This is a story about the escape of a cat, its community adoption and a reunion after three and a-half years.

One day in late 2015, Nick van der Jagt was sitting in what was then Grid Coffee Roasters in Northeast Valley, a suburb in Dunedin, which she co-owned.

A friendly but cautious cat walked through the door.

The staff named it Tobi.


One of the regular customers loved cats and took the animal to the vet to get it checked, van der Jagt said.

''We found out it was a girl, but it was a bit too late.''

The name stuck around and so did the cat.

Levi Milner (7) is reunited with Bella, who was missing for three and a half years. Photo / ODT
Levi Milner (7) is reunited with Bella, who was missing for three and a half years. Photo / ODT

Tobi gradually settled into valley life.

''She used to love sleeping inside in a box,'' van der Jagt said.

''She loved the tourists, loved the attention. She used to go and [see] the neighbours in the morning, get a handful of biscuits, then come to us.''

In the winter, she slept at a neighbour's house and came to the cafe during the day.

''Ladies from the hospice would come and feed her. She was very much a neighbourhood community pet.''


Soon before the cat arrived at the cafe, a family had just moved from Purakaunui to Ravensbourne, into the former post office.

They arrived with their cat Bella, who was close to their son Levi Milner.

His father, Paul Milner, said the family picked her up as a small feral kitten after her mother was run over.

But days after they moved, she escaped out the house's old post slot.

''She hated the trucks and the trains,'' Milner said.

''That was the last we saw of her.''

Then about six months ago, Levi returned home from Northeast Valley Normal School saying he ''patted Bella today'', Milner said.

The couple did not know what to make of the comment.

Then last month Milner walked into the cafe which by then had new owners and was renamed Steep Cafe.

Like their Ravensbourne home - which the couple had since left - it was a restored post office.

There, sitting on a chair, three and a-half years on, was Bella.

''She was a bit shaggy and a bit darker but you just kind of knew.''

Now Bella (8) is settling into their house in Waitati.

''We are pinching ourselves. It's pretty surreal to have her back.

''She is having to get used to us again and a new house, but she's still really friendly with Levi.''

Van der Jagt said some in the valley would be sad to see her go.

''I think you kind of balance that with the fact she's got back with her family. That's pretty cool.''