May-June 2021

The wanderer

A roving tomcat settles into the home and hearts of an Olney family

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Karen Efird with her grandson Grady and her Maine coon, Hobo.

Just after Thanksgiving last year, Karen Efird saw the massive shaggy cat taking a nap in the bushes on the side of her Olney house. It wasn’t the first time the animal had roamed into her yard, but it became the first time he let her approach with bowls of cat food and water.

The legend of the mysterious “Ghost Cat” had spread far and wide in Olney. Some residents thought he was a bobcat, others a lynx. Some called him Bigfoot, others Kuzi. All Efird knew was that the gray feline often wandered through backyards in her Olney Oaks neighborhood—she’d heard of his apparitions even before she met him. “I’m not a very active person on Nextdoor, but I pop on every once in a while, and so in the last few years there would be people talking about this cat, showing pictures of him,” Efird, 66, says of the social networking site for neighborhoods.

The 18-pound cat is a Maine coon, a breed known for its size and leonine appearance. “His head is so big—much bigger than a normal cat,” Efird says. “It was like, what the heck is running through my backyard? ”

In the weeks following Thanksgiving, the cat, whom Efird had nicknamed Hobo, showed up multiple times looking for food outside the sliding glass door in her kitchen, so she and her husband, Roger, set up a makeshift shelter—a cardboard box covered in Christmas wrapping paper that they called “Hobo’s House”—on their back deck.

The cat appeared again on Christmas Day while Efird’s daughter and grandson Grady were visiting. Grady, 14, who loves animals, wanted to bring the cat into the house to get him out of the cold. Afraid of diseases the cat might be carrying, Efird told Grady to let him into the garage and make a bed for him there. So Grady left a trail of cat treats and the feline followed him in. “Three hours later, he was in the den with us,” Efird says.

Efird found the cat’s owner, Irina Guerman, through Nextdoor a few days later after she posted an inquiry about him. The cat, whom Guerman had named Kuzi, was almost 6 years old, and usually lived at Guerman’s home on the east side of Olney—he had to cross two major roads, Georgia Avenue and Route 108, to get to Efird’s neighborhood. He was missing a few teeth, presumably from street fights with other animals, and had been neutered only last September, which helped explain his previous nomadic lifestyle, as he was likely seeking a mate.

Guerman had adopted the cat from a Virginia breeder in 2015, when he was 3½ months old. She was used to his disappearances, which lasted for days, even weeks on end. But for about a year starting in October 2018—when he was making himself known in Efird’s neighborhood—he didn’t return to her house. Guerman thought he had died.

Shauna Cooke, who also lives in Efird’s neighborhood, found him late in 2019. She took him to a vet, who identified the cat through the microchip beneath his skin. Cooke then returned him to an overjoyed Guerman. But the cat kept returning to Efird’s neighborhood. “He didn’t recognize the territory” near her home, Guerman says. “He needed to go back.”

Last summer, Guerman posted on Nextdoor that she was looking for someone in Efird’s neighborhood to adopt the cat, and she included her phone number and the cat’s name. Efird hadn’t seen that post when she asked about the cat in her own post a few days after Christmas. Though Efird and her husband had decided not to get another pet after their pit bull, Cruiser, died in 2012, they fell in love with the cat during his visits. “He was just so sweet,” Efird says. “And I didn’t like that he was running loose.” After connecting with Guerman on the app, Efird says she asked whether the couple could keep the cat, and Guerman said yes.

When Efird posted on Nextdoor that her family had taken in Ghost Cat, neighbors were thrilled. On his sixth birthday on Feb. 13, she posted pictures of him in a party hat, updating his fans on his well-being. Among the followers of the cat’s exploits were several local residents who had given the cat food and water whenever he visited. Jenny Wilson, who met the cat in her yard three years ago and fed him intermittently, feels bittersweet about his adoption. “I was really happy he got adopted, but I was really sad I wasn’t going to see him again,” she says. “It’s amazing how many people looked out for him.”

Since Hobo moved in, “he’s exploring more of the house, still not even trying to get out the door at all,” Efird says. He typically sleeps at the foot of their bed and spends most of his time grooming himself. Hobo’s favorite spot is on an ottoman inside the glass-paneled front door, where he basks in the sun and watches what’s happening outside. Efird says that when she tried to use a specialty comb on the long, knotted fur under his belly, “he wasn’t having any of it.” The couple plans on taking Hobo when they travel in their RV. “Wherever we go, he’s going with us,” Efird says.

Guerman occasionally visits Hobo and the Efirds. She gave him an egg-shaped cat bed for his birthday in what turned out to be a failed attempt to accommodate his size. “He selected their house, and it looks like he’s happy,” says Guerman, who has another cat named Knopka. “For me, it’s painful because I lost him again, so there is no hope now that he will be in my home. But it’s better for him.”

Now that Hobo has settled in, Efird says he’s become another member of the family. “This guy just wants to lay around and be loved,” she says. “And that works for us.”