When Aria Pendak Jefferson’s cat ran away while the family was in Ucluelet two years ago, she was despondent. The three-year-old regarded ChiChi, a black and white tuxedo cat, as her best friend.
Now almost six and with several other cats in the house, Aria never lost hope that she would see ChiChi again.
On Wednesday, her wish came true.
“She just ran out the door and never came back,” Aria’s mother, Ashley Jefferson said about the day the cat went missing. She was staying at a friend’s house in Ucluelet at the time while in the process of moving.
“She was heartbroken. She didn’t give up though,” Jesse Pendak said of his and Ashley’s daughter, who was a few months older than the cat. ChiChi had been born on Pendak’s bed, so Aria was with her since she was born.
“They grew up together,” Jefferson said. The adults assumed the worst about the family cat.
Courtney Johnson and her partner, Barry Edge, own Image West in Ucluelet. Just before Easter a friend told Courtney that there was a friendly stray cat in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess across the street. Johnson feeds a small group of feral cats in the neighbourhood so she went over to see how she could help the stray.
She brought the cat home, called her Scrappy and spent four hours patiently cutting mats out of her fur. “She ate her weight in kitty food. I was amazed at how calm she was,” Johnson said.
It was a stroke of luck and social media that brought the two families together.
“I (occasionally) checked the Ucluelet Facebook page to see if she was randomly posted,” Jefferson said. “I hadn’t checked in about six months. I randomly checked one day and Courtney, the lady who (has) her, had posted a photo—and I knew it was her.”
ChiChi has unique colourings on her face, including a black nose. Even though she is smaller than when she went missing there was no mistaking the photo on Facebook was the Pendaks’ cat.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Pendak said.
“I was shocked,” Jefferson said. “This little one (Aria) never stopped thinking she would get her cat back and she was right.”
ChiChi was found within a 10-minute drive from where she disappeared. “I wish she had a GoPro on her to see what she’s been doing all this time,” Johnson said.
When Johnson said ChiChi’s name for the first time the cat sat up and looked at her. “She would sleep in my bathtub,” Johnson said.
“She would sleep in my bathtub too,” Jefferson said.
On Wednesday, April 21, the two families met halfway, in a parking lot in Port Alberni, to exchange the cat. Aria wore a special pink dress for the occasion and waited shyly as Johnson and Edge drove up in their orange Tacoma truck. When it was time for Aria to be reunited with her best furry friend, ChiChi sat on the shadowed pavement in a harness and leash and accepted pets.
When Aria picked her up, ChiChi began purring. Aria grinned. “I’m so happy,” she said.
Johnson was at peace seeing the reunion. “People have had a lot of loss. I know I have had loss. I think this is amazing to be able to reunite somebody’s friend with her family.
“Hope deserves to be kept alive.”