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Meowing up the wrong tree

Cats often prove they're man's other best friend

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Cats are saddled with a disloyal reputation. But a recent story about a woman found with her devoted feline a month after getting lost off a New Mexico trail might change the minds of many a cat hater.

Loyalty is a trait often attributed to dogs. Pooch lovers like to denigrate cats for being aloof and selfish. They talk trash that cats just aren't as loyal and loving to their owners as dogs. It's a notion that Albuquerque, N.M., resident, Margaret Page, knows from personal experience not to be true.

According to the Washington Post, Page took a trip in early February with her cat Miya.

Like many hikers, she left her car on the side of the road and went for a jaunt in the Gila National Forest. Described as "an experienced backpacker," she hiked off trail in an area called the Black Range. The nearest town was about 15 kilometres away.

Her family reported her missing on Valentine's Day. Despite her car being noticed by authorities twice -- but not reported -- a search party wasn't dispatched until last week. The 41-year-old was discovered alive March 7, nearly a month after she went off trail.

A report from the website Life with Cats noted that she and her cat must have retrieved water from the nearby creek. Page had lived on food that she had brought with her, and may have augmented that supply with some hunting.

The Post described Page as "emaciated and malnourished but well-hydrated." She lost 20-25 pounds. Miya, however, seemed to fare better than her owner.

Temperatures in the area ranged from daytime highs of about 16 C to nighttime lows of -7 C. To stay warm during the cool desert nights, Page and Miya snuggled in a blue sleeping bag. They were lucky. Being in a secluded mountain range, she and her cat could have become prey themselves. The area is indigenous to many animals, including mountain lions.

Devoted to her owner, Miya rarely left Page's side for just over 31/2 weeks. Life with Cats explained that the sleeping bag was the reason Page was discovered. Searchers noticed the blue bag. When they approached it, police found the cat inside. "Miya was at Margaret's side as they were found on Wednesday, and stayed with her as they were carried down a mountain by a rescue crew," stated the report.

If you read comments on this incident, you'll discover that some wonder why Page went hiking with a cat. Others wonder why she hiked at all. It wouldn't be my first choice for fun things to do. But then, I rarely stray from my computer. The only time I'm lost is when my Internet connection fails.

While cat owners may enjoy this heartwarming story, it might surprise cat haters. Those who assume that only dogs are devoted to their human counterparts will be amazed that the cat stood by her owner.

Miya and Page's tale is only one example of cat love. Cats have been known to do all sorts of wonderful things for their owners. Since I began writing this pet page, I've received numerous stories of cat love. They range from felines diagnosing cancer to cats steadfastly remaining by the owner's side during tough times.

If you look through ads for different cat breeds, you'll find many of them described as loyal. It's no different than their canine counterparts.

Our family has experienced this kind of loyalty many times. Two of our family cats would come to me and my sisters when we cried. It wasn't salt left on the cheek that drew their kisses, but the need to comfort teenagers. Mind you, the cats were female, they likely knew the feeling of young love scorned.

If you're a cat owner who travels, you might notice a tinge of resentment from your furry friend when you return. My sister explained that her cat, Taffy, would give small nibbles to her husband when they'd return from vacation. Taffy would only engage in this form of activity after a vacation. She felt it was the cat telling him that his place was at home -- near him.

There's a reason that the beloved children's song The Cat Came Back resonates in real life, well at least the title, that is. Many return to their owners after great ordeals. Admittedly, this is because we look after them. Food isn't the only draw; they can find food elsewhere. For the cat cynic, the same food argument could apply to returning dogs, too.

This story may never prove to dog enthusiasts that cats have individual personalities that exhibit extreme loyalty. However, Page's family is likely thrilled that the cat came back -- and brought her owner home, too.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2012 C5

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