A visit by a normally antisocial cat was the first sign to Rotorua couple Shirley and Monte Mason that something was wrong with their neighbour.
Sylvester the cat is being credited with saving the life of his 90-year-old owner, Patricia Kerr, after she was found stuck in a cold bath at her home this week.
Sylvester, a ginger, part-Persian stray that Mrs Kerr adopted about five years ago, turned up at the Masons' door on Tuesday and began miaowing.
The Masons thought it strange that the "odd, antisocial" cat, which they said did not like to be touched by anyone other than Mrs Kerr, had come to their house when Mrs Kerr was home.
"The cat did come over and it did yell on the doorstep," Mrs Mason said. "It was hungry."
Mrs Mason tried calling Mrs Kerr but the phone was engaged so she figured Mrs Kerr was okay, and she and her husband left to go to a funeral.
When they returned, the retired couple saw Mrs Kerr had not left her rubbish bag out for Mr Mason to put on the street, as had been her habit since a fall this year.
The couple tried phoning again and again the phone was engaged. By now worried, they went next door and walked around the house, calling out to their neighbour of 20 years.
When they got no response, they called the police.
Officers broke into the house and found Mrs Kerr stuck in the bath.
It was not known how long she had been there, but the water had gone cold, she was hypothermic and, according to Rotorua's Daily Post newspaper, was "pretty well gone".
The 90-year-old was taken to Rotorua Hospital, where she remained yesterday, recovering but reluctant to talk about her ordeal. However, the Masons told the Herald that if it had not been for Sylvester and the missing rubbish bag, Mrs Kerr might not have been found alive.
Mrs Mason, 81, and her 79-year-old husband were praised by Mrs Kerr's son, Murray, who said the couple deserved recognition for their actions.
Mr Kerr said his mother was a strong-minded, independent woman who was reluctant to live in a retirement home. But he now planned to move her closer to his home in Auckland.
Mrs Kerr had been told not to have baths without her carer to help, but the Masons said she was determined and did not always do as she was told.
Senior Sergeant Tony Colby of Rotorua police said: "Obviously the fact the neighbours did ring us was hugely beneficial to her because she was stuck there on her own."
Sylvester was keeping a low profile yesterday and, after being fed by the Masons in the morning, had disappeared. "He's gone to bed for the day," Mr Mason said.By Juliet Rowan Email Juliet