For the past year, Kennebunkport resident George Lichte thought his beloved cat, Romeo, was dead.
Romeo was famous in the coastal town for his wandering ways, frequently crashing weddings and once showing up at the summer home of former President George H. W. Bush.
But one day last fall, Romeo stopped at home to drop off a gift of a yellow warbler he had killed and then he sauntered off, back into the wilderness.
Lichte expected him to come back on his own, but he never did.
“We were looking for this cat constantly, but I really blocked him out of my memory,” Lichte said. “I shut down, I couldn’t think about the cat.”
Lichte’s family put up posters, and word spread throughout Kennebunkport that the local feline celebrity had been lost. But no one reported seeing him.
Coyotes had moved into the neighborhood around the time Romeo went missing, and while it was hard to accept, Lichte and his family believed that perhaps Romeo had fallen prey to the coyotes.
Eventually, Lichte had his veterinarian close Romeo’s file, and he and his family started to move on.
When summer began to turn to fall this year, for the first time since Romeo’s disappearance Lichte and his wife thought about getting a new cat. They missed the energy a cat brings to a home. Plus, mice were becoming a problem, and Romeo wasn’t there to take care of it.
But two weeks ago, the couple got a phone call they had already lost hope in receiving. It was from a veterinarian in Skowhegan.
Romeo was alive.
“It was just really bizarre because this cat was dead and now he’s not,” Lichte said. “What’s the opposite of death? A resurrection?”
Kevin Taft, of Solon, found what he believed to be a stray cat on the Unity College campus the previous week. While sitting at a picnic table at campus park, he heard a meow. When he looked down at his lap, a new friend had found him.
“I heard a meow and all the sudden I looked down and he was sitting in my lap, curled up sleeping,” Taft said. “He was really, really friendly.”
Taft assumed that the cat, being found without tags or a collar, was a stray and he took the found feline to the veterinarian with the intention of keeping it.
But as the vet checked the cat for a microchip, he discovered that the cat was Romeo ― who had wandered about 120 miles from home.
The vet called the phone number listed with Romeo’s microchip identification file and left a message. It was a Saturday when the vet reached out to Lichte’s wife, and by the time they got the message that Romeo had been found alive, the vet’s office had closed.
They sat in suspense until Monday morning, when the vet reopened, about their newly resurrected cat.
“It was just amazing,” Lichte said. “He was dead. I closed down the file at the vet.”
After connecting via phone with Taft, Lichte traveled to Waterville that following Tuesday to determine whether the cat was, in fact, roaming Romeo. While he was thinner, there was no mistaking that the gray cat was his.
“It was Romeo,” Lichte said. “It was absolutely Romeo.”
Lichte always knew Romeo was a unique creature. Instead of fitting the feline stereotype of being aloof, Romeo was friendly, smart and made friends wherever he went. Thriving as an outdoor cat in the four years Lichte had him before he disappeared, Romeo was known to spend weeks outside. He would stop by the home’s of neighbors and loiter at local hotels.
He would wander off and return home so frequently that his name tag, in addition to having a contact number, said “leave me outside.”
However, while Romeo was prone to wandering, Lichte highly doubts his cat walked the 120 miles to where he was found in Unity.
“It’s also a question of how did he get there? It’s one thing for it to show up at the Bush’s house through the woods,” Lichte said. “How [did he] get across the Saco River, the Androscoggin River, the Kennebec? How did he get that far?”
If only Romeo could talk.
In theory, Romeo spent a year in the wilderness of Maine, surviving a winter and traversing the rugged terrain of central Maine.
Though that’s likely not what happened. Lichte has a hunch that perhaps Romeo finagled himself in the back of a truck, and was driven miles away. This is the storyline that Lichte prefers.
What troubles him is the other possibility, that someone found Romeo and took him as their own instead of bringing him to an animal shelter or a veterinarian’s office ― places that would have checked the cat for a microchip so he could be returned to its owner.
It is likely that Lichte will never know what was his cat endured during the past year.
In the two weeks since he was reunited with his owners, Romeo has adjusted to being back in his rightful home. The first week was rough for both parties. Romeo didn’t want to be in the house, and Lichte and his wife adjusted to having their cat back.
“I don’t know where he has been. I don’t know what he’s been through,” Lichte said. “My first thought was he doesn’t want to be in this house. What was it that made him want to leave? I took it personally.”
But with time, things settled down to the way they were before the great disappearance. Romeo is back to his normal routine of traipsing around Kennebunkport and his owners are glad to have his friendly energy back in their home.
Lichte said this latest saga validates something he’s always said about Romeo: “He’s a funny cat.”
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