Russ Small was heartbroken when Buddy went missing nearly nine years ago.
The male lynx point Siamese cat connected with Russ at a young age and would hang out while he worked on a stock car or another vehicle in the garage.
“Russ would be underneath (a vehicle), working on an exhaust or something, and Bud would crawl underneath with him,” Russ’ wife, Kim, said Tuesday. “(Russ) would talk to Bud and he would meow back.”
Those two have been reunited after Kim recognized the nearly 16-year-old Buddy in a photo that Fur the Love of Paws Rescue posted on Facebook in March. The stray cat had been brought in by a resident who lives just blocks from the Smalls’ house on the north side of town.
Fur the Love of Paws had named the cat Cyrus, but Russ and Kim believed it was Buddy.
“I looked at (the photo) and thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s as close as it can be to him,’” Kim said.
They had reason to believe it was their long lost cat.
Cyrus had the same eye condition Buddy had. Markings on Cyrus match the ones that Buddy had — a small white patch in the middle of the forehead, a small white patch on a foot and a pink spot on the lower lip.
Kim also said Buddy had a distinctive meow with a bit of a “Southern drawl” to it.
“All the photos and videos that (Fur the Love of Paws) posted just screamed his mannerisms,” Kim said. “I just had to go see (the cat) to put it out of my mind that it was or wasn’t him.”
Kim and Russ went to visit the cat in person and he almost immediately ran up to Russ.
The two reconnected over the past week that Buddy has been back in the Smalls’ home. While Buddy was primarily an outdoor cat before, he now spends his time indoors.
“That’s the garage man’s cat,” Kim said. “Buddy spends his days laying on his lap and he has found his voice again. He talks to you.”
The Smalls have been lifelong cat supporters. Over the years, people have at times dumped their unwanted felines in the couple’s yard.
That was the case with Crackers, a pregnant cat that gave birth to the litter of kittens that included Buddy in the back of Russ’ 1948 Ford truck.
Kim said Buddy was a somewhat independent cat who would disappear from the yard during the day but always come back home. She said Buddy also liked to greet people who came to the front door, especially pizza delivery drivers.
He went missing in July 2011.
“We came home from stock car racing one night and he wasn’t there to greet us, and I thought, ‘Well that’s odd,’” Kim said. “The next day we ordered a pizza and he didn’t show up either. We knew something was wrong then.”
Neighbors told the Smalls they saw some kids carrying Buddy toward the viaduct in North Platte, and the couple searched the area. They also passed out flyers and even placed a newspaper advertisement in their quest to find Buddy.
“We had a lot of different people tell us they thought they saw him.” Kim said. “We went and checked it out, but it wasn’t Bud. We just kept looking.”
Buddy is one of several hundred cats that the Smalls have at least cared for during the 40 years they have lived at their house. He is one of four cats they have currently.
“It was nothing for my vet bill at Westfield to be anywhere between $200 to $4,000,” Kim said. “When you get the label of ‘the cat lady,’ a lot of times people just dump their cats when they don’t want them or can’t find a home for them.
“We have pretty much taken care of anything that shows up at the house over the years, and we have found homes for a lot of kitties.”