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On a cold October morning, three months after being frightened by a dog into fleeing for his life, a starving Waddy housecat – weighing only 5 pounds – somewhat miraculously returned home.
“It was the happiest day of my life; I cried I was so happy to have my kitty back,” 12-year-old Marisa Matlin said.
She smiled as she recalled the incredible reappearance of her beloved cat, Sheldon, after a long absence during which virtually everyone had given up hope – at least everyone except her.
After the family’s new dog, Hank, had injured one cat severely and Sheldon had gone missing, everyone assumed the dog had killed him. But Marisa said she knew better.
“I said, ‘He’s the meanest cat in the world; are you kidding?’” she said.
Marisa, daughter of Lisa and Ben Matlin of Waddy, a special needs child who attends Immaculata Classical Academy in Louisville, set out on a campaign to convince God to bring Sheldon back, her father said.
“She had her entire school praying in mass – one hundred and twenty-five people – every morning for Sheldon’s return,” he said. “We thought Sheldon was a goner, but Marisa never for one minute gave up hope.”
Marisa had searched endlessly around the farm for the cat that had touched her heart since the moment she had found the tiny, premature kitten abandoned in the family’s barn more than three years ago.
“His mother did not take care of him, so I took care of him,” she said.
After the Matlins returned the dog to its original owner, Marisa continued to search for the cat, Ben Matlin said.
“She went looking for him every day for three months, calling his name all over our farm,” he said. “We were trying to figure out a way to tell Marisa that Sheldon was probably dead, but Marisa had so much faith he would return, we just couldn’t do it.”
With shining eyes, Marisa told in excited tones how the cat returned in the predawn hours on Sunday, bedraggled and severely underweight – but alive.
Marisa was not home that morning, having spent the night with a friend, she said.
“My sister, Olivia, she heard something at the door, and when she went to see what it was, she heard something say, ‘Meooooow!’” she said. “And it was Sheldon, skinny as a skeleton!”
When Marisa came home that day, the Matlins were ready to capture the moment on film because they knew it would be a moment none of them ever would want to forget.
She entered the living room and saw Olivia, 16, holding the cat, and she rushed forward to scoop him up into her arms, burying her face in his fur.
“Oh, my God, Sheldon, Sheldon!” she cried, surrounded by her family, all of them smiling and crying at the same time.
“It was a miracle,” Ben Matlin said.
“Yes,” Marisa added. “God delivered the message to Sheldon to come home.”
“I really am just absolutely amazed,” her father said.
“She was just so excited when Olivia handed Sheldon to her,” said Lisa Matlin, who said that she had prayed with Marisa that the cat would return.
“We just knew he would come back, but the way he did, well, it was so incredible, especially since we had been just hoping and praying.”
The cat and Marisa were two of a kind, Ben Matlin said, both of them standing out in their own special way.
Marissa was named Miss Congeniality in the Princess Division of the Miss Sensational Shelby Pageant at the Shelby County Fair this past summer, and Sheldon had won a talent contest for pets in 2011.
“He was absolutely the crowd favorite,” he said.
“What kind of a cat is he? Well, I tell you, he is a full-blooded black cat,” Marisa said, in her most serious adult manner.
That contest was held at Metzger’s Country Store, and when co-owner Charlie Metzger heard the story of how Sheldon had come home, he said he was sure the power of prayer had brought the cat home because he had never seen anyone more devoted to a pet than Marisa.
“You would think when she comes into our store that she’s in Disney World,” he said with a chuckle. “She brings up an armful of products for her cat, treats and bowls and stuff, and her mom will say, ‘Honey, I don’t think we need all these right now.’ I can imagine the anguish that his disappearance brought to the family. I am so happy for them. They are wonderful people, and I enjoy having them come in. I know prayer played a big part in the cat’s return – I just can’t help but believe that.”
Ben Matlin agreed.
“Marisa is a true testament of faith and not giving up,” he said. “What a powerful testament to prayer.”