The Adventures of Opie
Before I explain how we found Opie, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took time out of their busy lives to help look for him. Some people have been to Carolina Horse Park every single day since he went missing. They set traps, walked the grounds and lanes, posted flyers, and talked to neighbors. The showground sent a mass email and had all their employees looking for him. Facebook warriors followed his "Find Opie" page and shared it with their friends. It really took a village, and I am incredibly grateful to all of you.
Who is Opie?
Opie is a character! We call him the CEO of White Rose Equestrian because he has to be in everyone's business. Whenever we do jobs around the property, he casually saunters up to ensure we do it correctly. He likes to follow us when we trail ride and thinks nothing of "helping" at horse shows. Opie exudes personality and presence and has never met a stranger. He greets visitors to our farm and loves everyone. Well, apart from our neighbor's large German Shepherd; he sends him packing back home again with a swift ninja maneuver of hisses, claws, and flying fur.
Opie is also known to be a stowaway, and that's how he ended up at a horse show with us. If you visit us and leave the windows of your car open, you need to inspect it thoroughly before leaving, or he might go home with you. From now on, we will carefully check our vehicles and horse trailers before leaving the property.
I'm sure Opie was only too proud of himself for sneaking into the living area of our trailer and snuggling himself into the bed. We were not quite so pleased when we discovered him there. It was late on Thursday, November 10th, 2022. We pulled into Carolina Horse Park amidst a torrential rain and thunderstorm. When we discovered our stowaway, we made sure he was safe while we unloaded the horses. Cold and wet, and almost midnight, we set up camp. The kids with us thought it was fun and amusing that we had a cat with us. I wasn't too concerned, as I felt he would be safe in my trailer until we went home. He quickly made himself at home and slept soundly the first night we were there.
The next morning I put him in the horse area with food and water and periodically checked on him. I'm sure he slept most of the time, dreaming of returning home.
The show must go on
The weekend passed as most shows do. We were busy with barn chores, horses, competition, shopping, socializing, and cat sitting. I was thrilled with my rider and my own horse. We both made great improvements, and I went to bed Saturday evening around 10:00 pm. I brought Opie into the living section of my trailer, but he was loud and restless. I'm sure that after two days of captivity, he was ready to roam. Of course, I couldn't let him out, so I put him back into the horse section in case he needed to go potty. Our barn manager and his family were in the trailer next to mine. Our barn manager went to bed around 11:00 pm and could hear Opie complaining in my trailer.
The night passed as usual until I went into the horse section the next morning to check on Opie. He was nowhere to be seen, and the middle window was open. At first, I wasn't too concerned. Opie is bold and friendly, and I figured he would be close by. As everyone else went to the barn to take care of the horses, I, along with our not-a-blood-hound dog, Piper, set off to look for the wayward wanderer.
I checked the pavilion, house, under trailers, sheds, and around the barns. As time went on, I became more and more concerned. I was sure that if he could hear me, he would come out of hiding or, at the very least, cry for attention. As I walked around the property calling his name, people assumed I was looking for a dog. I explained the situation, and the office was kind enough to make announcements over the tannoy system.
The dread set in
With every step and every call, my heart sank deeper and deeper into my chest. Stark, jagged memories came flooding back of walking through scrub and brushland around Charlotte as my husband and I searched endlessly for my son, Sam. I crammed the negativity deep into my soul and continued the search until my voice was hoarse and my energy depleted. We were done with our rides early in the day, but I couldn't bring myself to leave without him. Finally, pulling away from the showground was excruciating. I felt as if I was leaving my baby behind. Our journey home was silent and somber.
Using the knowledge I had gleaned when looking for my son and running the Find Sam Davis page, I quickly set up a Find Opie Facebook page. A lady, Andrea, who had reached out to me before we left, agreed to search for him until he was found, and she did just that, and people at the showground were also looking for him.
The story gets weird
His story took hold, and leads and tips came trickling in. The saddest part of this endeavor came when a lady about fifteen miles away from the horse park contacted me to say a cat had been hit by a car near her house. She sent pictures to us. I chose not to look at them. Due to the injuries, my husband couldn't be sure if it was him. The lady kindly took the cat to a vet to have it scanned. Either the chip didn't work, or it didn't have one. I hoped against hope it wasn't him.
Now here is where the story gets weird, so stick with me. She agreed to store him in her freezer until we could view him in person. On our next visit to the park to search for Opie, we visited with her and agreed to bring home Freezer Kitty and give him a proper burial. So now, for the time being, I have a cat in my freezer. There are not many people who can say that!
Just before Thanksgiving, someone called me who lives about a mile from the showground. He was sure he had seen Opie. He and Andrea set traps in the area, and my husband and I drove up there to look for him. We baited the traps and set them with some of our unwashed clothes. Eventually, a cat matching Opie's description was captured in that area but proved not to be him. It was a stray who was whisked off to be fixed before being released back from whence he came.
The last search
Yesterday, Tuesday, November 29th, I once again put my life on hold and drove three hours from my home to roam and call for our missing fluff ball. My dog, Piper, accompanied me. She might be a dog, but she is no bloodhound. My granddaughter, Lena, likes to play hide-and-seek with her. She tells her to sit and stay, then hides somewhere in the house. She hollas, "Piper." Piper darts off careening around our home, looking for the missing child. One of Lena's favorite hiding places is behind the curtains in the dining room. Piper can run past her multiple times, completely oblivious to her presence, even though her chubby little feet are sticking out from underneath the draperies. So, Piper was there merely in the capacity of companion, not searcher.
When I was younger and arduously looking for something, my mum would always say, "it will be in the last place you look." Just to prove her wrong, I have been known to continue looking for something after I have actually found it. But that is another story altogether.
When I arrived at the showground, I presented my Facebook live video in the hopes that someone might know something that would lead us to Opie. I then tentatively set off to check the traps and trudge once more around the abandoned park. At one point, over behind where they dump the mountains of manure, I thought I heard the faint whisper of a cat. Coincidentally, it was the same location where we thought we'd heard a feline the first day we searched.
When Andrea arrived, we set a trap there and baited it with pungent and enticing salmon. The critters of Carolina Horse Park have never eaten so well. Andrea knows the area far better than I and stated that of all the directions Opie could go, she hoped it was not this one. All that stretched out from that point onward were creature-infested woods. We baited more traps, and I was joined by another lovely, caring lady, and we walked the entire cross-country course. The light began to fade, and I made the heartwrenching decision to head back home.
I passed the time during my drive home by switching radio stations and talking to Piper. I was over halfway home when I received a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. When you have a missing family member, you quickly learn to answer all and every incoming phone call. A sweet voice on the other end said, "I don't want to get your hopes up, but I think I have your cat." Having already received unproductive leads, I wasn't too excited until she said, "I've tried to get some photos of him, but it's difficult as he is such a lovebug and won't leave me alone."
I asked if he had a white face, a white lower jaw, and a small notch missing from his right ear. The delightful word, yes, floated into my ear as I scrambled to find somewhere to pull over so I could look at the pictures she had sent me.
It was him! I knew instantly. I forwarded them to my husband and daughter and turned my car around. Maybe I broke the speed limit as I raced back, but, shhh, don't tell anyone. She greeted me at the door and led me into her mudroom. Opie sloped up like a sleazy lounge lizard as if to say, "What took you so long?" His purr was deafening as he rubbed his pheromones all over me.
His long journey
So, can you guess in which direction he had ventured? Yes, of course, into the creature-infested woods! As the crow flies, he had traveled about three and a half miles. We will never know his exact path or any of the adventures he encountered on the way. Other than having lost some weight, he is no worse for his epic journey.
Once again, I headed for home. This time with a huge smile on my face and a heavy burden lifted from my heart. I pulled into my driveway just before 1:00 am, exhausted but elated. Opie spent the night in the house with us. I will be keeping a close eye on him until I feel he has acclimatized to being home.
If only he could talk.