Cat Reunited With Owners 26 Days After Home Collapses Into River

by Britt
Photo credit: Irina Yakimchuk /

It’s every pet parent’s worst nightmare – when Mother Nature rears her ugly head, and your pet is lost during a natural disaster. It’s a nightmare that Elizabeth Wilkins and her partner Tom Schwartz experienced firsthand when a glacial dam outburst flood sent record amounts of water down the Mendenhall River near Juneau, Alaska, last month. When the flood waters receded, two homes were complete losses, and several more were labelled as condemned.

One of the houses lost to the flood waters was the home Wilikins and Schwartz were renting. The moment the home collapsed into the river was captured by a drone recording and shared online for millions to see. You can see the video here:

While the loss of their home was catastrophic, there was one detail that made it even worse – the couple’s young cat, Leo, had disappeared during the disaster. With no sign of the black-and-white cat to be found, the couple was left with nothing but hope that his feisty, brave personality would eventually bring him back to his loving family.

“I knew that he’s pretty smart,” Wilkins stated, “and so I felt pretty confident that he would escape and be OK somewhere.”

Three days after the flood, the couple returned to Juneau to search for their beloved cat, and they weren’t alone. After hearing the heartbreaking story, many residents were searching for any possible sighting of the displaced cat in the hope that they could help bring him home.

After 26 days, Wilkins found the sign she was looking for.

She logged onto the Juneau Community Collective Facebook page and discovered a photo of Leo posted by Tonya Mead. Instantly recognizing her big-eyed “COVID kitten,” she wasted no time heading out to meet with Mead to search the area. After walking down the street and calling his name, Leo came running out to greet his worried mom for a heartfelt reunion.

“Leo was a little thinner but otherwise totally fine,” Wilkins reported. “He ate four cans of tuna and went outside to kill a mouse. I imagine that is how he survived.”

While the couple is happy to have their sweet boy back safely, it isn’t the end of the stress and change that follows an event of such great magnitude. When the river swept away the house, so too were all the couple’s possessions, including clothing, pictures, furniture, and keepsakes. As time passes, some of these items have been returned to them after turning up in local yards buried in silt.

Residents are still navigating their emotions and rebuilding the community following the disaster. Outburst floods aren’t uncommon in the area, but the extent of this flood was more than anyone could have predicted.

“The amount of erosion that happened from the fast-moving water was unprecedented,” reported Nicole Ferrin, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Leo is currently staying with a friend where he is safe while the family searches for a new place to live in the Juneau area. They look forward to moving forward with this next chapter of their lives as a happy and loving family.


Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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