The story of Miracle Moosie—the cat trapped in a futon for 64 days before emerging alive—is the type of story Facebook might create in a content lab: It’s got pictures of cute cats, an inspirational happy ending, and even a bit of magic/science—as in, “How the hell did a cat survive with no food or water and ostensibly very little oxygen for that period of time?” It’s inherently shareable.
But according to conversations with experts ranging from hibernation specialists to veterinarians to futon companies, the answer to that question is…well, there really isn’t an answer.
Let’s start at the beginning. Weston Morrow of the Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily Miner broke the initial story last week of Kymberly and Jesse Chelf, who in the course of moving their stuff from El Paso, Texas, on April 7 thought their cat Moosie had run away. (Morrow declined to comment for this story.)
Moosie was missing. Moosie was, presumably, gone.
But when the Chelf’s stuff arrived from the storage unit into their new home in Fairbanks, Alaska, on June 11, there was a purring sound coming from inside the futon mattress, a Barcelona Convertible Futon Sofa the couple purchased from Walmart.
It's important to clarify here what is meant by "inside the futon mattress." The cat was not just tucked in a crease—he was packed as deeply as one could possibly imagine a cat to be stuck. Imagine you built a futon, and started by putting a cat in the middle—that's how stuck Moosie managed to be.
Jesse Chelf told Fusion he ripped into the futon—which showed no signs of a cat digging its way in—and found Moosie lodged deep inside. “I honestly don’t know how he got in there,” Jesse said. “He was behind a mattress screen, pretty well confined to one spot.”
Dr. Hayden Nevill at the Mount McKinley Animal Hospital was able to “nurse him back to relative health.” Amazed by this supposed miracle, the couple contacted KTVA 11, their local CBS affiliate, to do a piece on Moosie.
The hospital bills are so expensive, the Chelf’s claim, that they’ve launched a GoFundMe page to cover the costs. So far, they’ve raised a little more than half of their $5,000 goal.
“So can cats….hibernate?” A preposterous thought, I’m aware, but I decided to entertain the idea—enough to call up Hannah Carey, a professor and hibernation specialist at the University of Wisconsin. “There’s no evidence that your classic pets in the wild and even domestic are capable of hibernating,” Carey told Fusion.
Carey said it’d be quite remarkable if a cat managed to move into a state of hibernation. She also told me that there’s no documented evidence that animals in the cat family can withstand long-term starvation. So how did Moosie survive? Carey wasn’t sure. “It’s very unusual,” she said.
So: Moosie—sans food, water, and presumably little air—managed to stay alive while incapable of hibernation or long-term starvation.
I didn't know where to look next, so I called up Dr. Nevill, the vet who took in Moosie after her 64-day journey, to ask about how exactly he was able to return the feline to full health. Nevill told me that the cat came to the office extremely dehydrated, quiet, and inactive.
Strangely, Moosie’s kidneys—even after 64 days without water—remained in good shape. His intestines, though, were shriveled, so much so that they stopped moving completely. To get food into Moosie’s system, Nevill installed a small tube to go right into Moosie’s stomach, and trickle-fed him Ensure, the easiest cat food to digest.
It’s something Nevill said he’d never seen before. He said the longest he’s heard a cat survive without food or water is six, maybe seven weeks. Nine weeks? Unprecedented. “The thing is, nobody knows why he made it,” Nevill told Fusion. “When I talk to other vets, their reaction is always amazement. Nobody thinks this is a routine thing. Nobody understands how he could survive for 64 days.”
Michele Setter, vice president of operations at the East Bay SPCA, concurs. “If it’s true, then it’s an incredible story,” she told Fusion.
It’s also difficult to understand how the cat managed to work his way into the futon itself. Jesse Chelf told Fusion there was no evidence of the cat digging his way into the mattress—he said there was a small crack Moosie theoretically could have slid through, but he doesn’t think it’s likely.
ACME, the company who makes the futon that Moosie supposedly wedged himself into, was also skeptical. “I don't think it's possible,” Alisha in customer service told me. “Most of ours are pretty tight in space, where the creases are, so I doubt that would be possible.”
It’s hard for Kymberly Chelf to believe, as well—getting inside the futon, traveling all the way from Texas to Alaska, and staying alive with no food and water and very little oxygen.
“That’s why we’re calling him Miracle Moosie,” Chelf said.
I got a call late Friday afternoon—at this point, a little less than a week after Morrow’s story was published—from Kymberly Chelf wanting to make sure I still believed the story was true. A reporter from another publication had called her earlier that day, and apparently accused her and Jesse of making Moosie’s story up.
“We’re a good American family,” she told me.
But I don’t know if I believe the story, at least in full. All of the evidence stacked together paints a pretty damning portrait, and so I called Kymberly back the following morning to find out more and express my own skepticism.
“Even though we sent you proof of when he was packed?” Kymberly said.
Kymberly had provided me with an email receipt of their move-out date, as well as a picture of a box that showed their move-in date—although, this really only proves when they moved, and doesn’t necessarily speak to where Moosie was in those months he apparently disappeared. She also told me the movers they hired from American Relocation Services in Alaska witnessed the cat emerge from the futon. (Neither of us could get a hold of them to confirm.)
“My husband is laughing now—this is crazy,” Kymberly said. “We’re not at all making this up—that would be sick if we made this up. I hope you’re not knocking my family.”
A couple hours after we spoke, Kymberly updated their GoFundMe page with the following:
Only a week and 2 days after discovering Moosie in our belongings, he is doing great, recovering at home and energy level is increasing! It is truly a miracle he survived. That is the only explanation. The scientific community is skeptical, but miracles happen everyday and our Moosie is proof of that!
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.