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Bellingham family thought they’d lost their cat in Oregon – then they got a phone call

Cleo, a 7-month-old Russian blue cat, was lost in the Egan family’s car crash in east Oregon during their move to Bellingham last month. Cleo turned up in a barn about a mile away from the crash and was reunited with the Egans last week.
Cleo, a 7-month-old Russian blue cat, was lost in the Egan family’s car crash in east Oregon during their move to Bellingham last month. Cleo turned up in a barn about a mile away from the crash and was reunited with the Egans last week. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The best-case scenario, the Egans thought, was that their cat, Cleo, had been picked up by a loving family and given a good home.

The worst case scenario, of course, was that the 7-month-old Russian blue had died after running away from the family’s rollover crash in Oregon during their move to Bellingham last month.

But a surprise call nearly two weeks later led to a reunion just in time for the holidays.

It was the last phone call I imagined getting. I was just quiet for a few seconds and then I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you found her.’

Amanda Egan, Cleo’s owner

Cleo’s saga starts in Cedar City, Utah, where Amanda Egan, 25, and her husband Shane lived with their three daughters, Elinor, 5, Molly, 3, and Adeline, 1. The five were moving to Bellingham, taking off in a two-car caravan on Nov. 27, Amanda said by phone Thursday.

They were just outside Pendleton, Ore., the next day when the rear driver-side tire blew on the van Amanda Egan was driving. They were just east of town, near Interstate 84’s exit 216.

Egan saw smoke from her side mirror and tried pulling to the side to swap out the tire with the spare, but the van swerved. She tried correcting, but it rolled and landed on its roof.

Inside the van were Amanda and the three girls, along with the family’s dog, Irene; a Chihuahua-pug mix; and Cleo. The Egans had either sold or given away most of their things before the move, and packed the van with what was left. Because the car was so full, the pets were not kept in crates, but were sitting on laps, she said.

Irene ran away and was hit by a car near where the crash happened. Cleo ran off, too, and the Egans assumed she was gone for good.

“We had thought she was either dead or had found a family because we didn’t think her collar would be on her still,” Amanda said.

With the van totaled, the family stayed in Pendleton for two more days as they figured out what to do. Shane’s car was still intact, and his friend set up a GoFundMe page that helped fund a U-Haul rental. They set out again for Bellingham, a roughly six-hour drive in normal conditions. They arrived on Dec. 1.

Cleo’s absence was hard on the family, Amanda said. They had only just gotten her over the summer, and immediately fell in love with her, she added. Molly had several stuffed animals she named Cleo. Elinor spent a few nights crying after the cat was lost in the crash.

But Cleo was safe.

Immediately after the crash, she ran about a mile north and took refuge in a barn. It belonged to Pendleton resident Robin Harris, 43.

Harris went out to the barn on Dec. 10 to use the tractor to feed hay to her horses. When she walked in, she saw something dart up into the rafters. After a closer look, she saw it was a gray cat. Harris climbed up to retrieve her.

“She was up in the rafters kind of hanging on, so at first I didn’t know if I’d be able to get her down,” Harris said by phone Friday. “But when I reached up for her, it was obvious she was a tame cat. I looked at the phone number on the tag and called Amanda right away.”

Amanda Egan didn’t know what to say.

“It was the last phone call I imagined getting,” she said. “I was just quiet for a few seconds and then I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you found her.’ 

There’s no way to determine when Cleo found the barn, but she survived for 12 days before Harris found her. During that time, the area had seen one snowstorm and freezing temperatures for several days, Harris said.

Cleo was a little skinny, but healthy overall, said Harris, who also happens to be a six-year board member at the Pendleton Animal Welfare Shelter.

“Return-to-owners for cats are very low,” she said. “I was very happy she had that collar and tag still on.”

With Cleo safe and sound, Harris and Egan went to work figuring out how to get her to Bellingham. Pet transport services were too expensive, Egan said, and it was difficult to find someone who was headed even as far as Seattle. A last resort, Egan and Harris decided, would be to send her with a shelter board member as far as Portland, which was still farther than the Egans had hoped to drive.

The East-Oregonian, Pendleton’s local newspaper, ran Cleo’s story days later with the hope that someone would come forward and offer to bring Cleo home. The idea worked.

The story caught the eye of Debbie and Mike Doyle, a Bellingham family who had lived in Pendleton and were making the drive to Boise, Idaho, where their daughter, Kaitlin, had just graduated from Boise State University. The Doyles were one of several families who reached out and offered to take Cleo, but they were the only ones going clear to Bellingham, Harris said.

“I guess we’re just softies for cats,” Debbie Doyle said Friday, adding that her family has two of their own. “Plus, we know what it’s like to lose something.”

Cleo reunited with the Egans last Sunday night.

“I can say it was one of the best Christmas gifts to get at least one of our pets back,” Amanda Egan said. “I can’t really describe the feeling because we were very attached to our pets, and we are still incredibly sad about losing our dog, but it makes it a little easier to have Cleo back with us.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

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