A fuzzy male tabby cat named Zuko was reunited with his family after over a one-month search with the help of an Indiana Daily Student classified ad and a pet microchip.
Lise Popps and her son Jason, 34, drove Aug. 24 to All-American Storage Center on North Walnut Street, where they loaded all of Jason's belongings into a rental truck. The storage center was their final stop in the process of moving Jason from Bloomington to Virginia to live closer to his family, Lise said.
Zuko was nestled in the driver’s seat in the front of the rental truck cab.
As the Popps loaded belongings into the rental truck, they realized the driver’s seat door was open. The four-year-old cat Jason rescued as a kitten was gone.
“Maybe he was spooked from being in the truck,” Lise said. “We just don’t know why he went off.”
Lise Popps said the Popps searched the area for about five hours, scanning storage units, nearby hotels, nearby neighborhoods and the woods. Zuko wasn’t familiar with the area, and his family only had a limited amount of time before they had to take the 10-hour trip to McLean, Virgina.
The storage center is located near the intersection of North Walnut Street and State Road 45/46, one of the busiest traffic areas in Bloomington. The two feared that Zuko had been killed.
By 10:30 p.m., it was too dark to see. The Popps returned to their hotel in Richmond, Indiana at 1 a.m. Sunday, and the next day they abandoned their itinerary to scan the area one more time.
Lise Popps worked the next morning more than 600 miles away in Virginia, so by noon Sunday, the Popps were forced to leave the cat behind.
Zuko, luckily, had experience in the wild as an outdoor cat, Lise’s husband Dean Popps said.
“He’s very shrewd,” Dean Popps said. “We thought he might be able to survive.”
Dean began researching more ways to get the word out about Zuko’s disappearance.
Zuko wandered into unfamiliar territory in Bloomington, crossing four lanes of traffic on North Walnut Street. He hadn’t wandered far before arriving in Leslie Daniels’ backyard. Daniels is a homeschool instructor.
Daniels had a koi pond, Dean Popps said, and Zuko would spend hours watching the fish.
Daniels fed and nurtured Zuko, affectionately naming him “Samson.” She posted fliers about the missing cat, hoping someone would claim him. She fed him salmon and gradually fell in love with the cuddly tabby cat, Dean Popps said.
Daniels’ sister, Jill Lane, stayed at her house for the weekend three weeks after Daniels found the cat. Lane, a writer and advocate for resheltering and saving pets, has raised over $40,000 for animal shelters with the help of her bulldog, nicknamed Travelin’ Jack. Travelin’ Jack is a “pet travel expert” with his own children’s book.
Lane said when she met her sister’s new cat, the first thing she noticed was how friendly he was.
“This cat was not a stray,” Lane said. “I was sure it had a family in the past.”
Lane said she urged Daniels to get the cat checked at the vet for a chip the following Monday.
During her stay, on Sept. 29, Lane picked up a print edition of the IDS and read the paper. She eventually landed on the classifieds section, finding Dean Popps’ ad for a “lost orange tabby” matching Samson’s description.
Dean Popps, who paid for the ad to run for a few weeks, said he was ready to pull it from the paper when he got a text from Daniels.
They exchanged texts and photos rapidly, Dean Popps said, and by the evening, it was clear “Samson” might be Zuko. The next morning, Daniels checked the pet’s microchip at the vet. Zuko’s identity was confirmed.
“It was bittersweet because Leslie was already so fond of him,” Lane said. “But the number one goal was to get him back to his original owner.”
Days later, one of Jason Popp’s friends brought the cat to Indianapolis Regional Airport. Zuko traveled by air to Virginia, where he was reunited with his family.
"Zuko went through so much to get here," Lise Popps said. “We just wish he could tell us everything.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Lise Popps' name. The IDS regrets this error.
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