Lessons from a Cat

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East Hampton-based photographer Doug Kuntz helped return a beloved family cat to its owners after it was list while the family was escaping war-torn Iraq and landed with thousands of other refugees on the shores of Greece. Mr. Kuntz and fellow volunteer Amy Shrodes then wrote “Lost and Found Cat,” chronicling the cat’s remarkable journey. Image courtesy Random House

By Dawn Watson

Like all the best children’s books, “Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey” tells a significantly more important tale than its title suggests.

Taken in its most simplistic form, the kids’ page-turner does indeed document a fluffy white feline’s travels, travails and eventual reunion with his family. But even the smallest child, upon hearing the words being read aloud, will understand that there’s more to this story than meets the eye. “Lost and Found Cat,” written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes and illustrated by Sue Cornelison, is a meaningful message of love and loss, of empathy and outreach, and ultimately, at its core, of compassion, grace and kindness.

Based on actual events, “Lost and Found Cat” allows readers—young and old—the opportunity to connect with an Iraqi family and their cherished pet as they are forced to make a harrowing escape from the dangers of Mosul to safe haven in Oslo, Norway. Through the telling of this story, it’s made clear that love is universal.

“When life in Iraq became too dangerous for Kunkush and his family, they risked everything to find a safe home. They carried him hundreds of miles, over mountains, through forests, and across the sea. But he got lost in the chaos when their boat landed in Greece, and his brokenhearted family was forced to continue on without him,” reads the book’s jacket. “Left behind, Kunkush was hungry and alone. Luckily some volunteers rescued the starving and bedraggled cat. The rescuers wanted to reunite the lost cat with his family, but could they ever be found? Against all odds, a worldwide search proved that a love of family breaks down all borders.”

It’s an interesting book for two Americans to write. Especially as they didn’t even know each other before they became involved in Kunkush’s rescue efforts. But that’s precisely why they both knew they had to tell the story, they say.

“These are people, just like us. They are no different than our family, and did what we would do if we had to leave our homes,” says Ms. Shrodes, a Denver-based marketing consultant who made it her mission to reunite Kunkush with the people who loved him most—matriarch Sura and her children Rihab (18), Hakam (16), Maab (11), Albab (10) and Ansab (9). “I can’t stress that point enough. So many refugees are treated like they aren’t even human. But we are all the same inside and we all seek and need love and kindness.”

Mr. Kuntz, an East Hampton-based photographer, learned of Kunkush’s incredible journey back to his family during the final legs of the cat’s trek. A veteran of many overseas missions to aid and document the lives of refugees in their escape from tyranny, he volunteered to deliver the furry feline back to his loving family.

Mr. Kuntz helped reunite Kunkush with family matriarch Sura. Doug Kuntz photo

 

The tearful reunion, which occurred near Valentine’s Day, 2016, brought a happy ending to more than just the family and their lost-and-found cat, he reports. The emotional tale was documented in a video shot by United Kingdom-based media outlet, The Guardian, which was viewed more than 20 million people in its first few days. And the “Lost and Found Cat” book by Mr. Kuntz and Ms. Shrodes, published by Random House this month, is already on its second printing, he says, adding that it’s a story that needs to be shared.

“It’s more important now than ever, because of what’s happening in the world and in our own country,” says Mr. Kuntz, who reports that he’s personally seen approximately 400,000 people seeking shelter and safety from terrorism, many of them fleeing for their lives, since 2015. “It’s a timely book that’s about a lot more than a cat.”

“These are not people who are leaving a place because they just want to be someplace that’s a little bit better,” adds Mr. Kuntz. “They are being bombed out of their homes, and facing the unspeakable. We need to hear and share their stories.”

Beyond that, it’s important that we all to do our parts—no matter how small—to help those in need, agrees Ms. Shrodes, who notes that a percentage of proceeds from the book are being donated to various charities.

“Kindness in the moment matters, so don’t hold back,” she says, adding that her time with Kunkush reinvigorated her resolve to keep helping where needed. “Choose kindness and keep the faith. Goodness is possible as long as we help more and continue to lift others up.”

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