JOPLIN, Mo. —
Bootsie, the black cat with the white paws, had been missing for 13 months — ever since a massive tornado on May 22, 2011, tore through the middle of Joplin.
So to say that Milo Harris, the cat’s owner, was happy late last month when Bootsie was finally found might be an understatement.
“That’s the first time in my life — I’d always heard the term but never experienced it — that I wept for joy,” Harris said.
Harris, who retired from Joplin High School in 1994 after nearly 30 years as a history teacher, was napping on May 22 in front of the TV in his former house in the 2600 block of Joplin Avenue. Bootsie, who is nearly 13 years old, was outside; his other cat, Toby, was indoors.
When the tornado struck, the front door blew open and the roof was blown away. Harris was pinned under his TV and a collapsed wall until neighbors rescued him. He spent that night at a triage center, getting six stitches in an injury to his leg. Toby was safe in a cat carrier, but Bootsie was nowhere to be found.
“I lost three houses, my truck and Bootsie,” Harris said. “I didn’t mind losing the others, but I sure hated losing my cat. I never stopped kicking myself, figuratively speaking, for not going to the door” to call Bootsie inside.
In the months that followed, Harris visited the Joplin Humane Society’s Animal Adoption and Resource Center “over and over and over,” showing workers Bootsie’s photo. He placed ads in local newspapers week after week, going “here, there and everywhere” when callers responded to tell him they’d seen a cat matching Bootsie’s description.
He even borrowed a trap and, on a tip from a neighbor, set it out one day near 26th Street and Ohio Avenue. He didn’t catch anything other than a glimpse of a black-and-white cat that he thought was Bootsie.
He eventually bought a new house and a new truck, yet the hope of finding Bootsie gradually slipped away.
“I’d given up,” he said. “About 10 months I kept my hopes high, but I thought, ‘Well, he’s gone.’”
At the end of June, Harris got a phone call from someone at the shelter, telling him Bootsie had been found and brought in. A moment of disbelief was quickly washed away by happiness, Harris said.
“I was just ecstatic,” he said. “It’s the best news I’d had in years and years.”
Lysa Buehler, the shelter manager, said Bootsie had been found near 32nd Street and Grand Avenue. He wasn’t very happy, but he was in “pretty good shape,” which she said indicates that he had likely been living somewhere and being fed regularly. He was still wearing his identification tags, which is how staff were able to match him back up with Harris.
Harris said he was concerned that his cat wouldn’t remember him. Bootsie had always been a finicky feline, preferring Harris’ company over anyone else’s, he said. He hoped that the year hadn’t changed his cat too much, and he found he needn’t have worried.
“He loved me to death,” he said. “He couldn’t get enough loving.”
Harris said Bootsie has adjusted “very well” to being back home in the week since he was found. He’s scared of everyone but his owner, who won’t let him go outside without a leash, but he otherwise seems happy and healthy, Harris said.
Lysa Buehler, manager of the Animal Adoption and Resource Center, credits identification tags or a microchip on a pet along with owner persistence as the keys to a success story when pets go missing.