Community fears grow of 'catnapping' as Waikanae's most beloved feline vanishes
Maude Heath never opens her gallery on New Year's Day.
This year, she made an exception in the hope her favourite four-legged customer might stroll through the door.
In the Kapiti Coast town of Waikanae, the search for Milo the cat has become a community endeavour, with fears she has been catnapped for sale.
In the past year, the chocolate-coloured burmese had become a fixture in the town's small CBD, with business owners collectively adopting her, leaving out food and even putting her contact details on their business listings.
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But Milo vanished on December 27, and her many self-appointed guardians fear she could have been stolen, hit by car, or even accidently locked in a shop during the holiday period.
She had previously been locked in the op-shop overnight before Christmas and even caught out sneaking into a cinema.
Owner Greg Caldwell said Milo shifted with her family to nearby Iti Gr about a year ago and ever since the cat has wandered through the CBD, making its offices and stores her home.
"I think she smelled the restaurant that used to be at the pub, and she made friends there and her circle's expanded."
Caldwell said Milo often followed his three children to school "like a dog", and they missed her terribly.
Sue Lusk, who runs the Destination Waikanae Facebook page which publicised Milo's disappearance, said she had become increasingly worried.
"I just feel in my bones that she's probably been catnapped. They are very expensive. I went on to Trade Me just to see if anyone was selling a burmese cat."
While there weren't any for sale she found many other owners also looking for their missing burmese.
"You just hope for the best and fear the worst after this length of time because she's never been away from home before overnight, except when she was locked in the op-shop."
Milo was a "dear little thing" that meant a lot to the people who worked in the area, Lusk said.
"Somebody took Milo to the SPCA once thinking she must be lost, and they just said 'no that's Milo, everyone knows Milo, just take her back to where you found her'."
Artel Gallery owner Heath said everybody was beside themselves over Milo's disappearance.
"Everybody's in love with her. She comes and visits every day."
Heath said she opened her gallery on New Year's Day on the off chance Milo would return, putting out her little bowl of food..
Caldwell and his family were walking the streets in Waikanae looking for Milo on New Year's Day, after searching for her since she vanished.
"Cat's can survive, you live in hope, but with the hot weather and a bit of dehydration, it may not be the best outcome for us unfortunately," Caldwell said.
If you find Milo, she is microchipped and has her phone number on her collar.