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Cat is home after four years! Microchip enables reunion

Spring Oaks Animal Care Center veterinary technician Amanda Kulchawick, second from left, looks on as the McAskill family reunites with Sugar, after the cat was missing for four years.

Happy reunion — Spring Oaks Animal Care Center veterinary technician Amanda Kulchawick, second from left, looks on as the McAskill family reunites with Sugar, after the cat was missing for four years. From left are Emma, Jane (holding Sugar), Sarah and Stephen McAskill. Unavailable for the photo was the youngest McAskill, Leah. 


Sugar the cat

Sugar the cat


On Aug. 6, Robin Zelenak brought a stray cat she had dubbed “Kitty” to Spring Oaks Animal Care Center in DeLand. 

Something was wrong with the orange-striped cat Zelenak had been caring for for about two years at her workplace, the DeLand wastewater-treatment plant on South Amelia Avenue.

“I didn’t know if she was pregnant or if she had worms,” Zelenak said. 

The vet did an ultrasound to check, but was unable to find the cat’s uterus. So, the vet moved on to doing an X-ray and — in a twist of fate — discovered that while “Kitty” was carrying nothing but gas in her stomach, she did have a microchip on her shoulder.

A microchip, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, is a small chip enclosed in a glass cylinder approximately the size of a grain of rice that is injected under a pet’s skin. 

The chip can be read with a scanner that’s on hand in most animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and animal-control offices. The chip is loaded with the pet’s name and information about its owner. 

According to a 2009 study by the AVMA, lost cats without microchips were reunited with their owners 1.8 percent of the time, while microchipped felines made it back home 38.5 percent of the time.

Kitty is now among the 38.5 percent.

On the morning of Aug. 6, the McAskill family of DeLand received a phone call that, years before, they had given up hope of ever getting. Sarah McAskill and her daughters were returning home from a summer trip. 

“We were driving back down from Philadelphia, and I almost rejected the call because it didn’t pop up as a known number,” McAskill said.

But she answered, and learned that Sugar, daughter Jane McAskill’s cat, had been found, after going missing four long years ago.

Sugar had come into the McAskills’ lives in 2006. 

“[Jane] had been praying for a cat, but my husband hated the idea,” Sarah said.

“Yeah, I had always wanted a little orange cat,” Jane chimed in. 

The family was eating at The Old Spanish Sugar Mill in DeLeon Springs when they spotted Sugar outside the restaurant. 

“We approached her, and she was super-friendly,” Jane said.

Seven years old at the time, Jane pleaded with her father, Stephen, for permission to adopt the feline. It appeared Sugar was between 6 months and a year old, and she had obviously had kittens recently. No one owned the cat, and no kittens were found in the area. 

Jane’s father relented. Sugar had found her “furever” home.

The McAskills travel often. About six years after adopting Sugar, on July 3, 2012, they left her with a neighbor and friend who lived in their building at Yorkfield Square on North Garfield Avenue in DeLand. 

Sarah and Stephen thought this would be the safest thing: leaving Sugar in an area where she already felt comfortable. But on Day 3 of her stay with the neighbor, Sugar disappeared.

“She may have gone looking for us,” Sarah said. “I thought she would stay because it was the same area, but I guess it just wasn’t quite home without us there.” 

The family spent weeks looking for their pet, but were still in Maine. Unable to search the area themselves, they relied on friends and social media.

“I was like 13 when she disappeared. I spent months crying myself to sleep about it,” Jane recalled.

“We just thought she may have gotten adopted by another family,” Sarah said. “She’s just such a likable cat.”

When the McAskills met Zelenak, they learned more about Sugar’s adventures.

The exploring feline may have been trying to trek back to the family’s old home in Bent Oaks, but settled instead outside the City of DeLand’s Wiley M. Nash Water Reclamation Facility at 1101 S. Amelia Ave., about a quarter-mile from the family’s former home. 

Sugar stayed in the area for four years, living on scraps fed to her by people in the neighborhood, and on the occasional bags of cat food Zelenak brought. Zelenak has three feline friends of her own at home; she started actively caring for Sugar about two years ago.

“All of my cats are microchipped; I can’t believe I never thought to look for one on her,” Zelenak said. “I thought she was just another stray.” 

During her visit to Spring Oaks Animal Care Center, it was determined that Sugar had some skin problems caused by fleas and outdoor life, was underweight, and was slightly anemic, but, all in all, was in good condition after four years without veterinary care. 

The beloved cat had been home for less than a week, and already her skin issues were starting to clear up, while her eyes were appearing less sullen and sunken.

“She looks older; that was the one shocking thing,” Sarah said.

Fenway, the McAskills’ 7-year-old cocker spaniel, was excited to have his old friend return. 

“He was looking in [her cat carrier] like, ‘I can’t believe it! It’s you! Where have you been?!’” Sarah said.

Kitty, the family’s other feline, is slightly less pleased. Kitty was adopted a year after Sugar’s initial disappearance and hasn’t yet gotten accustomed to the idea of sharing the house with another cat. Jane and Stephen have been working with the kitty companions, and the two may be friends sometime soon.

Sugar is adjusting well to being an indoor cat again. 

“As long as she stays inside, she seems really happy,” Jane said. 

Sugar has expressed no interest in going outside again. She now enjoys being in her kennel and, after all of her adventures, no longer whines about being put into a cat carrier.

“She’s been sleeping with us since she got home. We forget all of her Sugar-isms. You know, when you pet her, she just spreads her paws in delight,” Sarah said.

“She is super-comfortable with us. She just acts like she’s just back home,” Jane said, smiling.

Zelenak is just as happy as the McAskills. 

“I was so happy to find out that she has a loving family to go back to; one that will take good care of her,” she said, holding back tears of joy, her Cat of the Month calendar prominent behind her desk at the wastewater-treatment plant.

Perhaps French filmmaker and writer Jean Cocteau put it best: “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”

- A. Janell Williams,

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