HEBRON | When a region family left Southern Illinois after a holiday visit, they didn't know they had a couple of stowaways on their 285-mile, five-hour trek back home to Hebron.
Barb Soward, of Hebron, said she was shocked the next day when she went into her garage and found two cats -- two cats that belong to her daughter’s neighbor in Dahlgren, Ill.
She suspects the cats found a safe spot in the van’s spare tire compartment.
“We went down for a late Christmas gathering last weekend and we came back Sunday. Monday we go into our garage and there were two cats. I thought, 'Who would put these cats in our garage?’” Soward said.
After calling her own neighbors, Soward noticed one cat had a small collar with a phone number written in marker -- but in the day and age of cellphones -- the area code didn’t immediately solve the mystery.
“I called it and left a message and didn’t think anything of it," Soward said. "They called back and said they lived in Illinois and I thought, 'Oh my goodness.’"
The woman had no idea where Hebron was.
"I called back and asked where she lived and she said Dahlgren -- and it turns out she is my daughter’s neighbor.”
The cats, Oscar and Max, are being cared for by Soward and her granddaughter, Riley McCullough, 13, who also made the trip with the family.
“They’re very nice and it's amazing how far they traveled,” she said, noting that she is petting them a lot and will miss them when they go back home.
Soward said despite the fact that they typically only visit Southern Illinois every six months or so, they have a return visit planned next weekend.
Still, it amazes Soward and her family that the cats survived the trip.
“It was such bad weather. There was even ice on our antenna when we got home. ... We couldn’t believe it. It was just crazy," Soward said. "They will get a ride back to Southern Illinois -- but this time they’ll be inside the van.”