The stories of immigrants and refugees, particularly Muslims displaced by war from Middle Eastern countries, took center stage last weekend after an executive order signed by President Donald Trump suspended refugee admissions and banned arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries, prompting widespread protests.
But in the midst of the worldwide migration of refugees, one small story documented in a just-released picture book for children carries a spot of sunshine amid so many tales of upheaval and struggle — the story of Kunkush the cat, a beloved pet that a family fleeing Mosul, Iraq, found it impossible to leave behind.
“Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey,” by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes and illustrated by Sue Cornelison, was published this week by Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House.
Its happy ending defied all odds and buoyed hope, not only for the Iraqi mother and children who were reunited with their pet, but for all those who witnessed or closely followed the news of the thousands of refugees who had to flee bombed-out Syrian neighborhoods or the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Kuntz, an East Hampton photojournalist, and Ms. Shrodes were among the hundreds of volunteers from around the world who were part of a grassroots humanitarian aid network on the island of Lesvos, Greece, in the fall of 2015. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of refugees were arriving daily after paying smugglers for space aboard crowded rubber dinghies and old wooden boats that set out from Turkey onto the Aegean Sea for a six-mile crossing to Greece.
It was a constant stream of sad stories, a steady flow of people in need. Dry clothes were handed out, and tea, hot soup, and critical medical care delivered to refugees on shore, but despite everyone’s best efforts the ability to provide all that was needed would fall short.
Some days were better than others; all of them were emotional and exhausting. There were days when volunteers took heart in their ability to provide creature comforts and moral support to displaced families, and then the ones when the sea was rough and boats continually foundered, when volunteers waded into water slicked with diesel fuel to catch babies handed over the edge of sinking boats and to drag people ashore. And some days, when rescue efforts failed, were worse than that.
When Sura, along with her son and four daughters, arrived on the beach in Lesvos, Kunkush, who had been carried hidden in a basket all the way from Iraq, was set down for a moment while everyone was helped to shore. He jumped out of his carrier and ran away.
Volunteers helped search for hours, but finally the family had to move on. No one could imagine that day that the family and their pet would be happily reunited four months later in Norway.
After working all day, through the night, or even around the clock, volunteers on Lesvos often gathered at two tavernas in the center of Skala Sikaminia, a tiny cobblestoned fishing village along the shore. Skala’s resident cats — dozens, of all colors and sizes — prowled along the harborfront and sallied up against diners’ legs or jumped onto tables looking for crumbs.
Several days after Kunkush’s heartbroken family had to leave him behind, Ms. Shrodes noticed a bedraggled white cat sitting a distance away from the feral group and concluded it was the family’s lost cat.
She took it to the vet and then took it home, determined to find Sura and her family and reunite them. On the internet and through news reports, people in many countries shared information about the cat.
Finally, on Valentine’s Day last year, Sura’s family saw their cat on a news website. Through a Skype connection online, Kunkush heard the voices of Sura and her children and responded, looking into the screen for his lost family.
Mr. Kuntz stepped in to fly the cat, with its own passport, to Norway. The tear-jerking moment when he knocked on the family’s door and passed the cat into Sura’s arms was captured on video by The Guardian, a British news site. In the book, Mr. Kuntz is depicted, as in life, holding his hand to his heart, full of emotion as he stands in the doorway holding Kunkush.
“The odds of finding that family — they were a million to one,” Mr. Kuntz said last year in a phone interview from Norway, still incredulous even as he was ready to deliver Kunkush to his family. The reunion was “probably one of the most emotional moments of my life,” Mr. Kuntz said last year.
The family had more than a year with Kunkush before the cat, unfortunately, succumbed to a feline virus. But the tale still shines.
The picture book, with beautiful, soft illustrations in rich colors, tells the story in a straightforward way that is appropriate for children of all ages.
It concludes with a map showing the length of Kunkush’s journey across Europe, several pages of Mr. Kuntz’s photographs of refugee landings and Kunkush in Greece as well as the emotional reunion and the cat in its new home in Norway, and an authors’ note. The story, the authors say, is about making the choice “to reach out and help.”
“Imagine how much his family loved Kunkush to carry him out of a war zone,” they write.
The book, which has a growing number of positive reviews that underscore its positive message of “belief, faith, and hope” (as mentioned on the Life With Cats website), can be purchased on Amazon and is expected to be available at local bookstores.
It was written with the cooperation of Sura and her family, who will share in its proceeds. With its publication, Random House made a contribution to Doctors Without Borders, which works internationally to bring medical aid to people in need.
Author visits, book signings, and interviews can be arranged through the website lostandfoundcat.com.
Mr. Kuntz spent Sunday afternoon photographing a massive protest at Manhattan’s Battery Park against President Trump’s executive order affecting Muslim and other refugees.
Kunkush’s story, he said Monday, especially against the current climate of fear and uncertainty among refugees and others now barred from entering the United States, demonstrates the potential for a positive outcome, even in the face of great odds, when people work together and refuse to give up.