Snuggling up with his family in Winnipeg, Gustophe the cat looks pretty good.
He's a little skinny, according to his owner, Jody Hudey, but he's healthy, he's clean and he's his usual happy self.
It's pretty surprising, considering the six-year-old house cat spent the past two months living in the Kananaskis Country wilderness.
"Aside from being a really good hunter and being black so he could probably really hide from predators, I think he must have had a really good hiding place," Hudey said in an interview with The Homestretch.
"And his will to get home."
Gustophe slipped away from Hudey and her 10-year-old son, Dolphis Seguin, during a stay in late August at the Spray Lakes West Campground, about 110 kilometres west of Calgary.
It was a particularly chilly evening, so Hudey decided to take Gustophe out of his kennel, where he normally slept, and bring him into her sleeping bag. She attached him to his harness and his leash, wrapping it around her hand, before drifting off to sleep.
When they woke up, Gustophe was gone.
"He had squeezed out through a little hole in the screen that he had made bigger," Hudey said.
"We got up and then immediately we started searching barefoot around the campsite looking for him, and we couldn't find him anywhere."
For the next four days, Hudey and her son walked all around the campsite looking for any clue of Gustophe's whereabouts. They spoke to other campers, hung up signs and spoke with local authorities, but no one had seen a trace of the cat.
"We ended up just having to go home without him, which was absolutely heartbreaking. But, you know, we had to get back to school and work," she said.
'There he was'
The family took their search to social media, posting to groups throughout Canmore and Calgary, just in case someone had picked up Gustophe while visiting the area.
The messages didn't lead to the cat, but they did attract some help.
Lisa Young, a Canmore resident, contacted Hudey and offered to set up some cameras around the campground to hopefully catch a glimpse of the missing feline.
Those went up near the end of September, with Young checking them every few days. Another Canmore resident who offered a helping hand, Diane Borland Venner, dropped off some of Hudey's clothes near the cameras, in hopes Gustophe might recognize a familiar scent.
Weeks went by without a trace, but Hudey says she had a feeling the cat was doing OK.
"He was a stray cat when we got him … I just assumed he probably had really good survival skills," she said, adding he'd also caught a lot of mice around their house and backyard.
"I just kept thinking that when the snow came, that's when I would start to lose hope, and the snow wasn't there yet."
Determined to give their search one last shot, Hudey and her son started to plan another trip to Kananaskis to continue looking for Gustophe.
But just a few days later, they got an urgent call from Young.
"I moved the cameras around just after Thanksgiving, and when I went up there a few days later, there he was. I had about 100 images of him on one of the cameras … right in the site where they'd lost them," she said.
"I was just absolutely stunned. I know I was jumping up and down. There was some people fishing on the lake, and I think they thought I was crazy."
Hudey and her son switched all of their travel plans so they could arrive the next day.
Young and Borland Venner arranged to borrow three cat traps from the Town of Canmore, which ensured that the appropriate permissions were in place, and set them up at the site.
For a few nights, Gustophe continued to elude his captors. But on the evening of Oct. 21, after checking two empty traps, Hudey saw the door of the third was closed.
"We lifted up the towel and shined a flashlight in, and sure enough he was in there waiting for us," Hudey said. "We jumped for joy and started crying."
With the predators, the weather and the odds working against Gustophe, it's a mystery how the cat survived. But Hudey says she's even more amazed by the kind strangers who got him home.
"Just the fact that strangers that I don't even know would be willing to do that for my family is just really heartwarming," she said.
"It makes me want to cry, what a beautiful community it is there, and we would have never got him back without them."
Young says she's just happy to have helped.
"I remember watching Jody's son hugging him in the hotel room the next morning, and I was just like, oh, just felt so great to see that boy with his cat."