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Stowaway cat returns to Sechelt after barge journey to Victoria

Duchess was discovered and turned over to animal control in Victoria after an unexpected adventure

A stowaway discovered onboard a gravel barge in Victoria has been safely returned to her home in Sechelt after a long journey. 

In the morning of Jan. 24, Victoria Animal Control Services got a call after someone found a cat on a barge in the Rock Bay area. The barge departed from Surrey, before stopping in Sechelt and carrying on to Vancouver Island with aggregate — and an unexpected feline passenger — onboard. 

When she arrived at the pound, the cat was scanned for a microchip, but one couldn’t be found, and she didn’t have a tattoo ID or collar. The file noted she was skinny and dirty, though staff said she was a good-looking cat. So the organization put a post on social media, hoping someone would recognize the cat, a tabby with green eyes.

Senior animal control officer Ian Fraser said they initially didn’t know if the cat came over from the Lower Mainland or was a local cat who climbed into the barge from Victoria. When asked if this happens often in Victoria, Fraser said no. Sometimes they’ll find a cat in a moving van, or there was a dog who went missing during a visit from Calgary with his family. That dog was found near a school, likely, it’s assumed, because of his daily walks at home to see his owner, a teacher. 

“Those kind of weird things do happen from time to time,” Fraser said. 

Some social media commenters said the cat should be named Sailor or Bargeory, but her real name turns out to be Duchess.

Even though Kate-Lynn Dixon doesn’t use Facebook, one of her friends recognized her son Elias Joe’s cat, and asked Dixon if Duchess was missing. “She sent me the screenshot of the photo, and I’m like ‘Oh my God, that’s Duchess.’

“She’s an indoor-outdoor cat,” Dixon said. “She comes and goes as she pleases.” 

Dixon describes Duchess as “a handful." Usually, Dixon keeps a window in the house cracked open for the family’s cats to wander in and out of. When snow began to fall earlier in the month, Dixon was worried for Duchess in the cold, but her youngest son said he’d seen her several times. 

Their family home is a two-minute walk from the gravel conveyor belt in Sechelt. Dixon’s theory is that Duchess was chased by a coyote, jumped on the belt and then just kept exploring.

“I thought she was crazy. I couldn’t believe it, but it was definitely her,” Dixon said. “We do live like 300 feet away from the conveyor belt, so it was so possible.”

Dixon contacted the Victoria Animal Control Services the same day Duchess was found. It took a few more days of sending photos back and forth to confirm the stowaway cat really was Duchess. In her scared state, her fur was puffed up around her usually pointy face, and she was skinnier than normal. Joe’s cat has two small kinks at the end of her tail, which were used to verify her identity. 

On Jan. 26, Duchess started her long journey home with a relative of Dixon’s who lives in Victoria. Dixon and Joe went to the Pitt Meadows area of Katzie First Nation to meet their relatives. Traffic and ferry delays meant Duchess’s return trip took much longer than expected, but around 7:45 p.m. the family was reunited. 

“My youngest son came with me and he was super excited. We got her from one truck to the other in a kennel and I cleaned my truck out completely and folded up the backseat so she had more laying space. As soon as I took her out, she jumped on Elias’s lap and just hung out with him.”

After one barge sailing and two ferry rides, Duchess was back where she started her adventure.

After settling in back at home — and under close watch — Dixon granted Duchess outdoor privileges on Saturday, Feb. 3. This time, the cat came back the very same day.