If cats could talk, there's a 6-year-old tabby named Khrys who has an epic tale to tell.
For this feline and his mom, the Castle Rock Fire wasn't over until Jan. 26, nearly five months after flames that torched the Smoky Mountains were squelched, and long after the grip of winter cinched tightly around central Idaho.
Cat and owner were reunited late last month when Nancy Landringer, a resident of The Meadows south of Ketchum, answered an ad placed in the Idaho Mountain Express by the Sawtooth Animal Center in Bellevue.
The cat, Khrystalino Ramon, who goes by Khrys, had been missing since Aug. 25, 2007, the day homes were evacuated between Greenhorn Gulch and Cold Springs as the Castle Rock Fire bore down on the Wood River Valley.
Landringer and Khrys made it to a home south of Bellevue where Landringer weathered the evacuation, but upon their arrival, Khrys became spooked, jumped to the ground and ran toward, and presumably into, a shed.
"The house was kind of under construction, so the shed was full of all sorts of things," Landringer said. "I'd stand outside the shed with a bowl of salmon, sardines or something, and Khrys would never come out. I'd go down there every other day until it snowed."
She said that for months she would walk from one end of the property to the other, carrying sardines or tuna, saying, "Come here, kitty, come here, kitty." When it snowed, however, she gave up.
"Everyone thought for sure the coyotes ate him," she said. "I cried when I lost him. I cried all the time. I never thought I'd see him again. I never thought I'd see him again in my whole life."
At Christmas, Landringer hung Christmas stockings for her other two cats, Khleo Renee and Annabella Rose. Khrys' stocking remained packed.
"This would have been his third Christmas, and I couldn't hang up his stocking. They get little stuffed mice with long tails. He would have gotten a little nametag, cat snacks and a catnip toy."
But Christmas was yet to come for Landringer and the tabby named Khrys.
Khrys was found Dec. 21 at the Splash 'n' Dash in Bellevue, about three miles from the home where he'd gone missing four months earlier. Landringer does not know who found him, but she said she is indebted both to his rescuers and to the Sawtooth Animal Center in Bellevue, where he was taken.
Landringer said she did not immediately respond to ads placed by the animal center because Khrys was described as a 9-year-old tabby. First, she didn't know he was a tabby. Second, she said he is 6, not 9.
That changed on Saturday, Jan. 26, when she went to the center and discovered her affectionate cat, about 5 pounds lighter than she remembered. He still had his collar and a small bell around his neck, and Landringer said he immediately recognized her and began to lick her neck.
"All I can think is that he was slowly and surely trying to work his way home, but he'd never been away from home before," Landringer said. "He obviously didn't stay in the shed very long. I thought for sure he was dead. Once the snow fell I have no idea how he survived. But he did, and I'm so happy to see him."
Landringer, a native of Wisconsin who moved to the Wood River Valley in 1990, said her cats are her family. But Khrys is the cat lover's favorite.
"He's my baby. He's such a cuddler. I'm very happy," she said. "Khrys, he just likes to be cuddled and loved all the time, especially now. I brush him twice a day, and he still has too much hair."
Khrys used to be an outdoor cat, but he doesn't go outside much now. He'll go onto Landringer's front porch, then return to the inside.
"I think he's had enough of the outside for a while," she said.
Most of all, her recent reunion with her favorite and most affectionate cat drives home a life lesson for Landringer.
"I had given up hope," she said. "When you finally give up, when you quit, then ironically it's a truism of life. Don't ever give up hope. Something will happen that is good. Don't be negative and give up."