LAKE WORTH — He's a death-defying cat who stayed put and stayed alive — for two days in the Everglades.
Sam, an 11-year-old gray feline, was feared lost after he ran into the bush after his owner Nikki Saltzburg's minivan was involved in a wreck with another vehicle on Alligator Alley east of Naples Monday.
Now, thanks to social media and the generosity of strangers, the cat will soon be reunited with his owners.
"I couldn't even believe it," Saltzburg said of Sam's rescue. "I said, 'You're kidding, right?' "
On Friday, the Saltzburgs were in Lake Worth visiting relatives and recuperating from their ordeal. They were excited to know their beloved cat was safe.
The crash happened on Monday at about 3 p.m. while Saltzburg, her wife Mara, 40, Sam and their infant son Parker were moving across the country from Los Angeles to Miami. Sam, in his cat crate, was in the front passenger seat. They were driving on Interstate 75 approaching Big Cypress National Preserve when another vehicle collided with theirs, causing Saltzburg to lose control of the minivan.
"It was terrifying," Saltzburg said. "It was really scary."
Saltzburg remembers looking up after her minivan had rammed into a tree off the highway. Sam's cat crate, which had been on the passenger seat, was no longer there. It had been ejected through the window.
After being pulled from the minivan, Saltzburg, who has been a paraplegic since she was only a few days old, saw the broken cat crate in the grass. Sam had dashed off into the bush.
Amid the chaos, Saltzburg was bleeding from multiple cuts and Mara had suffered a fractured pelvis. Their infant son, Parker, was somehow unharmed.
Saltzburg wanted to look for the cat but couldn't. They all needed to be taken to a hospital.
"At that point I was devastated," said Saltzburg, 34, realizing she'd have to leave behind the cat she had since it was an 8-week-old kitten.
Saltzburg said the family is still mourning the loss of their dog Hershey, who died suddenly in March after developing an illness. The thought of losing another pet was hard to take, she said.
Asked about Sam, she described him as a lovable pet and a great "napping buddy" who occasionally develops a mischievous streak.
"He's a dude," she said, adding his full name is Samuel Oliver Saltzburg.
After the crash on Monday, it didn't take long for word to get out about Sam being missing. Naples animal advocate Camille Loge heard from Kathie Santomero, 61, of Fort Myers Beach, who knows Saltzburg's mom.
Loge sprung into action and posted about Sam being missing on her 'Camille's Rescue Page' on Facebook. She also posted an ad on Craig's List early Wednesday.
With Sam's survival very much in peril, Loge proposed forming a search party and going out to look for the missing cat.
On Wednesday, Kathleen Sullivan, who works at the Brigid's Crossing Foundation cat sanctuary in Naples, drove out to the Alley with her husband Christopher to look for Sam. When they got to the site of the crash near mile marker 97, they found the cat waiting in the bush. He had barely moved from the scene of the collision.
Saltzburg, Loge and Santomero were all stunned that Sam was found unharmed.
"The chances of finding that cat were almost zero," Santomero said. "I absolutely think it's a miracle."
"With everything that's out there, the snakes, gators and turkey vultures, I'm shocked that he survived," Loge added.
Loge, who has been been caring for Sam, said she'd drive him down to Miami when the Saltzburgs get settled.
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