HINESVILLE, Ga. (WSAV) — After months of being separated by thousands of miles, a lost calico cat named Cauliflower has been located and reunited with her thankful owners in Georgia.
Lucie Bénévise said she and her husband, Devin Lane, were preparing to move from South Korea to Hinesville, Georgia, when her beloved “Cauli” disappeared.
Lane, who serves as a U.S. Army medic, was relocating to Fort Stewart from his military base at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek along South Korea’s western coast.
While preparing for the big move, the recently married couple had to ensure their cat had all the necessary shots and vaccinations.
“In order to import her to the U.S., we needed three rounds of shots, we needed the rabies vaccine, we needed a health certificate, an import certificate,” said Bénévise, who was born in Paris, France, and lived a number of years in South Korea, where she met her husband.
Cauli’s rabies vaccine had to be completed at least 30 days prior to her departure to the U.S., and the couple was running short on time.
“I literally got my American visa maybe two weeks before my Korean visa expired, so I had about two or three weeks to get a flight to come here,” Bénévise told WSAV.
While waiting for her husband to join her in the U.S., Bénévise planned to fly to the states and briefly stay in Texas with her mother-in-law, who owns dogs.
“I couldn’t possibly bring this responsibility onto to her, like, ‘Hey, you need to help me, and you also have to accommodate my cat with your two dogs,’” Bénévise said.
Instead, Bénévise and Lane created Facebook posts in various Camp Humphreys military spouse groups seeking a foster family for Cauli.
The hope was that a kind, pet-loving family would take care of Cauli for at least two months until the cat could fly with Lane to the U.S. as he wrapped up his duties in South Korea.
“We found this really awesome family who had arrived maybe one month earlier,” Bénévise said. “They were like, ‘We had to leave our cat back home in the U.S., so we would be more than happy to foster your cat for a couple of months until your husband is ready to fly back with her.’”
About a week after leaving Cauli with the foster family, Bénévise set off on her first trip to the U.S., without her husband or her pet.
‘It honestly was soul-crushing’
By the end of October, Lane and Cauli were ready to join her in North America. The Army medic had to report for duty in Georgia by Nov. 3.
Lane and his cat were set to depart from Incheon International Airport around 9 a.m. on Oct. 30.
One of Lane’s friends drove him to pick up Cauli from her foster parents’ home around 5 a.m., and they returned to the barracks so another pal could join them on the ride to the airport, according to Bénévise.
“While they were waiting for [their] friend, they decided to let the cat roam in the car so she could have more freedom or feel more comfortable,” she said.
The car’s driver then opened the trunk, where Cauli was located.
“She freaked out, she jumped out of the car and ran away out of fear because she had no idea what’s going on, she was in a strange environment and everything,” Bénévise said, adding, “so that’s how she got lost.”
In an effort to buy time and continue searching for Cauli at the military base, Lane changed his flight date.
“Unfortunately, by the end of the weekend, he hadn’t found her and he was forced to get on the flight because he still had to be here to report for his next duty station,” Bénévise said.
The couple’s reunion at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was overshadowed by the reality that their pet was lost in a country over 7,000 miles away.
“It honestly was soul-crushing,” said Bénévise, who first fell in love with Cauli when she was a stray kitten in late 2017.
“I just needed to have this cat, she was so cute,” Bénévise recalled. “I think back then, she was only like 2 or 3 months old, she was really small and really adorable.”
As the 2020 holiday season approached, Bénévise and her husband reached out to friends and strangers online in South Korea, asking them to keep an eye out for Cauli.
“We had made a bunch of posts in the Facebook spouse groups for Camp Humphreys, and every single post we made, we would increase the reward,” Bénévise said.
The couple first offered a $500 reward, then later $1,500 for her return.
The couple received several photos from people who spotted cats that looked like Cauli.
“You try so hard, and it’s just like disappointment after disappointment several times a week,” Bénévise said, revealing that after a while, people told her to simply give up searching for her cat.
“Some of my friends were like, ‘It’s okay, Lucie, you did everything you could,’ and I knew, like, I didn’t do everything I could, I can still continue,” she said. “‘I don’t think I should give up.’”
‘I just felt so much relief’
Then, around 5 a.m. on Dec. 27, Bénévise said, her husband excitedly shook her awake.
He had received a photo of a calico cat along with a text message that read: “Hey, is this your cat? We’ve been petting this really friendly cat, and she won’t leave us alone, so we gave her some tuna.”
Bénévise examined the image. “It was so blurry, but I know it’s her, I know it’s her,” Bénévise said. “It is her coloring, it’s her face.”
It turned out that Cauli hadn’t strayed far away at all. She was found, dirty and weighing a bit less, roaming the same military base where she’d gotten lost.
Her previous foster family again tooke care of the cat until she was able to reunite with her family in Georgia.
Getting their pet to the States turned out to be challenging, Bénévise shared.
They needed someone in the military who was able to fly from South Korea to either Atlanta, Charleston or any international airport within five hours of driving distance from the couple.
“Somebody messaged me, ‘My 22-year-old son is going to Atlanta on Jan. 9,’” Bénévise said. Then, the day that she’d waited six months for finally arrived.
“He was holding her bag around his neck, and he handed me the bag, and I gave him a little sum of money to thank him for doing that,” she said of the airport reunion. “I know that it couldn’t have been easy to have the cat with him during the flight, but he said she was fine.”
Bénévise, her husband and Cauli finally headed home to Hinesville for the first time as a complete family.
“She ended up on this cat tower, and she has not left the cat tower ever since,” Bénévise said as Cauli relaxed on the tower behind her.
“She’s always just been there with me through the good and bad,” she added. “I just felt so much relief. I know that nobody can love her as much as I love her.”