Ninja the cat must have had some stealthy skills to live through what would have been the greatest adventure of his life so far.
The feline survived the flooding in the hardest hit area of Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford to end up two weeks later almost 20 kilometres away at his former home.
Owner Lia Bergen still can’t believe it.
“It’s crazy! I’m still trying to figure out how he got there,” she said.
Bergen and her husband Henry live on a six-acre property on No. 4 Road in the “lake bottom” area of Sumas Prairie, which suffered the worst of the flooding. (The evacuation order for the area was lifted just on Friday.)
At the start of the flooding in mid-November, Ninja had been with them for five or six weeks.
Bergen had put the word out among her family and friends that they were looking for a cat to keep potential mice away.
They wanted a kitten because they thought their dog, Boomer, would adapt better to a young cat than an adult one.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend in October, Bergen got a call from her friend Linda in the Huntingdon area, saying the neighbourhood had a stray cat that had been wandering around since the summer.
“She told me she had been taking care of him. He was super socialized and she told me he would come right up to her grandchildren and they could pick it up … But she’s highly allergic.”
Linda had posted on the community’s Facebook page to try to find the owner, but nobody came forward. She asked Bergen if she wanted the cat, who was estimated to be around nine months old.
Bergen brought him home, and he instantly settled on her lap and made friends with Boomer.
Henry named him Ninja because he was all black, except for two white markings, including a strip along his groin area that Bergen dubbed his “loincloth.”
Henry, a heavy-duty mechanic, was away working on the Coastal GasLink pipeline when heavy rains began pounding Abbotsford on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 14.
Bergen was at home the following morning when firefighters knocked on her door and told her that the neighbourhood was being evacuated due to severe flooding. (The Nooksack River in Washington State had overflowed its banks, and the Sumas Diking system suffered several breaches.)
She had 10 minutes to grab her things and leave.
“I put the dog in the car, and the dog food in the car, and the cat in the car. I was really trying to be careful to close the door because I didn’t want anybody escaping while this was all happening,” Bergen said.
She had planned to stay with a friend in Abbotsford, but the route she was directed to take led her to Chilliwack. She had another friend there who offered Bergen a place to stay.
The drive took about 90 minutes, and when Bergen parked and opened the car door for the first time, Ninja was nowhere to be found.
“I was terrified. I didn’t know how he jumped out because I was trying to be super careful, but I know it was a little bit chaotic,” she said.
Bergen was distraught but there was nothing she could do. The roads from Chilliwack to Abbotsford were not driveable for many days and the land around her property was submerged in floodwaters.
She assumed that either Ninja had stayed in the house and was safe in an area that the waters hadn’t reached or that he had perished.
But a phone call from Linda put those thoughts to rest.
“She called me and said that, on Dec. 2 back in Huntingdon, he showed up at her house … I said, ‘I don’t understand. Are you sure it’s him?’ ”
Linda was positive – the cat sported the distinctive “loincloth” marking across his belly. He was thinner than before, but otherwise had nary a scratch.
The friends were at a loss to figure out how Ninja would have survived and made his way such a long distance.
“I can’t even explain it. How do you explain it with the flooding that (occurred)? My house was in the deepest of the flooding,” Bergen said.
She hasn’t yet been reunited with Ninja. Linda found a nearby farm that is fostering him, while Bergen deals with the destruction of the flood, which demolished the couple’s property and the bottom floor of their home.
She has to keep generators and pumps going and the doors open to try to dry things out – not conducive to keeping a cat contained.
But Bergen is happy that, in the midst of such chaos and destruction, Ninja’s story can provide a boost to those who hear it.
“It’s like a Disney movie,” she said.