Chesterton Tribune



Saving Mili the cat is five week epic search

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Saved: After 35 days in the wilderness, Mili the Cat is rescued by Dunelanders Mike Davis and Jane Hullsiek, after she bolted from a moving van parked on the side of I-94 near the Ind. 49 exit. (Photo provided)


Cats are perverse creatures. By turns affectionate and malicious, yowlingly needy then serenely aloof, crafty one minute and asinine the next, they might have been put on earth solely to prove Emerson right, that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Cats are great believers in their own dignity, and for that reason easily embarrassed, yet they’ll upchuck a hair ball on your pillow and look you blandly in the eye while doing it.

Cats are supremely confident, tremblingly skittish, fickle, ungrateful, fussy, crude, inspired to acts of vandalism and bloodletting by ghostly voices only they can hear, and for all that we still welcome them into our homes and hearts, because in the end we need them more than they need us.

Except when they do need us. For cats are one other thing too: oblivious to their own best interests, maddeningly obstinate, suicidally willful, happy to sacrifice the nose to spite the face.

Consider, then, the case of Mili, a gray tabby who, on the night of June 30, bolted from her owners’ moving van while it was parked on the side of I-94, by the Ind. 49 exit near Saemann Road. A stupid move, even for a cat, but that much more stupid because Mili’s owners, en route from the Detroit suburbs to their new home in Palatine, Ill., couldn’t spare more than a few hours to hunt for her, by flashlight, through the tree line at the top of the embankment.

An indoor cat unaccustomed to the wilderness, Mili nevertheless went to ground, ignored her owners’ frantic pleas, figured she knew better. Perhaps she even watched as they finally drove away, heartbroken.

And there the story might have ended--just another house cat lost forever--had not one man made Mili his personal project. His name is Mike Davis, a Dunelander who was returning home from an evening of shopping in Michigan City when he chanced upon the moving van, saw the bob of flashlight beams, and stopped to help. Davis joined the search, really put his back into it, did what an animal lover does.

Mili, however, didn’t want to be found.

“We were at it for a couple of hours,” Davis remembers. “But the people had to leave. That was a terrible feeling. I felt pretty alone trying to find the cat. I felt sick.”

Sick enough to keep at it.

Davis began by distributing a LOST CAT flyer to 400 homes in the area. He got his hands on some live-traps, baited them, and placed them in likely spots along the tree line. He also mounted a game camera in the area, in the hope of capturing an image of Mili and getting some kind of a fix on her. “Every single day I set the traps and re-baited them. And I’d check them several times a day and at night.”

Then Davis enlisted the aid of Jane Hullsiek, who operates the Humane Society of the Dunes and has been rescuing cats for nearly half a century. What Hullsiek doesn’t know about wrangling wayward and orphaned felines isn’t worth knowing, and yet still Mili refused to be trapped, in unaccountable defiance of the genetic imperative hardwired into all cats everywhere to seek out and jump into shoe boxes, sauce pans, wastepaper baskets, laundry hampers, suitcases, woks, and other confined and enclosed spaces.

“We put food in the traps,” Davis says. “We put food on the side of the traps. We put food in front of the traps. But the cat never went inside the trap.”

“I rescue 100 animals off the streets every year,” Hullsiek adds. “I’ve been doing this for 41 years. Mili was the worst, the hardest, the most challenging.”

After three weeks without finding a shred of evidence that Mili was even alive, much less well, Davis and Hullsiek had begun to give up hope. “We just thought the cat was gone, had moved on elsewhere,” Davis says. Then, on July 20, he took his game camera’s SD card to the Westchester Public Library to read on a computer and sure enough got a glimpse of the prodigal cat. “There Mili was. I just about lost it in the library. I just froze up. They were asking me what’s wrong.”

So Davis and Hullsiek redoubled their efforts, took to setting the traps in shifts, Davis in afternoon and at night, Hullsiek in the morning. Hullsiek invested $400 in a remote-controlled live-trap and they began leaving food near it, just to get Mili used to the idea of the device. They bushwhacked their way through a labyrinth of dense thorny brush on the far side of the tree line and when they did found a trail leading to the old ceramic factory. Working a hunch they started baiting traps along that trail as well. Then, on discovering a groundhog burrow dug in the middle of it, they went about trying to trap the groundhog too, thinking maybe the beast had spooked Mili.

And still she refused to be trapped.

“By now we were thinking, ‘How much longer can we keep doing this?’” Davis says. “Our lives were completely put on hold by this cat. I had this sinking feeling. I didn’t know it was going to be such a long drawn-out process. But I just didn’t want to give up. I prayed every day and asked God to help me get the cat.”

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 5--fully 35 days after Mili lit out for the territories--Davis and Hullsiek re-baited their traps as usual but by now were focused on the groundhog. Remove the groundhog from the equation, clear space for the cat, that was the logic. Six hours later, at 4 p.m., they returned, hoping to find the groundhog in the cage but this time, at long last, finding Mili instead.

“We both freaked out,” Davis says. “We called the people in Palatine and they freaked out. It was just a great, great feeling. The people came back and hugged her and kissed her and played with her. I was so glad I got the chance to see that.”

The best part of it? “It was their wedding anniversary,” Davis says, “and the only present the woman wanted was having Mili back. And that’s what she got.”

Porter Police Lt. John Lane, who followed the search and has long known Davis to be an animal lover, now knows him to be the salt of the earth. “I’m frankly amazed by Mike’s commitment to help strangers. This is really what makes Duneland a place that someone would want to call home.”

The Humane Society of the Dunes is a not-for-profit entirely supported by tax-deductible donations. Send contributions to P.O. Box 2481, Chesterton, IN 46304



Posted 8/11/2017




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