COLORADO SPRINGS - There's no place like home. Click click. That worked in the movies. But it took much more than a couple of heel clicks for Tom the cat to make his way back after the Black Forrest Fire burnt his family home to the ground on June 11, 2013.
The Miller family only had 45 minutes to evacuate Tom and his pet siblings that fateful day, which included a Labrador Retriever named Johnny Cash, a Yorkie named Ruby, and Speedy the turtle. They were able to move in with family, but Tom the cat was feeling cramped stuck in a suburban basement with his owners Jason, Allison, and their daughter Lily.
See, Tom has been a free-spirited fighter. His parents would try to keep him indoors, even at the old place, because of the coyotes and foxes in the area. But the call of the wild and the desire to hunt was strong and he'd sneak out occasionally. A few times he'd been heard tussling with the wildlife, but would scamper up the trees for safety. Sometimes he'd make offerings of dead mice that he'd line up like trophies to offer to his family. This tough cat had patrolled his territory for seven years, cheating death.
The Millers could tell he was miserable, so they arranged to have him stay at their friend's barn on the North end of the Black Forrest, about six miles from his original home. "We thought he would be safe there for a while and in his element," Jason Miller said. But apparently Tom still wasn't satisfied. He disappeared July 22. Miller believed the cat was gone due to the coyotes in the area and the fact that there were no trees there for him to hide in.
But Mrs. Allison Miller still felt Tom was alive. Posters were placed in the area by a friend of the family and finally, a month later, they got a call from a neighbor saying they'd spotted him.
Apparently Tom had dodged predators and plodded his way six miles through charred forests and desolate neighborhoods only to find a burned-out shell of a house and a pile of rubble. So he hunkered down and waited patiently under the next-door neighbor's shed.
His family came looking for him, but he was playing hard to get. After two days of calling for him, and dejectedly preparing to leave, Tom finally sauntered out of his hiding place and flopped down in front of them. "It was like he was saying, 'Thank God, you found me!'"
Tom's journey took 28 days and a toll on his body. He is quite thin, and was happy to enjoy a can of tuna, even if it was back in the citified dwelling where his family is staying.
The Millers are rebuilding their home back in Black Forest. Tom will have to settle into his more sedate life until his old home is finished. But his determination is inspirational.
"Just the fact that he made it for seven years, and then made it through the fire, and then struggled for a month traveling through the trees. It gives us a reason to sit back and smile. This is what matters. The connections. His journey brought us to tears and smiles. He did all he could to get back," said Miller.
Tom makes up for lost cuddling time with Lily Miller.
Photos by Jerilee Bennett (The Gazette.com).