Elizabeth Rinker was not allowed to return to her Smithville, TX home for a week after the 2011 Labor Day Weekend Bastrop wildfires that swept into the neighboring towns of Bastrop and Smithville and stalled there, destroying homes, displacing pets and livestock, and causing the local animal shelter to be evacuated late at night with the help of two Austin shelter organizations.
Elizabeth saw her beloved cat Harley before leaving home the day of the fire, but he was gone when she was finally allowed to return home. Elizabeth and Harley were reunited in August 2012, nearly an entire year after the cat’s disappearance. Elizabeth and her family never gave up hope that they would someday see Harley again, and that hope was fulfilled.
Harley’s whereabouts for the first three months following the fire are unknown, but he wandered into the life of another Smithville resident in December, where he remained until his identity came to light and he returned home. David Cervantes lives near the Rinker family and called Elizabeth in late August after he saw a photo of Harley that Elizabeth’s daughter had posted online. Elizabeth described her renion with Harley as endearing.
Elizabeth calls Harley a true survivor to make it through the fire and three months on his own in a strange and ravaged landscape before turning up at the Cervantes home. She said in a feature in the Austin American Statesman, “Maybe the reason he didn’t return was because the landscape was so different after the fire.” While we see stories of pets traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles, it is more common for missing, lost and displaced cats to remain close to home.