The cat came back … but it wasn’t the very next day.
Lewis, a 10-month-old tabby cat, was missing in Banff National Park for six weeks. He escaped from a camper van when his owners were vacationing at Tunnel Mountain campground.
Having miraculously evaded the clutches of predators like wolves and coyotes, the pet cat was found and captured at the campground Aug. 27 and reunited with his family in Quebec four days later.
“It so, so good to have my cat home. I thought I would never see him again,” said an emotional Khristine Lahaie.
“We were told there were wolves near the campground and your cat is probably dead and he is eaten most likely.”
The tabby first went missing at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 on July 6.
Lahaie and her boyfriend had just arrived at the campground after a two-and-a-half-day trip across the country in a camper van from Quebec.
“Me and my boyfriend were very tired, and I closed the door and went to sleep,”’ she said.
“I didn’t realize that we parked on a slope and the door of the van opened during the night, and that’s when Lewis got out.”
When the cold from the open door woke Lahaie in the middle of the night, she discovered Lewis was missing.
“All the emotions went through me,” she said, noting she called for the cat, but to no avail.
They searched the next day in the rain and then on-and-off the following three days.
“We started searching for Lewis, looking in holes and wherever he could be hiding,” she Lahaie.
“He’s a very cuddly and flirty cat, but he’s also one that will hide if he’s not comfortable in a situation.”
When Parks Canada got the call about the missing cat six weeks ago, they didn’t expect Lewis to survive long because of predators like wolves, coyotes and cougars.
“He survived for a good month-and-a-half on his own,” said Petah Low, a Parks Canada resource management officer in Banff National Park.
“The owners were really surprised. By this time, they had kind of given up hope of ever seeing him again, but they were very grateful we found him and were super excited.”
In the last week of August, staff at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 reported a tabby cat had been seen near the amphitheatre at the campground.
Parks Canada was quick to set up a live trap and within two days had caught Lewis.
“It looks like there were several entry points where he might have been able to take shelter under the amphitheatre,” said Low.
Despite spending six weeks in the wild, Lewis appeared healthy.
There is no evidence to suggest anyone was feeding him, though Low said it’s not impossible.
She said there were also no reported sightings of the cat over the six-week period he was missing.
“It’s difficult to say what he survived on, but he was in fairly good shape when we found him,” said Low.
“Cats are predatory animals and it’s quite possible he was hunting native animals like birds and squirrels and potentially mice as well.”
While Parks is pleased Lewis has been reunited with his family, staff are also glad the cat cannot prey on any more native animals.
“It’s a win-win situation for Lewis and his family, and the ecological integrity of the park,” said Low.
After he was captured, Lewis was taken to the Town of Banff’s shelter where stray animals are held.
“He had a little cage in there and was set up with his kitty litter, and some food and water and a blanket for two nights,” said Low.
Lahaie’s friend, who works for WestJet out of Calgary, picked up the cat and put him on a plane from Calgary to Ottawa.
“I am so grateful to everyone I have him back,” said Lahaie.
Parks Canada wants to make sure pet owners know their responsibilities in a national park, where dogs and cats must be kept on leash by law.
“Lewis was extremely lucky in this situation and we’re very happy it was a positive outcome, and as anyone who owns a pet knows they become part of the family,” said Low.
“But there’s a real responsibility on pet owners to make sure they do keep their pets on a leash at all times in the park – and that’s not only for their safety, but also for the safety of wildlife.”