A cat went missing before his owner moved away. This Hamilton group helped them reunite, 2 months later

Dan's
Dan's

When Ben Ehrhardt realized his beloved cat Dan wasn't inside his east Hamilton home early one morning, his "heart dropped."

He had come home late the night before after a long day of work and had unintentionally left his door latch open.

"I felt so guilty. I literally threw on clothes … called work and said '[I'm] not coming in,' and I searched and I searched."

The cat ran out of the house, near Quigley Road and King Street East, the night of Nov. 8 — the same day Ehrhardt had given his two-week notice at his Hamilton job to move more than 130 kilometres away to Dundalk, Ont.

But searching for Dan — a nine-year-old short-haired cat with two white patches and "sad" eyes — became top priority before he moved.

"After the first week, I said … 'I'm sorry, I can't concentrate on work. I can't give you the last week that you deserve. I'm going to be searching for my cat.'"

Leaving Hamilton — and Dan

Growing up in the Fort Erie and other parts of the Niagara region, for Ehrhardt, Hamilton was "not known as a really friendly place," he said.

But when he posted about Dan on a Hamilton-based lost-and-found-pets Facebook group, he was touched by the messages of support.

Soon enough, every black cat posted on the page had at least one comment from someone asking, 'could this be Dan?'

"I was extremely, extremely grateful. But I started getting overwhelmed. It was too many black cats, … so I started looking at the ones that were close."

Ben Ehrhardt/Facebook
Ben Ehrhardt/Facebook

After much consideration, despite the fact Dan was still missing, Ehrhardt moved to Dundalk for work in late November.

Yet the Hamilton community kept searching for the cat.

A few days before the Christmas winter storm that hit Hamilton and much of southern Ontario on Dec. 23, Ehrhardt saw a posting of a cat that looked really similar to Dan, but when he attempted to drive to Hamilton, he crashed his car.

"I gave up hope. I started doing my grieving process and started realizing that there's no way that this cat ever made it through [the storm]."

But once again, the support of other Hamiltonians searching for Dan kept him from giving up.

Among the hundreds of messages he read, one person's kindness stuck out to him.

"She starts messaging me and says, 'Is this your cat?' And I don't know, there [was] just something about the way that she talked that had me keep messaging her."

That person was Loraine DiStefano. The two kept in contact until one day she said her friend was feeding a cat that looked like Dan.

Ehrhardt said he got pictures of the cat, and as soon as he saw "the Dan eyes," he knew it was him.

"I never say 100 per cent, but that is 100 per cent my cat."

From there, DiStefano took things into her own hands and within a few days, Dan was captured. It looked like Ehrhardt and Dan would reunite.

'They brought me back my boy'

Beth Hurl, the admin of the Facebook group, was one of the people Ehrhardt says was instrumental in reunited Ehrhardt and Dan. She helped coordinate a trapper and working with the people who spotted him to get him secured.

Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC
Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC

She said she was over the moon when she got the call that confirmed the captured cat was Dan, yelling in excitement over the phone at the person who gave the good news.

"I messaged [Ehrhardt], and let him know. And he's like, 'You're kidding me, right? You're not pranking me?'"

Ehrhardt said he had to hang up on her and take a couple of minutes to compose himself.

While Hurl kept Dan in her house until his owner was able to pick him up, she said Dan didn't make a sound, but as soon as Ehrhardt started talking to him, he wouldn't stop meowing.

"We posted [the reunion] to the group and it exploded," said Hurl.

That's what I come home to every night, and when one of them's gone, it's hard for me to function. - Former Hamilton resident Ben Ehrhardt

Ehrhardt and Dan finally reunited on Jan. 10. Ehrhardt said it still makes him emotional to think about how Hamilton came together to help him.

"People did things for me that honestly, they didn't have to do, they just didn't. [They] brought me back my boy."

As someone who lives alone, Dan and his sister, another cat named Ann, are Ehrhardt's family.

"That's what I come home to every night, and when one of them's gone, it's hard for me to function."

Looking back on the rescue, Hurl says thousands of pets like Dan have found their way home thanks to the Facebook group she manages.

Dogs, cats, birds and hamsters, snakes, peacocks, tortoises and even an emu have found their way home thanks to the communication among members of the group.

She calls it a "pay it forward" approach, since most people arrive at the group looking for help finding their pet and then stay to help other find theirs.

"You couldn't ask for a better community," she said.