Message in a bottle: Neighbours in isolation stay connected via carrier-cat

Like a lonely castaway on an island lost at sea, Sam Cramer is waiting for her next message in a bottle to arrive.

'I hope there are several months of cat mail to come'

Bella the cat has become a feline mail messenger, thanks to an impromptu correspondence between her owner and the neighbours next door. (Sam Cramer )

Like a lonely castaway on an island far at sea, Sam Cramer is waiting for her next message in a bottle to arrive.

But Cramer's messages don't arrive on the crashing waves. Instead, they're delivered by her pet cat Bella.

During the lonely days of isolation, Cramer has been exchanging notes with her neighbours every day via feline messenger. 

"I truly am getting messages in a bottle," Cramer said. "I'm checking the mail every day. I'm checking cat mail.

"This has been the highlight of my pandemic-in-the-house time."

Bella delivered her first dispatch last week.

'She's persnickety'

After an afternoon of sunbathing on the large balcony at Cramer's second floor condo in Edmonton's McCauley neighbourhood, the cat came inside for her Saturday night supper with a new collar. 

Cramer said she stared at the animal for a full minute in utter confusion.

"I look over and I'm completely dumbfounded and confused because this cat is wearing a pretty red collar. My cat has never worn a collar," Cramer said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"It just throws me into a state of confusion. Is it my cat, is it really my cat?

"I check out the cat and, yes, it has the same scraggly ears and, yes, it has a bad attitude so it's definitely my cat." 

A tiny glass bottle with a cork stopper was attached to the new collar. A handwritten note had been carefully tucked inside.

Wynne Burdett, 15, fashioned this carrier collar out of supplies purchased from the dollar store. (Sam Cramer )

It was a message from the family who lives next door. Unbeknownst to Cramer, Bella had been leaping over the barricade separating their two balconies and making herself comfortable.

"She's been doing this for days. I had no clue. Thank God they like cats," Cramer said.

Cramer was surprised to hear her "obstinate" pet was being neighbourly. 

"I think she's nice to them," Cramer said. "She's persnickety, probably more than most cats. So if they're enjoying her, she must be really putting on a show." 

In her first return message, Cramer apologized for the intrusion and warned them of her cat's often-cranky demeanour.

Her neighbours, in turn, assured Cramer that Bella was "no bother." 

"We enjoy her visits," reads one note. "Sorry she's mean to you."

'Friendly meows' 

Wynne Burdett, 15, and her father Stewart started noticing Bella on their balcony a few weeks ago and eventually nicknamed her Chip because of the scar in her ear.

Wynne, who has only ever had pet fish, loved getting visits from the mystery cat but wanted to make sure she was making it home safely.

She figured a message in a bottle would be the best way to check. She fashioned a carrier collar out of dollar store supplies and sent her first note. 

"We heard some friendly meows at the door again and instead of our message in the small bottle on her collar, it was now a green paper and we were very excited to see we got a response," she said. 

"Then we sent a message back and it just kind of carried on from there.

"I just thought it would be a good way to know if she had a home and a name and now it's turned into a daily thing," she said. "We're always really excited to see her at the door." 

It's so much fun and we all need some fun right now. It's been a hoot, an absolute hoot."- Sam Cramer

Cramer has seen her pen pals around the building, often waving hello across the parking lot. But she'd never really got to know them and hadn't even seen them since isolation directives were put into place. 

As the lonely days of the pandemic drag on, she's come to cherish the tiny notes Bella brings. 

"I hope there are several months of cat mail to come," said Cramer, who notes she is careful to wash the bottle and her hands after each message. "I really hope they don't get sick of it because I really enjoy it. 

"It's so much fun and we all need some fun right now. It's been a hoot, an absolute hoot." 

Wynne agrees and plans to keep the correspondence going. 

"It's always a very bright part of the day," she said. "It's always something to look forward to." 

With files from Tara McCarthy