Emu update: Merry Christmas, Gladys, wherever you are

Floyd, left, and Gladys, right, before Gladys bolted from their pen in Albemarle County back on November 10. Photo: Courtesy Millie Cathcart Floyd, left, and Gladys, right, before Gladys bolted from their pen in Albemarle County back on November 10. Photo: Courtesy Millie Cathcart

On November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, we posted a story about Gladys the emu and the Cathcarts of Albemarle County. That holiday had been incomplete for the family, because Gladys—one of three emus who live on the Cathcart farm near Carter’s Bridge—was still missing after bolting from her pen with her sister Mabel ten days earlier. (Their brother, Floyd, stayed behind.)

Rip Cathcart and one of his three beloved emus. It’s likely he’ll spend Christmas without one of them, Gladys, because she’s been on the loose for weeks. Photo: Courtesy Millie Cathcart

After searching for the big birds (only ostriches are larger) and responding to a flurry of reported sightings and photographs posted online, Rip Cathcart, 62, and his wife, Millie, 55, rescued Mabel. She was in Schuyler, about 13 miles away from home, which would be incredible if emus weren’t capable of running as fast as 30 miles per hour. A father and son had spotted the bird while hunting and managed to capture and hold her until Rip and Millie arrived.

Millie Cathcart said that with the exception of a few trolling comments, the community response via social media—NextDoor.com, Charlottesville/Albemarle Lost & Found Pets, Facebook—was heartwarming. People wanted to help. People did help. Good Samaritans exist!

After our story came out, and readers (many thousands of them, according to Facebook and C-VILLE Weekly site analytics) discovered that Gladys was still at large, Cathcart received word from another Schuyler resident.

“This past Friday [December 6] a man in Schuyler heard strange noises when he was out on his property,” Cathcart related via email. “He had read your article and knew that Gladys was still on the loose! He went home and did some Google and YouTube research on emu noises, and is pretty sure that’s what he heard. He called my husband’s office, and they called me and connected us. We have a glimmer of hope!

“This Good Samaritan is not giving up easily,” the email continues. “He called me on Saturday [December 7] and planned to spend several hours on his property searching. He had a bucket of organic sunflower seeds for her, and some rope, and I told him the details of how Rip and I secured Mabel so we could put her in my car.  He said he is very good with all kinds of animals, and seems to look at this as an interesting challenge!

“He called me with an update yesterday (Sunday). He spent 2-3 hours both days searching, and heard rustling leaves, but no Gladys. Unfortunately, today was a cold rainy day and she’s probably hunkered down somewhere in thick bushes for shelter. I am amazed and thankful for folks like him who are spending their time to help. He has researched and read up on Emus, and he’s all set. I hope their paths cross and the next phone call I get from him is great news!”

What we have here is a story of love, hope, and community, and beautiful examples of the kindness of strangers as well as human respect and affinity for animals. On one hand, the tale is terribly sad—Gladys is still missing, and the Cathcarts will spend another big holiday unsure of her whereabouts and well-being.

But on the other hand, it is encouraging. Collectively, we are all too well aware of the rancor and divisiveness among our fellow human beings. Reading and hearing the news of the day can be emotionally and psychically exhausting. Here in Charlottesville, you may think, If I hear one more damn thing about those Confederate statues, my head is going to explode!

It might be better to reflect for a minute about Gladys the emu. As we here at C-VILLE Weekly have discovered, Millie and Rip Cathcart are remarkable people. We would like to think that they set an example for us all. Have we spent too much time and too many words on a trifling saga about a big bird? That may be a valid criticism, but we would urge you to view our coverage of Gladys in the context of our other work. A cover story about The Haven homeless shelter, a heartrending profile of jazz great Roland Wiggins, an examination of the death of a man who died while trying to cross the treacherous Route 29… We believe that all of these stories deserve to be told (otherwise we wouldn’t publish them, natch) and discussed, because telling and sharing stories creates powerful glue.

With this in mind, we will leave you with the content of a recent text message from Millie Cathcart. (Please forgive us if sharing it seems a bit self-indulgent.) As the saying goes, “The heart is a very, very resilient little muscle.”

“Unfortunately, nothing new, no sightings or information for weeks. We continue to hope that someone has taken Gladys in and given her a new home. It has been amazing how many people we know, and have met, who have read your story! Our daughter was at Orangetheory [Fitness], and someone who knew her, but who she didn’t know, started talking about your story. Soon the entire lobby was talking about it. Your story brought 10 unrelated people together—all had read it!”

And with that, we wish you all the best this holiday season and an excellent New Year!


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