Rest Stop 'Guardian Angel' Reunites Cat With Owner
After surviving a winter at an Oregon rest stop, Shasta the cat is back home.
Last October, Diane Kerhulas and her family were moving from Hood River, Ore., to Spokane, Wash. When the group stopped at the rest area in Boardman, Ore., for a break, Kerhulas's son took the opportunity to make sure his mother's belongings were safe and secure.
But when he picked up a carrier holding two of Kerhulas's three cats, the floor fell out and Shasta and Sierra fled.
Sierra bolted to the men's restroom, where an occupant grabbed her and returned her to Kerhulas. But the terrified Shasta ran under a storage shed and refused to come out.
"We tried for two hours to get her," Kerhulas said, "but my daughter-in-law was very, very sick. We didn't know how bad she was, so we had to leave."
Kerhulas agonized over her decision. She is disabled and she relies on Shasta, Sierra and her other cat for emotional support.
"They just give me a lot of comfort," she said. "They're not really service animals, but to me they are."
As soon as she got to her new home in Spokane, she called the Oregon Travel Information Council (OTIC) to see what she could do about recovering Shasta. The receptionist put her in touch with Donnie Huberd, the Boardman rest area's on-site supervisor.
Huberd came up with a rescue plan as soon as he heard about Shasta's situation. He borrowed a live animal trap from friends at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and set to work.
"I tried to catch [Shasta], and she got pretty smart after that first time," Huberd said. "I thought, I'm not going to be able to catch her until I can get her to trust me."
So it was on to Plan B.
Huberd picked up some cat food and fed her a "smorgasbord" of wet and dry food every day. He changed her water frequently throughout the winter in order to ensure it didn't freeze.
His kindness began to pay off, even if Shasta still didn't fully trust him. "She would follow me around," he said. "But when I turned around and tried to pet her, she would just take off."
Nonetheless, Huberd decided he'd do whatever he could to ensure she survived the winter. On his days off, he drove the 30 miles from his home to the rest area to feed Shasta and make sure she was okay.
Meanwhile, back in Spokane, Kerhulas was anxious not only for her cat but for her son, who was serving in Iraq. She desperately wanted to retrieve Shasta, but she was afraid to make the drive through the snowy weather and over potentially perilous mountain passes during the winter months. Kerhulas called Huberd frequently to get updates on the cat's well-being.
Although Kerhulas wanted to wait until springtime, when the last vestiges of winter hazards were gone, one day in late March, "something told me to go."
When she arrived at the rest area, Kerhulas saw Shasta perched on top of a Dumpster."We had eye contact the moment I pulled in," she said. "It really touched my soul."
Shasta has changed a bit as a result of her experience. She gained 10 pounds, developed a thick winter coat, and now has a taste for human food.And "she's toughened up for sure," Kerhulas said. "Her mom and her sister always picked on her because she was the smallest and youngest, but no more."
Kerhulas is delighted to have her beloved Shasta back and deeply touched by the generosity of the people who kept the cat alive and well through a brutal Oregon winter.
"It was amazing to me that complete strangers would help me like that," she said, adding that although she's told him many times that she'd be glad to repay him for the cat food he purchased, he has refused her offers.
"If hadn't been for Donnie keeping an eye on [Shasta] for all those months," Kerhulas said, "I know she wouldn't have made it."