A homeless man, a faithful pet owner, and a lost cat inspired London-based author Britt Collins to put an incredible journey of love and change in words.
In June 2013, Britt Collins was researching an article when she came across a news headline that caught her attention: "Homeless Man Travels 3,600 Miles to Take Cat Back Home," it read. Touched by the tenderness and adventure portrayed in the short article, the British journalist knew right away she wanted to know more.
After countless interviews that eventually lead to a friendship with each of the people involved, she wrote "Strays," an authentic tale of the true story of what happened when a lost cat met a man lost in his grief.
Always a drifter, Michael King left his family home when he was only fifteen. He plowed his own path from the moment he ran away, and with help from a kind foster father, he made a life for himself. He fell in love with a man, moved in with him, and was finally happy for several years. But when Michael's life partner passed away, the demons from past family traumas he thought he'd conquered came rushing back.
Overcome with grief, he left his home, abandoned his possessions, and found the only solace he could at the bottom of a bottle. He ended up in Portland where he joined crowds of homeless all sleeping on the streets and saving every dollar earned for booze and cigarettes. Michael and his friend were scrounging for food one night when they found a sick-looking cat huddled under a picnic table. It was hurt and obviously scared, but Michael managed to coax her to him.
Michael cared for the cat that first night but never expected her to stay until morning. But when he sat up from the flattened cardboard box he used as a bed, the scruffy cat was still there. He named her Tabor, and their friendship grew from there.
Perched on his shoulder or riding on his backpack, the seemingly stray cat settled into life with her wayward friend. Together they walked the streets of Portland where Tabor turned into her own type of celebrity. Her compassionate human admirers would see the charismatic cat hanging out with Michael and his homeless friends and would stop and give a friendly pat on the head or scratch behind the ears. But only a few streets away, Tabor's real owner was grieving her loss and their own profound bond.
To Ron Buss, the beautiful cat fearlessly riding on Michael's shoulder was his lifelong companion, Mata. He took her and her littermate into his home when they were tiny kittens. Mata lived a happy life with Ron with the freedom to walk in and out the door as she pleased. When she didn't come home one day in 2012, Ron did everything he could, including talking to a pet psychic, to find her.
While one man was coping with the loss of a beloved cat, Michael was finding a new sense of calm and meaning to life. With his cat by his side, he had a reason to keep moving. He latched on to the responsibility of caring for Tabor, and he dedicated the little means he had to her well-being. When the season started to change in Portland, Michael planned for his annual trip to warmer climates. That year, he took his cross-country journey with Tabor on his shoulder.
They traveled through Oregon, California, the high plains of Idaho, and Montana facing everything from lonely rainy nights to coyotes. It was an incredible journey across America that taught Michael the value of friendship and inspired him to stop drinking and come to terms with his past. He was happy, but his emotions came crashing down at a vet's office in Montana.
Michael learned his cat had a microchip and a former owner was still looking for her. After internal deliberation, Michael made the difficult choice to contact the cat's owner. Ron was overjoyed to learn his long-last Mata was alive and well. Torn between doing the right thing and holding on to his best friend, Michael's life changed once again, this time with new purpose.
As a life-long animal lover, Collins set out to tell Michael's story with truth and sincerity. She wanted to put into words the healing power of animals. Her personal experiences with beloved pets in her own life inspired her to reach out to Michael and Ron, and "Strays," a compilation of adventure, mystery, and tenderness, was born.
You can order the compelling true story "Strays: A Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America" through Amazon or enter our giveaway and win the book for free! Sign up for our daily newsletter for your chance to win, compliments of publisher Simon and Schuster.
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All images by Xavier Armand and Tiziano Niero via Britt Collins
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