah.”
But now she’s very glad she never gave up looking for him, even when she started to feel crazy, because her efforts paid off with the return of the cat her family raised since he was a kitten.
“My biggest solace was knowing he is such a friendly kitty,” she said, describing him as the kind of cat who would seek out people and make them fall in love with him, which he achieved when people found him wandering in the hills, many miles from his Ukiah neighborhood near Todd Grove Park.
Now that they returned Snowball and Dunston gave them the promised $1,000 reward, she said in a few weeks she plans to give them a different cat: At least one of the tiny kittens she is currently fostering and bottle-feeding.
Dunston firmly believes that Snowball was relocated by the man she claims had another of her cats trapped after Snowball went missing.
“We were looking for him, and heard a cat crying,” said Dunston, explaining that she then found “Roo” in a trap in the back of a truck parked near a neighbor’s house. She said she freed Roo, then confronted the owner of the vehicle and called the police.
When a Community Services Officer responded, Dunston said she was told it is not illegal to trap a stray animal which enters your property, as long as you then take them to an animal shelter.
When asked if she knew why Roo had been trapped, Dunston said the man said the cat had been disturbing birds. When asked if any neighbors had previously requested she keep her cats off their property, Dunston said they hadn’t.
Another neighbor who asked not to be named said one of his cats also went missing in mid-March, and he was contacted by Dunston after posting about his pet on social media. He said Thursday that while his cat, Louie – a long-haired, gray and white tuxedo cat – has still not been found, he feels much more hopeful now that Snowball has returned.
When asked about the claims involving illegal cat trapping, UPD Lt. Andy Phillips said in April that he could not reveal many details about the case as it was an active investigation, but “we are attempting to determine if there were any violations. If so, we will submit the report to the (Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office) for review.”
Phillips explained that given the social media posts regarding the alleged cat-trapping incident(s), “there is a lot of rumoring and assumptions that are factually incorrect. We are working to identify factually what happened and will proceed from there.”
He noted that “anyone who traps a feline within the city of Ukiah can contact our department to have it transported to the Animal Shelter, or can contact the Animal Shelter to seek guidance from them. Of course if the feline has a collar or some sort of identifying information, the person should attempt to contact the owner. The Humane Society has some very helpful information regarding free-roaming cats, trapping and information for cat owners regarding how to avoid your pet being trapped.”
When contacted this week, the UPD did not have more details on the case that were immediately available.