Summit Lost Pet Rescue finds missing cat after 68 days

Juliet Alvarado, left, is pictured with her cat, Nala, and Brandon Ciullo, who helped rescue Nala along with other Summit Lost Pet Rescue team members after she was missing for 68 days.
Photo from Brandon Ciullo

DILLON — Summit Lost Pet Rescue has done it again.

The nonprofit, which works to find and return lost pets to their owners, found Juliet Alvarado’s cat, Nala, 68 days after she went missing following a car crash.

Alvarado was driving with Nala on Interstate 70 on June 5 when she was involved in a car crash between the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels and Silverthorne. Nala bolted into the nearby woods. Emergency personnel took Alvarado to the hospital and tried to look for Nala, but they didn’t find her.

“I remember being in the hospital and just crying the whole time because I just kept thinking about Nala,” Alvarado said. “I didn’t care about my well-being; I cared about getting her back. In that moment, I felt like my whole world was crushed because we have that type of bond, like a best friend bond. She understands me perfectly well.”

Alvarado adopted Nala at a feline rescue center in Denver two years ago when Nala was only 3 months old. Alvarado knew she wouldn’t be able to find another cat like Nala. After a few days, Summit Lost Pet Rescue was alerted to the situation, and nonprofit co-founder and President Brandon Ciullo took on the mission of tracking down Nala.

Ciullo called the mission a story of hope and perseverance. 

The “pet detective,” certified through the Missing Animal Response Network, explained that animals typically stay within 1 mile of the car crash in which they were involved. Ciullo and his team put up four cameras in the area a quarter- to half-mile away from one another. 

On June 10, a picture of Nala turned up on one of the cameras, confirming she was alive. Ciullo put out wet cat food and sardines to try to draw Nala out, but the food brought in other animals like deer, fox and bears, and Nala went into hiding. 

Summit Lost Pet Rescue uses cameras to track and eventually trap missing pets.
Photo from Brandon Ciullo

Two to three weeks later, Ciullo started tossing Nala’s dry cat food around the area twice per week hoping she would come out of hiding in the middle of the night to eat. A few more weeks went by, and Alvarado asked Ciullo whether she should accept that her cat was gone, but Ciullo knew she was still alive.

“My gut told me that she was still alive because the bears don’t eat cats. Obviously the deer and elk don’t eat cats. Foxes aren’t going to go after a cat,” Ciullo said. “I knew that she didn’t get eaten. My only thought was that maybe she got pushed away, the animals ran her out. … I decided to keep the cameras there, and on July 17, about 5 1/2 weeks later, I got another picture of her confirming that she was alive.”

Ciullo took all the food out of the area, effectively getting rid of all the other animals, which was when camera sightings of Nala became increasingly frequent. Ciullo worked with volunteers Troy and Kendra Peterson to try to trap Nala. Unarmed traps were put out and surrounded with dry cat food. Then the cat food was put inside the traps. Nala didn’t react to the traps at first, but then she became curious. 

After noticing that Nala was trap-shy, the team disarmed the traps to avoid scaring her off in the event a trap failed. On Aug. 10, Ciullo decided Nala was comfortable enough with the traps that they could be rearmed. Nala was trapped that night. The Petersons checked the traps periodically throughout the night, and Troy Peterson found Nala on the first shift Aug. 10. 

Juliet Alvarado holds her cat, Nala, at Summit County Animal Control and Shelter.
Photo from Brandon Ciullo

The next morning, Nala was taken to the vet and had a clean bill of health, only losing half a pound. She was cleaned up and taken to Summit County Animal Control and Shelter. Alvarado drove to the shelter from Denver that week to reunite with her cat.

“It was super emotional,” Alvarado said about seeing Nala again. “I just couldn’t believe that she was right there, in my face. I honestly feel like she knew who I was just because of how she reacted. As soon as I called out to her and put my hand out, she just wanted me to pet her.”

With Nala back home, Alvarado said it’s like she never left. She was worried that Nala would be different after the experience but has been relieved to find that Nala is just the same cat as she was before.

Ciullo said he essentially dedicated his summer to finding Nala and believes people give up on missing cats too early.

“This cat was missing for 68 days on the side of I-70,” Ciullo said. “That gives a lot of people hope. … I’m happy I followed my gut, followed my instincts, because it paid off.”

REUNION!! Nala is HOME!!! ?? Nala and her mama both waited a long 68 days to see each other again and the reunion was…

Posted by Summit Lost Pet Rescue, Inc. on Sunday, August 16, 2020

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