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Ernie the Cat's Incredible Journey

April 11, 2001|GINA PICCALO and ANN O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Ernie, the six-toed orange-and-white tabby who once belonged to President Bush, was found roaming the Avenue of the Stars in Century City early Tuesday, some five miles away from his adopted home.

The 3-year-old feline wandered away from the spacious Brentwood Park home of his adoptive owner, Brad Freeman, nearly a month ago. He was found by a night watchman named Joseph Matthews who had seen news reports of the missing cat and immediately phoned Freeman.

"This is terrific news," said Noelia Rodriguez, Laura Bush's spokeswoman. She added that she was surprised that Ernie had traveled so far from his new home. "It's such a concrete commute, all those signals in between," she said. "He certainly proved that he's very adept at maneuvering the city."

What was Ernie doing so far from home?

"You'll have to ask him," Freeman said. "He looked a little scruffy."

Ernie was reunited with Freeman at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The investment banker and Bush fund-raiser adopted Ernie in January, when the Bushes decided he wouldn't be making the move from Texas to the White House because he might claw the antique furniture.

"I'm very relieved," Freeman said after the cat was dropped off at his office, about a mile west of Century City. "I hope the president will find it in his heart to forgive me."

Freeman's housekeeper, Perry Angliss, said she knew the foundling was the real Ernie because he made a beeline to the "blue room," the bedroom in which the first lady slept when she visited Freeman.

"He can smell his mommy," Angliss said. "He is the real one."

Angliss said Ernie looked a little thin and was spooked by the television cameras when she picked him up at Freeman's office Tuesday morning. Ernie spent the morning eating and roaming the house and was scheduled to visit the vet for a checkup at 3 p.m.

After Ernie's disappearance made the news, Freeman was bombarded with phone calls from pet psychics and animal detectives.

"I've had some real dingbats call me," Freeman said. "I got a guy out here the other day who talks to cats. He walked around the neighborhood, but he didn't seem to be able to strike up a conversation."

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