Windsor boy, 9, earns $1,000 reward for finding cat missing since fall
Hunter had been missing for 74 days
As Braiden Bendzsak was scooting around his neighbourhood, he noticed a cat that looked oddly familiar.
"I knew it was just the one from the poster," said Braiden, referencing the 'lost Hunter' posters that the cat's owner, Gina Henderson, had put up on street poles around Windsor's Little Italy neighbourhood.
When 9-year-old Braiden spotted Hunter it had been 74 days since the cat went missing and he was only two blocks away from home.
Braiden had kept an eye out for the cat after seeing the posters, searching for Hunter during his lunch breaks and after school.
And based on the posters, Henderson was offering an $800 reward to anyone who returned the 13-year-old, green-eyed Tabby cat.
"It was really tough losing him like I would break down quite often ... and say 'I can't believe I lost my boy,' like I felt so guilty," Henderson said.
WATCH: Tap on the player below to hear more from the cat's owner — and its finder
For the last 13 years, Hunter has been with Henderson through countless "ups and downs" and seven houses, she said, adding that during COVID-19, they had been leaning on each other's companionship all the more.
"It was a really devastating Christmas just to not have him around," she said.
When she got the phone call from Braiden on Friday, she was starting to give up hope and thought it was going to be another dead-end lead.
"I was skeptical when he called cause you know he's nine and there's a lot of cats that look like [Hunter] so I was like 'OK, we'll go check it out,'" she said.
But Braiden said he knew it was Hunter by his features.
"So I tried picking it up but when I picked it up it didn't like it so it clawed onto my shoulders and hopped off, but then it ran under a porch and I knew it was going to stay there for a while," he said.
After he couldn't coax the cat out, he decided to call the number on the posters.
"They were so happy to find him, like so happy," Braiden said about the moment Henderson and her friend came to retrieve Hunter. "I don't know how to describe it they were just so happy to see it. They were like, 'oh my God, it's Hunter.'"
'I like doing good stuff'
At first Henderson said she put out a $100 reward. But friends, family and, soon enough, community members who heard her story from social media, the posters and a newspaper ad started donating money to the reward fund.
Before she knew it, she said the reward jumped to $900 and when people learned Braiden was the "hero," they kept throwing in more money.
"I'm super excited that the reward went to him, like it's great," she said.
In total, Braiden received $1,025.
"I have to say it makes me very proud that he's such a thoughtful and caring boy for his age, he has a huge heart," said Rachelle Sylvestre, Braiden's mom.
WATCH: Braiden talk about what he's learned from finding Hunter
And while the reward money has its perks, including a new video game console, Braiden said he just feels good knowing he was able to help.
"I feel like I did a good thing and I should have because I like doing good stuff for people and animals," he said.
"What I learned was to not give up on hopes because you could really accomplish something when you put your mind to it, or in this case, heart."
Hunter spent all of Monday in the vet, Henderson said, adding that he had to be on an IV for seven hours because he was so dehydrated. She said he lost so much weight that if Braiden didn't find him when he did, Hunter may never have returned home.
"Braiden found him just in time," she said. "Finding him again still seems like a miracle, like it doesn't seem real ... It's just so surreal that he's in my living room again, it's crazy."