Mary Hannah DeGraw was six years old when she adopted Sparkles the cat for her birthday. Sparkles, who the family quickly decided to call Sparky (they didn’t want to embarrass him at the Vet, according to Mary Hannah’s mom, Paula Rogers), has the typical orange coat of fur a Tabby is known for. The first eight years of the cat’s life in Niceville were wonderful ones. Sparky had no problems being the alpha male cat – but loved Mary Hannah, as evidenced by their photos together. 


But after a divorce, Sparky was moved to Crestview. The Indoor-outdoor hybrid cat was unfamiliar with the new territory and got lost. 


Eight years passed, without a sign from Sparky – Mary Hannah and Paula believed he was dead. “We had mourned him years ago,” DeGraw remembered, “he’d been missing for eight years.”


Life went on for Paula and Mary Hannah – a life without Sparky – for eight years. 


Until Paula got a phone call from the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). 


RELATED: Niceville Council mulls over its relationship with PAWS

Getting Sparky Back

Paula remembers the day. A woman called her on Mary Hannah’s Birthday, November 29th, 2021 – Mary Hannah’s birthday. The lady on the other side of the call was a PAWS representative, who had great news: Sparky had been found in Crestview. 


“She said, ‘Paula, I’ve found a 17-year-old orange tabby cat with [your] phone number,’ Rogers remembers, “And I said, ‘oh my gosh, that’s Sparky.” 


Sparky was in bad shape. He weighed about seven pounds. The average Tabby cat will usually way a little more than 10 pounds. She immediately requested PAWS do everything in their power to save the cat – which was in critical condition. “I asked PAWS to just go ahead and take him to the vet immediately, and I would take care of all of the expenses.” 


She immediately called her son and Mary Hannah, who lived in Atlanta and was working as a veterinary technician. Her daughter told her, from experience, the cat might not make it, due to the rough condition it had shown up in. Paula remembers her phone conversation with Mary Hannah about Spark’s condition as a tough one. “I just thought, ‘oh, we’ll get him back in good shape. And he’ll be fine.’ So I was glad that she was more grounded in the knowledge of animals than I was – and was kind of more prepared for what I was getting into.”


But, as we all know, cats have nine lives.

Sparky at Christmas
Sparky has been back at home for a year now. It's his second Christmas back at home - and the 18-year-old cat is loving life.

“I just thought, ‘oh, we’ll get him back in good shape. And he’ll be fine.’ So I was glad that she was more grounded in the knowledge of animals than I was - and was kind of more prepared for what I was getting into.”

Back in Niceville

Sparky is back in Niceville with Paula and Mary Hannah living a good life. His time on the streets did change him though. “He’s changed a lot, because he was very much the alpha cat,” Rogers remembers, “and now he’s just a grumpy old man. So we put him in little onesies in the winter, so he doesn’t get cold,” Paula said with a laugh, “And he loves to eat baked chicken.” 


Sparky, now 18, has definitely begun to show his age – he has three teeth left and is mostly deaf. But, he’s happy. He still likes to cuddle with humans in front of the tv and drools a lot when he purrs. Same cat, just a little older. 


The ladies are glad to have him back, too.

woman holding a cat
Sparky and His Human, Mary Hannah DeGraw


One thing is for sure, Paula Rogers believes; if Sparky wasn’t microchipped – they would have never seen Sparky again. She says she’s lucky – she never changed her phone number, but she says its important to keep that information up to date with the vets office. “I’ve had the same phone number for 20 years. I mean, thank goodness,” Rogers said, “without it they would have never found me.” Rogers added that a collar just isn’t good enough in order to make sure your pet can make it back to you. “I’m a huge advocate for getting a microchip, [your animals] cannot talk to you. If they are lost, sometimes they will lose their collars.”


So – microchip your pets. Please.

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