Lost cat finally comes home, 15 years later

Tori Takayesu cuddles with her cat, James, in her Makawao home. The two were reunited this week, about 15 years after the tortoiseshell tabby went missing. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

MAKAWAO — When Makawao resident Tori Takayesu got a call last month saying that her cat had been found and was at the Maui Humane Society shelter, her first reaction was, “What cat?”

“Are you talking about one of my dogs?” Takayesu, who has four miniature pinschers, asked the shelter employee. “I really did not understand.”

But as the employee described the “senior” tortoiseshell tabby, “I’m, like, oh my God,” Takayesu said.

“All of a sudden, I remembered her,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I just never thought, after all these years, that she would come back to me.”

The cat turned out to be a pet who went missing about 15 years ago, not long after the family moved from Kula to Makawao.

James the cat has found her way home after 15 years, by way of the Maui Humane Society in Puunene. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

She was traced back to Takayesu through the number with a heart that had been tattooed in her right ear when she was spayed at the Maui Humane Society so many years ago.

Takayesu’s son, Trevor Hamilton — now an adult stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California — remembered the cat right away. “He couldn’t believe it either,” Takayesu said.

Before learning the cat was a girl, Hamilton had named her James after one of the Thomas the Tank Engine train characters. Another kitten in the litter was named Gordon after another Thomas train.

James, who had been an indoor and outdoor cat, was living with the family in Makawao for “maybe a month or two” before she disappeared in 2001, Takayesu said.

“My kids had been looking for her at least a month or two months,” she said. “They were really sad. She didn’t come back. We couldn’t find her anywhere. We didn’t know what happened to her.”

As the years passed, Hamilton and his sister, Joan Rodriguez, grew up and moved away.

Takayesu, owner of Maui Cakes, and her husband, Jimmy, now share their home with four miniature pinschers — Princess and Kulolo and their offspring Patches and Peachy. The couple also feed an outdoor black cat that has been hanging around their house.

After getting the call from the Maui Humane Society on Jan. 26, Takayesu decided to wait a couple of days to see if someone else would claim the cat, not wanting to take her away if she had been living for years with another family.

On Jan. 29, after no one had called about the cat, an animal control officer went to Takayesu’s home to make sure she knew the cat was still waiting.

If Takayesu hadn’t taken the cat, she would have been put up for adoption. “I felt like a senior cat doesn’t have a lot of chances,” Takayesu said. “I said whatever it is, I will take her home. But it can’t be my cat.”

Takayesu was still in disbelief Monday when she took an old stationery box to the shelter to claim the cat. She had been placed in a carrier carton. Once Takayesu opened it and looked inside, she knew the cat was hers.

“I really didn’t believe it until I laid eyes on her,” Takayesu said. “I did not believe this was my long-lost cat, that they would find her, that she would be in good shape, that she could come back to me. It’s crazy.”

Although shelter workers said the cat might be stressed, “she was fine,” Takayesu said. “She recognized me, I think, right away.”

She texted a photo of the cat to her husband, who texted back, “Now I remember her!”

“We were just so happy,” Takayesu said. “It’s just like having one of our children come back home.”

She was told James was found on Nakui Street, which is just around the corner from the Takayesus’ home.

Most of the time, they’ve been keeping James in one room of the house, where she can snuggle with Takayesu while she watches television. James also has explored other parts of the house while the dogs are outside.

“It’s just like she never left,” Takayesu said. “She’s right back where she belongs. It’s amazing.”

At about 16 years old, James is agile enough to jump on the windowsill and look outside, Takayesu said. She said the sweet, even-tempered cat loves to be petted, so much that she begins to drool. She doesn’t meow or seem bothered when the dogs bark from outside or other parts of the house.

James, who weighs at least 10 pounds, has been eating well, even sharing Takayesu’s pork lau lau one day, she said.

“It’s a story of hope for a lot of people who’ve lost their animals,” Takayesu said. “It’s really nice to think someone took care of her for all these years. Clearly she was taken care of, even if people on the street fed her. And then to have her come back to me is so special.

“It just makes me feel so good. She’s like a miracle cat.”

Takayesu’s son, who was recently home for a visit, didn’t get a chance to see James.

But Takayesu’s daughter and 3-year-old grandson, Isaiah, will see the cat when they visit from Clarksville, Tenn., where she works as an emergency medical technician and has two black cats she rescued there.

“My daughter loves cats,” Takayesu said. “She would sleep with them. She would carry them around like they were babies.”

She said Rodriguez was the one who took care of and “spoiled” the family’s cats, including James.

“She’s so excited to see her again,” Takayesu said.

Until then, there are cat toys to buy and household adjustments to make.

“I do feel honored that she has found her way back to me,” Takayesu said. “We’ll make our blended family work.”

On Wednesday evening, while the dogs were outside, Takayesu cuddled James, saying: “They’ll just have to get over it because you were here first.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.