The nearly three-year-old copper and grey feline prowls around her Lake Shore Drive home, exploring everything with an outstretched neck and a curious sniff, with her older playmate, Shred, close behind to do the same.
Together, the pair are just as infamous for their journeys outdoors, say owners Kristin and Dennis O’Sullivan, with Shred often acting more like a dog, following his owners and jumping in snow banks, while Penny is known for her ever-blossoming role as a hunter, as many neighborhood moles and other critters can attest to.
One of Penny’s more recent outdoor adventures almost became her last, but instead produced a miraculous survival story that also turned strangers into friends.
In January, the two cats were out on one of their average mid-day romps around the woods of Duxbury and when dusk came, only Shred reported home.
“Sometimes Penny will stay out longer and that night we thought maybe she was out having a good time, but by the second night she didn’t come home, we knew better,” said Kristin.
That second Penny-less day was just another of the region’s zero and below temperatures that whips through both man and animal, so fears of the cat’s fate escalated. Search parties were formed with Penny’s name being called out in the bitter cold while spotted coyote tracks produced possibilities, but no true evidence of foul play.
More nights went by and the search expanded into “lost cat” signs on poles and in neighborhood mailboxes to see if someone had taken Penny in, unaware of her owners.
While the cat had not appeared, neighbors did, said Kristin, checking in on the search when they saw the couple and asking what they could do to help.
“We’ve lived here for a year and not really introduced ourselves [around the neighborhood] with work and the birth of our daughter, but we met new people who were so great to us and really wanted to do something,” she said.
One of the youngest residents of Lake Shore Drive was also its most active. Six-year-old Allison LaBelle was like others who heard of Penny’s disappearance, which had now reached ten days. She took the O’Sullivan’s flyers and drew her own picture of Penny and spread word of the cat’s disappearance to whomever she could.
“I wanted to help find her because it was so cold and I was scared that she could be frozen,” said LaBelle. “I was hopeful she’d be found.”
Two days after LaBelle’s personal crusade to find the cat, a minor miracle occurred.
Dennis was walking in the backyard of neighbor Dave Burns to check out the ice on Lower Chandler Pond when the two heard something very curious.
“We were headed near the shed and heard two or three faint meows and then it stopped,” said Dennis. “I looked behind us and saw Shred and Dave’s cat Molly, so I knew it wasn’t them. I immediately thought ëno way, it can’t be ñ it’s been 12 days.’”
The two shined a flashlight into a tiny opening in an upper corner of the shed, and Dave said he could see grey fur. Dennis then peeked in the hole and saw the unthinkable ñ Penny wedged tightly in the roof of the shed unable to move.
“All I could see was this ball of grey and I said we have to get some boards off and before I knew it Dave turned into Superman, ripping apart his shed,” said Dennis. “Her head popped out, she jumped down and just bolted back home.”
With the amazing discovery, a new search began to find Penny at home. Nearly an hour later, she was found in the basement happy to be home, but obviously shaken from her ordeal.
“She was extremely scared, so we brought food and water to her and we could tell she had lost a lot of weight,” said Dennis, who immediately called his wife to tell her the unthinkable.
As surprised as they all were, the shock of Penny’s reappearance was not lost on Shred either.
“Penny eventually came upstairs and Shred saw her and his reaction was just weird,” said Dennis. “It was like he was looking at a ghost and Shred circled her like he couldn’t believe she was alive.”
After a visit to the vet a few days later, the family was reassured of how lucky they truly were to see Penny again.
“Our vet told us that cats can live nearly two weeks without water because they can suppress kidney functions,” said Kristin. “She was found after 12 days, so two more days and things could’ve been different.”
The joy of Penny’s return quickly spread throughout the neighborhood, including LaBelle who got the good news on her sister’s birthday and soon after received a thank you gift from the O’Sullivans for her dedication to a cat she had never even met before.
The family is happy that a missing cat produced a lot of newfound friends in the neighborhood, but mainly that their beloved pet is home again and things are beginning to return to normal.
“She slept with us the whole week after she came home, which she never does,” said Kristin. “I’m not sure how many lives she used up out there, but after another week, Penny was ready to head outside again and we’re now closer with our neighbors.”