Pepper the cat was probably only looking for a good place to take a nap when she crawled into the open U-Haul on Trevor Trail late last month.
She picked the wrong spot.
And the Alexander family’s beloved pet wound up on a wild five-day road-trip that took her 900 miles from her Crown Mountain home and captured the attention of social media along the way.
“The book should be in stores this summer,” quipped Steve Alexander while keeping the local Facebook community up to date on the family feline drama.
It all started on a recent Wednesday when Chandler Alexander visited his parents Steve and Casey following an extended at-sea tour as a Naval operations specialist.
After a few days, he packed up the U-Haul and headed for his new post in Key West, Florida.
Meanwhile, his sister Skyler was missing her cat.
“I was so upset,” said the 21-year-old Dahlonega resident and city employee.
Skyler and Pepper are close.
Understanding that not everyone’s a cat person, she put it in perspective for dog people.
“She is a dog to me,” Skyler said emphatically. “Every time I call her she comes to me. She sleeps in my bed every night. She’s a dog.”
And, on Wednesday, she was gone.
Puzzled by the disappearance, Steve took to Facebook and asked his neighbors to keep an eye out for a grayish cat on the loose, while silently worrying that coyotes were the culprit.
Then Casey had an epiphany.
She knew where Pepper was.
“We didn’t hear any coyotes,” she said. “I think we would have heard her if she had gotten eaten by a coyote.”
Steve alerted Chandler, who had just arrived at his new home.
“I texted Chandler and said ‘There’s a cat in your U-Haul,’” he said. “I know there is.”
Chandler is not a cat person. In fact, he’s allergic. So he wasn’t pleased when he searched the trailer and found a panicked Pepper.
“He calls back an hour later and he says ‘Dad there’s a freaking cat in my U-Haul,’” said Steve with a laugh.
Now the Alexanders were faced with the most pressing of pet problems. How to get the cat back?
Steve posted a picture of Pepper in a crate and jokingly asked if anybody wanted to give her a ride.
“If anyone happens to be in Key West and wants to bring a cat to Atlanta, just lemme know,” he said.
Surprisingly Steve got a response from a local buddy, Charlie Ziadie, who runs Exec. Pet Transportation. Ziadie just happened to have a driver in Miami and said he could give Pepper a lift.
Steve couldn’t believe his luck.
“We’re all celebrating,” he said. “I’ve got a guy in Miami that is going to get the cat and everything is perfect. For three hours.”
Hour four is when it all turned into a full blown cat calamity.
And Chandler learned a valuable lesson.
Cats and leashes don’t mix.
FANTASY SPORTS FELINE
“Chandler calls in a panic ,” said Steve. “And said ‘Dad, this freaking cat. I felt bad for it and put a collar and leash on it. I just wanted it to stretch its legs.’”
Steve knew where this was going.
“I say ‘It’s not a dog. You can’t just take a scared cat for a walk.”
But that’s exactly what happened.
Pepper quickly slipped the leash and ran into the south Florida night. A distraught Chandler held out hope that the cat was hiding in the expansive crawlspace beneath his apartment building. But, despite several searches, he could find no sign of Pepper.
Meanwhile Skyler carried on as best she could.
“I woke up Friday morning and I was so upset,” she said. “I could just picture her sitting somewhere dark and lonely and so scared. The worst part was I couldn’t do anything.”
All the while, news of Pepper’s unexpected journey spread across the internet.
Steve, who is a well-known NBA fantasy sports writer for NBC Rotoworld, recounted the tale of the missing pet to his listeners on his weekly podcast.
He even released an online survey asking his 24,000 Twitter followers who they’d prefer to have on their fantasy teams. Pepper the Cat won in a landslide, easily topping All Stars Ben Simmons and Draymond Green.
Skyler also posted a picture of Pepper and a plea for help on a Facebook group called Key West Lost Pets. The image was shared dozens of times as nearby residents searched the streets where the cat disappeared.
“They were amazing,” Skyler said. “People were walking around with metal food bowls and dropping food in it.”
SHIFTING TO ‘MOM MODE’
As for Skyler, she was just missing her cat.
“I was crying at work,” she said. “And they said ‘What’s wrong?’ And I told them the whole story.”
Ultimately she knew what she had to do
“We said the only way anybody is going to get that cat is if Skyler goes to Key West," said Casey.
And so at noon on Friday, she hopped in her Kia Soul with her good buddy Nick Leboeuf and headed south.
They stopped only for meals and gas. And 15 hours later they pulled into Chandler’s apartment just after 3 a.m.
Skyler had barely given her brother a hug before she heard something coming from under the building.
“As soon as I start talking I hear Pepper start screaming,” she said. “She’s meowing so loud. And I tell everybody ‘Shut up! Shut up!’”
In seconds Skyler was searching the dark crawl space of the apartment building.
“I was in mom mode so I climbed under the house,” she said. “And I don’t see her anywhere.”
Skyler followed the cries of her cat and found the frightened feline huddled in the rafters.
After much coaxing, she was able to guide Pepper back through an opening in the crawlspace ceiling and into her arms.
“She was still shaking,” said Skyler. “It was a very stressful 10 minutes.”
Back in Dahlonega, Steve held off on celebrating as he braced himself for another cat emergency.
But there would be no more escape attempts, as just after 2 a.m on Sunday morning Skyler and Pepper made their triumphant return to Trevor Trail.
Pepper was unscathed and very thirsty.
“The cat went over to the water bowl and she sat there” said Steve. “She drank water for five minutes straight.”
Last Friday as Skyler and Steve recounted the entire tale of the impromptu road trip, Pepper propped herself up in her owner’s lap and purred contentedly. The well-travelled feline looked as though she had no desire to explore any farther than the front porch for the time being.
And that’s just fine with the Alexanders.
“She’s so excited to be home,” said Skyler with a smile. “Because she knows. Because she’s my dog.”