By Dave Rogers
---- — SALISBURY — It has been a long time since Gus, a domestic short-haired cat with responsive ears and a button nose, has seen his lower Manhattan home.
For more than five months — or about five years in terms of cat time — Gus has been pretty much living on his own since escaping from his owner’s car while parked at a rest stop off Interstate 495 in Merrimac.
Yesterday, however, Gus was on his way back to the Big Apple after his owners, David and Lynn Ghesquiere, picked him up from the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society on Elm Street and drove him back home.
It was an emotional few moments for the Ghesquieres, who admitted they thought they would never see their almost 2-year-old cat again.
“It’s such a blessing, I am telling you. We’re going to spoil you to bits, nothing bad is ever going to happen to you again,” Lynn Ghesquiere said, in between kissing a mellow Gus, who, for being on the lam so long, looked to be in good shape.
The last time the Ghesquieres had seen Gus was in August. They were heading back to New York City from a summer trip to Nova Scotia, Canada, when they ran out of gas right at the rest stop.
Fearful that Gus may be suffering from the searing summer heat, Lynn Ghesquiere lowered one of the windows enough to draw in some air for her cat, which was allowed to travel out of his carrier while on the road.
But the agile cat seized the opportunity and was able to wiggle his way through the open window and leap out of the car. Before the startled couple had a chance to stop him, Gus disappeared.
“Up he goes, up in the woods,” David Ghesquiere said. “We just assumed he was gone.”
About a month ago, the Merrimac police animal control officer Lisa Young-Carey found Gus wandering off Whittier Drive, located close to Route 110. Young-Carey said she scanned the area between the cat’s shoulder blades, hoping its owners had implanted a microchip that alerts shelters, animal hospitals and animal control officers of its owners, its name and other details.
Unable to locate a microchip on the cat, Young-Carey held on to Gus and began looking for his owners or someone who might be willing to adopt him. After several weeks went by without word from his owners or interest from an adoptive home, Young-Carey took Gus to the feline rescue society last Friday.
For decades, the no-kill shelter, which first launched in Newburyport before establishing its headquarters in Salisbury, has cared and found homes for hundreds of cats each year. The privately funded organization takes in between 600 and 800 cats a year and averages between 40 and 75 adoptions a month. Its core full-time staff of five is augmented by hundreds of volunteers. The shelter typically spends $400 on each cat, with adoption fees ranging between $125 and $200 offsetting some of the costs.
Liz Pease, director of operations at the shelter, said she and her staff tried again to scan Gus for a microchip and eventually found it, located on his back. Microchips are typically implanted between the shoulder blades, but in Gus’ case, his chip had migrated far enough down his back to make it difficult to spot, Pease said.
A few days ago, the Ghesquieres received calls in quick succession from Pease and the company that sold them the microchip alerting them that Gus had been found safe and sound.
“It’s a miracle,” Lynn Ghesquiere said, when asked what it felt like to receive those calls.
Pease said the microchip, which costs as little as $20 to implant at the shelter, was the only reason Gus and the Ghesquieres were reunited.
“Yep, never would have happened,” Pease said. “He’s (Gus) a perfect example.”
Pease praised the Ghesquieres for not only implanting a microchip, but for driving up from New York City to pick up their cat. In many cases, people separated from their cats for weeks will simply adopt another cat and tell the shelter they’ve moved on.
But for the Ghesquieres, there was no doubt they were going to make the trek to Salisbury.
“I’m going to keep an eye on him all the time,” Lynn Ghesquiere said, gazing down lovingly at the cat she held in her lap.
For his part, Gus seemed unmoved by his owner’s declaration as he kept his eyes focused on the floor and his tail noticeably still.