Lost … and Found!

First-year vet student loses cat on her drive to start classes at Cummings School
women sitting on the couch with her grey and white cat named squishy
Chelsea Berkowitz, V26, and Squishy were reunited after the cat spent three weeks lost in a national park.

In early August, Chelsea Berkowitz, V26 (she/her/hers), brother Nathan, and cat Squishy, started the 2,000-mile drive from San Antonio to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, where Chelsea would soon begin work toward a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

While stopped at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, Chelsea let Squishy out to roll in the grass and stretch her legs. “I’m not sure what happened, but something must have startled her,” Chelsea explains. “She backed out of the harness she was wearing and fell into a little swamp.” Chelsea jumped in but couldn’t find her. For several hours, she and Nathan feverishly combed over the area with no luck. 

“It was getting dark and Nathan had to catch a flight from Boston,” she laments. “He had taken time from work to ride with me and help me move, so it wasn’t an option to stay.” Reluctantly they departed, leaving Squishy in Ohio’s largest national park, spanning nearly 33,000 acres.

Squishy wanders into her life
Squishy had vanished from Chelsea’s life as oddly as she had entered it. A San Antonio native, after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Boston University, Chelsea returned to the Lone Star State and rented an apartment. A stray cat started hanging out around her apartment complex for several days. “One day I opened my door, and she ran inside, so I said to myself, ‘I guess I have a cat now,’” she muses. 

Although she had long wanted to become a veterinarian, Chelsea questioned her ability to handle the death of animals, so she gained experience in social work, fundraising/development, and sign language interpretation over the next several years. Squishy entered her life four years ago and, while volunteering at a wildlife rescue, Chelsea confronted her fear of loss. “I realized that I had figured out how to work through that, so it was time to try to become a vet,” she says. After completing the required prerequisite courses, she gained acceptance to Cummings School.

“With my experience in Boston as an undergrad, I knew I loved Massachusetts and I like the variety of opportunities offered here at Cummings School, especially with wildlife and exotics because that’s what I’m interested in,” Chelsea says. “The culture of the school seemed like a place where I could fit in.”

Blessed by the kindness of others
After arriving on campus without Squishy, Chelsea went online for help. “I looked at lost and found pet groups for that area, started posting, and people shared and commented on it,” she recalls. Maureen, a trapper in the Ohio area who helps people find their lost animals, reached out to Chelsea. 

This community formed around me and Squish,” she shares. “It was amazing. I sent them recordings of my voice and they went out in the area where I lost her and played my recorded voice. They made posters and searched on my behalf because I couldn’t be there. They were all strangers who went out of their way to help me.

As the days turned to weeks, Chelsea remained hopeful due to the efforts of this search party community. Twenty days after Squishy disappeared in a forest in Ohio, Chelsea received a text from a woman named Alyse: ‘I’m pretty sure I have your cat.’ Bewildered but filled with hope, Chelsea asked Alyse to share a photo. It looked like Squishy. After doing a FaceTime chat, Chelsea was almost certain. Alyse brought the cat to Maureen, who confirmed Squishy’s identity through a microchip.

“Alyse found her,” Chelsea says. “While searching the area, Alyse thought she saw Squish sitting on a stump, so she sat down, opened a can of stinky food, and shook a bag of treats, and after a few minutes, Squish ran over to her. Alyse gave her some food and water, wrapped her in a blanket, and contacted me.”

Alyse and Chelsea met halfway, each driving nearly six hours to a location in Pennsylvania, where Chelsea wrapped her arms around her adored friend for the first time in three weeks.

“For anyone who has ever lost a pet, it’s like losing a family member,” Chelsea contends. “My whole family is back in San Antonio—my wife and stepson—it’s just me and Squish here. And then I lost her—well almost. I still can’t believe that I have her back.”

Upon return to campus Chelsea brought Squishy to emergency services at Cummings School’s Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals, where she was evaluated, and administered antibiotics and fluids. Squishy had escaped from an attack and had some bite wounds which had abscessed into muscle and required surgery. “She pulled through that, had her sutures removed, and she’s back with me now. We have a very special relationship and I’m so thankful to all the generous people who helped me,” Chelsea beams. “One person even created a GoFundMe page to help me pay for Squish’s surgery. It’s been amazing. I wish I could show my gratitude to every person who helped me.”

After an unforgettable and emotional start to her time at Cummings School, Chelsea is eager to learn and gain experience. “I’ve made some really good friends during my first month here and was just offered a part-time job at a vet clinic in Westborough,” she shares, hoping to supplement her education with hands-on experience.

“I’m interested in wildlife medicine, especially avian, because I really love birds,” Chelsea explains, “But I’m keeping an open mind and looking forward to learning about many areas of veterinary medicine.”

And thanks to her perseverance, the generosity of strangers, and a sizable stroke of luck, Squishy will continue to purr by Chelsea’s side.

Department:
DVM Program