ITHACA, NY — It was the final Saturday of winter, but the air was warm when Rachel O’Brien headed out for a late afternoon walk around Ithaca with Freddie Mercury, her 4-month-old kitten.
Freddie was black, with a brownish sheen, and tiny, about 5 pounds. He came with the name, given by the Pennsylvania animal shelter staff in honor of the late lead singer of British rock band Queen.
And O’Brien, 20, came with a Freddie Mercury tattoo. It was the first tattoo she got, as soon as she was old enough to do so.
“That is my cat,” O’Brien recalled of the moment she saw Freddie online.
While Freddie had mostly been an indoor cat, he had gone on occasional walks with O’Brien, secured in a tiny cat harness.
He had been a little nervous that day, O’Brien recalled, but he never tried to get away so she wasn’t worried as they headed out near a local playground on March 19.
Not far into their walk, Freddie was started by a person walking by and “started freaking out,” she said. Suddenly, Freddie flipped out of his harness and dashed away.
Searching for Freddie
O’Brien spent the next days scouring the area for Freddie and putting up flyers with his photo. She posted on social media and set out a cat trap that a neighbor lent her.
“I just spent like every waking moment pretty much trying to find him,” O’Brien said. “It’s terrible. It’s what everybody goes through when their pet is missing.”
Days passed and O’Brien was overwhelmed with thoughts of Freddie, so small and helpless. He’s her baby, she said, and he was gone.
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Finally, on March 25 around 10 pm, O’Brien’s phone row.
It had been 6 days since she had seen Freddie and his return seemed more unlikely each day. She also didn’t recognize the number and thought it might be spam or a well-meaning person who thought they found Freddie.
On the other end was a little boy. “I found your cat,” he said, adding that O’Brien’s number was on the collar.
He described Freddie perfectly, O’Brien said, and when the young boy tried to pronounce the name inscribed on the kitten’s collar “he had no idea who that was.”
“Freddie Murky?” he said.
O’Brien asked for the address, ready to pick Freddie up that night. When the family told her, she thought it odd that she didn’t recognize the street name. She’d lived in Ithaca her entire life, and never heard of the street they told her.
She typed the address in Google Maps and was shocked by the location: Freddie was in West Berlin, New Jersey. Almost 250 miles away.
Freddie’s ‘miraculous’ returns home
The next morning, O’Brien and her mother made the 4-hour drive from Ithaca.
The family told O’Brien that Freddie had simply walked up to their home to play with their cats and children.
They fed him and kept him safely inside until O’Brien could get there.
“It came down to the kindness of this random family,” O’Brien said. “Not everyone would do that.”
O’Brien said Freddie lost a little bit of weight on his adventure – but he didn’t have any cuts, scratches or signs of trauma.
Freddie slept in O’Brien’s lap during the long drive home, waking only to eat pieces of deli turkey hand-fed to him.
He’s been as happy as ever since his return, O’Brien said, just more vocal. “Now he yells a lot,” she said.
O’Brien added that Freddie will now be strictly an indoor cat.
“The likelihood that anything this miraculous is ever going to happen again, I’m not gonna get this lucky,” O’Brien said. “I’m not going to risk it. I’m going to keep his little booty inside.”