TAMPA — Steve Kadelak was taking out his recycling Tuesday morning when he saw a face he didn't expect to ever see again.
A picture of his 3-year-old orange cat that had been missing since January was staring up at him from The Tampa Tribune's Pet Pals page.
“I just happened to unfold the Tribune and was looking at the kitties and said, 'Wow, that looks like Rooney,'” said Kadelak, 59.
He immediately called the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, which had put the cat's picture in the paper in an effort to find him a new home.
The staff invited Kadelak to the shelter to take a closer look, and he drove over that afternoon. When he saw the little orange spot Rooney has in the white fur near his nose, Kadelak knew for sure it was him.
“As soon as he saw the cat, he got very emotional,” said Sherry Silk, executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. “It was his kitty.”
Kadelak took Rooney in as a kitten, he said. Like all of his 13 other cats, Rooney is allowed to come and go from his South Tampa house. One Sunday morning in January, he didn't come back.
Rooney was microchipped, Kadelak said, but the company who tracked it couldn't find the cat. Kadelak said he called Hillsborough County Animal Services, but they didn't have a cat matching Rooney's description.
He had given up hope of ever finding the cat when he saw the adoption ad in the newspaper, Kadelak said.
“I was just thinking, 'Well, I hope he's happy wherever he is,'” he said.
As soon as he saw Rooney at the shelter, Kadelak picked him up and started petting him. Rooney seems to be more skittish than he was before he disappeared, but already he is falling back into a routine with Kadelak and his other felines.
“Some of them just walked by him like he's been there all the time,” Kadelak said.
Nobody knows where Rooney went after he left home. In May, a staff member at the Humane Society picked him up from Hillsborough County Animal Services so he could be put up for adoption, rather than potentially placed on the euthanization list at the crowded county shelter.
Rooney had been at the Humane Society for several weeks, so the staff decided to put his picture in the Tribune's Pet Pal section. The shelter frequently features cats and dogs in the section to help find them new families, Silk said.
It was lucky that the adoption manager found Rooney at the county shelter, Silk said. And it was equally lucky that they decided to put his picture in the newspaper and that Kadelak just happened to glance down at Rooney's profile.
“Somebody is looking down on this cat and this gentleman,” she said.