Bastet the cat hasn't been found, despite the best efforts of Wisconsinites
TOWN OF NEENAH - No, Californian Kevin Graves hasn't found his missing cat, so this story doesn't have a happy ending, at least not yet.
Graves and Bastet, a 2½-year-old female gray tabby, were driving through Wisconsin on a cross-country adventure Feb. 24 when they were involved in a 131-vehicle pileup on Interstate 41 near Neenah. One person died, and 71 were injured.
Bastet escaped from Graves' SUV through a smashed back window. She was spotted several times by first responders and a tow operator, but they eventually lost track of her, and she hasn't been seen since.
"It's a dark time for me, honestly," Graves told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. "It's been a traumatic experience."
Amid the darkness of his loss, though, Graves has found a bright spot in the outpouring of support from Wisconsinites who've heard his story.
Three animal rescue organizations — Saving Paws, Almost Home and Valley Cats — are helping Graves look for Bastet. A cat-lover from Greenville gathered a group of volunteers to comb the area near the crash site. Live traps have been set. A nearby farm has been searched.
Lucy Putnam of Clintonville has distributed posters of Bastet to grocery stores, churches and factories in the I-41 corridor. The posters offer an undisclosed monetary reward for finding the cat.
Putnam is hopeful for a fairy-tale ending.
"Cats perform miracles all the time," she said. "There have been cats that have sheltered in the hold of airplanes and ships. Somehow they survive."
The local efforts have made it easier for Graves to return home to San Diego.
"I would not have left if I didn't feel that there were capable hands out there," he said.
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Before the crash, Graves knew very little about Wisconsin and its people.
"As I was going through it, I didn't see the appeal," he recalled. "It was farmland and winter, with no mountains."
Two weeks later, Graves has an appreciation for Wisconsinites and their willingness to help a stranger and his cat.
"We're talking about going back out there (to Wisconsin) and just seeing some of the people we've met," he said. "They've left a lasting imprint. That's wonderful. That's not something I have happen very often."
Graves has created a Facebook page titled Find Missing Bastet to help publicize his ongoing search. Anyone with information about Bastet can call Graves at 626-340-1809.
Two common lines of thought are that Bastet was towed away in the wreckage of a car or found her way to a nearby farm. Both theories have been explored.
Before he drove back to California, Graves searched the impound lot at the Neenah city garage and contacted the five tow companies that moved vehicles to or from the lot.
He also visited a nearby farm. "The farmer was really wonderful to us," he said. "He said he has stray cats that he feeds and that if she comes by, he would let us know."
Graves said if Bastet is alive, she's likely hunkered down somewhere, or she's being cared for by someone who hasn't heard his story.
"I thought that would be uncommon, but that's actually kind of common," Graves said. "I'm still getting calls from people who said they just read about it in the local paper."
Graves isn't surprised that Bastet didn't respond to calls from first responders or the tow operator in the aftermath of the crash.
"They were trying to get her," he said, "but she wasn't coming to them, which is very much like her. She is very independent."
Bastet was wearing a collar and a tag with Graves' contact information. She also is microchipped.