Willow the cat avoided a potential “cat-astrophe” when she accidentally became trapped in a car at Manchester Airport for 11 days without food and water - but miraculously survived.
AASMA DAY talks to Willow’s owners in Lancashire about their pet’s amazing escapade and their gratitude at being reunited with her.
The ancient myth stating that a cat has nine lives is related to the animal’s ability to always land on their feet.
Ellen Ferguson and her family have heard all the cat puns about their pet Willow and how she has used up many of her nine lives during her intrepid adventure.
Although Ellen laughs along affectionately to the good natured teasing, she feels a deep sense of relief that the beloved family pet survived after enduring the ordeal of becoming accidentally trapped in a car at Manchester Airport and spending 11 days without food and water.
Ellen, 39, who is married to Brendan and has children Cian, 14, Conlin, 11, Logan, seven and Mary-Erin, four, explains that Willow had always been a homebody who was reluctant to stray too far from home which is why it was so unusual when she suddenly disappeared.
Ellen, who lives in Euxton, near Chorley, says: “We are very much an animal loving household and have got a dog, two cats, a rabbit, three chickens, a goldfish, a hamster - and we have recently got a new kitten.
“We got Willow from a breeder when she was 12 weeks old. She is a silver tabby like in the Whiskas adverts and she is now eight years old.
“Our other cat Tiggs tends to wander around a lot through the estate, but Willow has always tended to stay close to home.”
The familiar sight of Willow waiting in the cul-de-sac for the cars to come home and for her owners to feed her is what the Ferguson family were used to greeting them each day. When they woke up one morning and went downstairs expecting to see both of their cats, they were taken aback when Willow wasn’t there, but assumed she had just gone for a wander.
However, when they returned home from work that evening and there was still no sign of Willow, they began to get concerned.
Ellen, a primary school teacher at St Catherine’s Primary School in Leyland, says: “Normally, it is like clockwork and Willow is there waiting for you to arrive home from work and is hungry for her food.
“When there was no sign of Willow in the evening either, we started checking our own garden and shed.”
At first the family thought Willow’s inquisitive nature had led her to become stuck in a neighbour’s garage or shed as the feline had previously got into similar scrapes.
Ellen explains: “Willow doesn’t like going too far from home, but she is very nosey and sometimes we found her accidentally locked in our own garage or in a neighbour’s garage.
“One evening, when we couldn’t find Willow, I walked up and down the cul-de-sac looking for her and calling her when I suddenly heard her miaowing in the next door neighbour’s garage.
“So when she went missing on this occasion, we thought something similar had happened.
“When there continued to be no sign of her , we began knocking on neighbours doors and asking them to check their garages.”
By the third day of Willow’s absence, the anxious family made posters and put them on lamp posts and on noticeboards in pubs and shops.
The family also made fliers informing people Willow was missing and posted them through people’s letterboxes.
Ellen registered Willow on a missing pets website, but as the days went by, the family feared there wasn’t going to be a happy ending.
Ellen recalls: “Our children were beginning to get very upset as it was not like Willow to go missing for so long.
“Willow is a very friendly cat and very approachable so we tried to console ourselves with the thought that someone had taken her because she was a pedigree and just hoped she was happy and healthy.”
Just as the family had almost given up all hope of Willow being found, Ellen received a telephone call out of the blue a full 11 days after Willow’s disappearance.
To her astonishment, Ellen was told by a vet in Cheadle Hulme that Willow had been found in a car at Manchester Airport - 30 miles away from her home.
It transpired that Willow had unintentionally hitched a lift to the airport in a car belonging to unsuspecting holidaymakers and unbeknown to them, the cat was hidden in the back of the car when they parked it at Terminal One.
They only discovered a distraught Willow when they returned to their vehicle after their 10 day holiday and alerted police at Manchester Airport.
Incredibly, Willow had survived the traumatic ordeal despite going without food or water for 11 days.
Ellen explains: “It is all a complete mystery as none of our neighbours had been on holiday.
“It seems Willow sneaked into the car of someone visiting our estate before they went to the airport. Either that or she went on a shorter journey in a car or delivery van first and then got into the car she ended up in.
“Willow was found in the main part of the car, not the boot. She must have been hiding under the seat when they drove to the airport.
“Apparently, the car owners discovered Willow when they returned to their car after their 10 day holiday.
“They found their car in a right mess and Willow was in a bit of a state and very shocked by the whole thing.
“We were put in touch with Manchester Airport CID and they told us that Willow had been taken to the vets and scanned for a microchip and that’s how they realised she belonged to us.
“Our children were absolutely over the moon and we couldn’t believe Willow was alive and safe after all this time.”
Willow had lost a lot of weight and her fur had fallen out due to the trauma of her experience.
The Ferguson family “grounded” Willow for a while so she could regain her strength and recover from her ordeal.
Willow’s fur has now grown back and she has made a full recovery and is back to her normal self.
Ellen says: “We cannot believe that Willow managed to survive 11 days without food and water. Luckily, she had a bit of extra weight to spare.
“The whole experience has made us paranoid and extra vigilant but Willow is back to her old self and has not learned from it at all.
“She is still nosey and loves poking around in cars and she often gets in my car when I’m unpacking the shopping from the car.
“The only thing we don’t know is whose car Willow got in to get to the airport. It is the missing piece of the jigsaw.
“I would love to know the people who discovered Willow in their car and I want to pass on my thanks to them for ensuring she was returned to us.
“Their car must have been a right mess after Willow being stuck in it for 11 days.”
Ellen says the family’s reunion with their pet cat would never have been possible if Willow hadn’t been microchipped and she is urging other pet owners to ensure their pets are microchipped.
Ellen says: “Luckily, we had Willow microchipped as soon as we got her.
“Without the microchip, Willow would still have been discovered at Manchester Airport in time and been safe and well, but there is no way she would have been reunited with us.
“I am a strong advocator of microchipping and would encourage anyone with a pet to get them microchipped.
“Pets are part of our family and we look after them in the same way we would a human being who was part of our family.
“Willow may well have used up one of her nine lives, but we are just so glad we had a happy ending by getting her back.”
A Manchester Airport spokesman, said: “Everyone at the airport is delighted to hear that Willow is doing well after her adventure.
“It was quite a surprise for our staff when they were asked to assist with a cat locked in a car.
“Thankfully Willow was microchipped so she was able to be reunited with her owners quickly.”
• Ian Massey, senior environmental health officer at Preston Council, says: “It is a legal requirement for dogs to be microchipped.
“This is for reasons such as strays being reunited with their owners.
“However, this story about the cat demonstrates how if any pet is lost, if they are scanned, we can find out who they belong to.
“Some of those pets are not cheap, irrespective of the emotional attachment people can have to their animals.
“This example of the cat Willow highlights how important it is to get an animal microchipped, but also to keep details up to date.
“It is only possible to reunite pets with their owners if their contact details are kept up to date.
“People have such busy lives, they sometimes forget to update their address for microchipping when they move home.
“I think it is wonderful that Willow the cat has been reunited with her rightful owners and it is nice to hear a happy ending.”