A family owes a debt of gratitude for Monday’s joyous reunion with their furry brown feline named Clifford, though whom they should be thanking remains a mystery.When Erin and John Ferguson and their two girls, Charlotte, 12, and Bridget, 9, packed up their Water Mill home and temporarily moved into a rental home in Remsenburg last August, they naturally brought Clifford along, too. The 9-year-old cat spent his days roaming as he pleased outside, but he always returned home at some point, Mr. Ferguson explained.
“It wasn’t unusual for him to be gone for a few days, or even a week, and come back to our house here in Southampton,” she said. “But he never really went for an extended period of time.”
So even after Clifford went missing for two weeks, his absence from their rental home did not immediately raise any alarms. “We didn’t think anything of it, really,” she said.
But shortly after Labor Day, the family moved back into their Water Mill home—they typically rent a house on the western end of the town every summer to be closer to family—and the weeks quickly turned into months, still with no sign of Clifford, the cat they had cared for since their youngest daughter was born.
“Needless to say, we were devastated,” she said.
Ms. Ferguson said she asked the owner of the rental home in Remsenburg to keep an eye out, and notified the folks at Bideawee in Westhampton that their family cat had gone missing.
At dinnertime in the weeks after Clifford went missing, Charlotte and Bridget would often ask their parents where they thought he might be. “We hoped that perhaps he found a kind person who was maybe giving him some food,” Ms. Ferguson said. “We were kind of hoping for the best.”
The family adopted a white shepherd mix puppy and another cat, though Clifford’s disappearance still left them heartbroken as they had no assurance of his well-being.
Ms. Ferguson said she often checked the Southampton Town Animal Shelter website, www.southamptonanimalshelter.com, perhaps in hopes of seeing Clifford’s picture. On a whim, she clicked on the site again two weeks ago—on Valentine’s Day—as she was busy getting ready for a family ski trip. “I don’t quite know what possessed me,” she said, recalling the event in an email.
She scrolled the website’s pages and viewed dozens of furry faces—before she spotted her family’s pet.
“I think I got to page seven, and I see this picture that says, ‘Meet Tiger,’ and I knew immediately that wasn’t Tiger—that’s Clifford,” Ms. Ferguson recalled.
Tears in her eyes, Ms. Ferguson ran out the door to the shelter. All doubt left her when the employees told her that someone had brought the cat in from the Remsenburg area in November.
“Sure enough, it was him,” she said. “So many cats that get lost really don’t come back or aren’t found and returned, and so I think it’s just so special.”
For her family, it was the best Valentine’s Day present of all. Though he remained at the shelter until the Fergusons came back from their ski trip, Clifford was waiting at home for the girls when they returned from school on Monday afternoon.
“I am overjoyed!” Charlotte said, according to her mother. The younger of the two, Bridget, said, “I love him and have missed him for so long.”
Clifford appeared to be content, according to Ms. Ferguson, explaining that he gave off that vibe by the way he walked around his old digs, nuzzling the girls.
“I think he must have come up and rubbed against me 50 times,” she said.
Though fate seemed to have lent a hand in leading Clifford back home, Ms. Ferguson said her family is also thankful for the individual who thought enough to bring Clifford to the town shelter, a no-kill facility.
“It’s just really a happy day,” she said, “for us and for him.”