Jennifer Karl, a resident of Washington, D.C., and formerly of Jersey City, will forever remember the Town of Harrison. At first, it might have been for all the wrong reasons. But as it turns out, it will instead be for all the right reasons.
A few weeks ago, Karl was heading back D.C. after spending the holidays with her mom. On her way home, there was a traffic detour to get onto the NJ Turnpike, and somehow, she wound up at the Speedway at the foot of Passaic Avenue.
She had to pee, so she pulled the Jeep she’d rented into the parking lot and quickly ran in.
When she finished, and went back outside, the Jeep — gone.
Maybe she just forgot where she parked it?
It was gone.
And yet, it was not the rental being stolen that concerned her. It was her cat, Willow, who was in the vehicle. The thief took off with the Jeep and Willow inside it.
Despondent, Karl returned to her mom’s in Jersey City.
“It was horrible,” Karl, back in Washington, D.C., told The Observer late last week. “The initial loss of Willow — the stress and anxiety it brought — caused the most terrifying days of my life. I was beside myself. I was powerless.”
Thing is, she really wasn’t powerless.
She says the responding officers from the Harrison Police Department, who took the missing cat and car report were wonderful. One even gave her a ride back to Jersey City. Afterward, she took to social media and her pleas to find Willow were shared by the tens of thousands of concerned people on Facebook and other platforms.
Then, about a week later, came news the car was found — in Newark.
But Willow they did not find.
Enter the media. Karl says The Observer was the first news agency to share information about Willow’s disappearance. Then, WNBC, Channel 4, did a segment. Both noted that poor Willow was inside a pink carrier, one that wouldn’t be too hard to detect, even from afar.
Enter a Good Samaritan, who wanted anonymity, who then called Newark police to say he’d found some of Karl’s items that must have been in the Jeep, strewn about his backyard. With this in mind, the man returned the items to Newark PD — and once Karl was informed of this, the supposition was that Willow had to be nearby.
So a group of Trap, Neuter and Return cat enthusiasts joined with Karl, went to the neighborhood where the items were found and they set up cages and posted flyers with the hopes they’d eventually find Willow.
One the second day, someone spotted Willow, resting, out of her carrier, not too far away from where the car’s items were first found.
It was the Feline Miracle in the Brick City.
“When I saw her, I was just floored,” Karl said. “At first, she was scared. But then she started to smell me. I gave her salmon treats.” After about 30 minutes under the tree, the 11-year-old cat came to her, finally, after an ordeal of a lifetime.
“She’s such a tame cat,” Karl said. “When she realized it was me and she began purring, it was exhilarating. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life.”
And while others may have given up — especially when the Jeep was recovered without Willow in it — Karl said she never gave up hope the pair would be reunited.
“After they found the Jeep, I was certain we’d find her,” she said.
One of the people who helped Karl throughout this ordeal was Monika Dabrowski, a former resident of Harrison who is a cat lover.
It was Dabrowski (and Kathy West) who contacted this newspaper for help. Dabrowski’s persistence paid off — and her hard work led to Willow’s safe return to her mom. In fact, Dabrowski was in Newark and was the one who first spotted Willow under the tree.
“I just really wanted this cat found. She reminded me of my late cat — they look identical. For me to then be the one to actually find her first? It’s just insane and I’m in shock,” Dabrowski said in an email to The Observer. “I was at the scene the day before as well to search and knew I had to come back the next day with a group and really poke around those yards since that’s where the carrier was possibly last spotted and the area is a little rough so I didn’t want to be alone. (We did this) until every lead and avenue was exhausted. Turned out the area is more residential than it might appear, full of friendly and helpful people. I talked to a lot of them to help spread the word.
“I think all of this was nothing short of being at the right place at right time, but driven by a strong sense of not giving up. For Jennifer, for me, for all of those involved and all of those who helped to spread the word.
“Ultimately, a group effort for sure, but to think if I didn’t go and I didn’t look where I looked as we were ready to leave that area then I hate to think she would have been overlooked and left there for I don’t know how many more days. Or worse.”
Dabrowski says she was moments from leaving when she spotted Willow.
“I was about to get in my car to go put more flyers further out from the scene of the dumped vehicle,” she said. “I had parked next to a fence and a garbage can was there so before I got in my car I had to look one last time. I thought, maybe the carrier is in that garbage can? It wasn’t. But I looked over the fence and there was Willow! What? In the back of that yard, next to a shed and lying down ever so calmly on an old chair cushion next to an empty blue cooler turned on its side.
“She was peacefully staring right at me. I instantly knew it was her.”
And it sure was. And now, Willow is back home in D.C., where she rightfully belongs.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.