Thanks to Stranger’s Kindness, Woman and Cat are Reunited

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Last October, Diane Kerhulas was moving with her family from Hood River, OR to Spokane, WA when she became separated from one of her very best friends.

The family had pulled over at a rest stop in Boardman, OR. Kerhula’s son was checking his mother’s belongings in the truck, making sure everything was secured. The large carrier two of the cats were sharing fell out and the bottom came apart, resulting in both cats fleeing. Kerhulas was devastated — she is disabled, and although the cats (Sierra and Shasta) were not official service animals, they were certainly therapy companions.

Sierra ran into the men’s restroom and, thankfully, an occupant quickly returned her to Kerhulas, but Shasta had darted under a storage shed and refused to emerge. “We tried for two hours to get her,” Kerhulas says, “but my daughter-in-law was very, very sick. We didn’t know how bad she was, so we had to leave.” This was an agonizing decision for Kerhulas, but she vowed to contact someone to help locate Shasta as soon as she arrived at her destination.

She kept her promise. The receptionist at the Oregon Travel Information Council connected her with Donnie Huberd, the rest area’s onsite supervisor. As soon as Huberd heard about Shasta, he developed a plan. His friends at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife lent him a live trap. “I tried to catch her, and she got pretty smart after that first time,” he says of Shasta. “I thought, I’m not going to be able to catch her until I can get her to trust me.”

And so he set about winning the trust of the frightened feline. He began feeding her canned and dry food and frequently changing her water so it wouldn’t freeze. “She would follow me around,” Huberd says. “But when I turned around and tried to pet her, she would just take off.”

Despite Shasta’s skittish behavior, Huberd knew it was up to him to keep her alive, so he continued to make the wayward kitty a priority. On his days off, he drove 30 miles to make sure Shasta had fresh food and water.

Meanwhile Kerhulas was fighting anxiety at home, worried about both Shasta and her son who had been deployed to Iraq. She kept in close contact with the receptionist at the Travel Council, frequently checking in on Shasta’s progress. She was aware and grateful that Huberd was doing his best to take care of her cat. She was afraid to make the drive in winter, but when March arrived she knew she could safely travel to the rest stop to see Shasta.

When she arrived at the rest stop, Huberd directed her to the area where Shasta liked to hide. “We had eye contact the moment I pulled in,” she says. “It really touched my soul.”

Kerhulas said the only thing that had changed about Shasta over the winter was the extra weight and thicker fur she’d developed. Kerhulas felt overwhelmingly thankful to have her cat back and was touched by the kindness of the stranger. “It was amazing to me that complete strangers would help me like that,” she says, noting that Huberd has refused her numerous offers to compensate him for the cat food. “If it hadn’t been for Donnie keeping an eye on her for all those months,” she says of Huberd, “I know she wouldn’t have made it.”

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