Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #71
Artist: David Matysiak
After nearly two years of saving, Jane Bright finally buys her new bike. Then her younger sister Kitty is involved in a road accident, which causes her beloved cat Cleo to disappear. When Kitty comes home, she reacts badly to Cleo’s disappearance and begins to pine, which makes her fragile condition worsen. This makes it all the more urgent to find Cleo.
The family can’t find Cleo anywhere in the neighbourhood. Inspired by an ad about a lost pet and reward for its return, Jane puts up her own ads for Cleo. As Jane has no money for the reward and does not want to bother her parents about it, she decides to sacrifice her new bike as the reward. This creates an additional difficulty as Kitty is looking forward to riding the new bike when she recovers. Now it has looks like Cleo or the bike.
The ad brings some people over with cats, but not one is Cleo. Among them are two kids who will try an even sneakier trick to get the bike later on. Door-to-door inquiries turn up nothing. Jane finds the police search only for lost dogs, not cats, so no luck at the police station.
The family see a cat food ad with a cat that looks like Cleo, and Kitty says they must have stolen her to make the ad. Inquiries reveal the ad was made three months previously (er, doesn’t that rule out Cleo as the cat?). When Jane checks out the ad agency they scare her off with their snake, a handy method they use to get rid of unwanted guests.
They try a newspaper ad. A reporter turns it into a human issue story of Jane having saved so hard for her new bike and then willing to give it up to find Cleo. It goes out in the newspaper and on the radio to tug at people’s heartstrings.
But while searching for Cleo, Jane’s bike gets stolen. Now she has no reward at all. While the bike is missing, the two aforementioned kids try to con Jane out of the bike by giving her a cat they’ve painted up to look like Cleo. Too bad for them they forgot to let the paint dry first!
Then Jane spots a man she spoke to just before her bike was stolen. She follows him to a scrap yard and finds him with a bike that looks like hers, and he’s about to respray it. Jane calls the police, and they find not only the stolen bike but also other stolen items, including stolen pedigree cats (no Cleo, though). The man is taken into custody and Jane gets her bike back.
When Jane gets home, she discovers Cleo had been under her nose – well, in the airing cupboard – the whole time. Cleo had just gone off to have kittens. Kitty is thrilled and is now on the mend.
This is a solid story that a lot of us who have had to look for lost pets (including me) can relate to. The sense of urgency – that a girl’s life depends on finding the pet – has appeared elsewhere in girls’ comics and has created popular animal stories. It’s also got some dashes of humour, such as the ad agent with the snake and Jane landing in the garden pond while calling Cleo. It also has a pathos that tugs at our heart strings as we read that Jane had slogged and saved for nearly two years to buy her bicycle, yet she’s prepared to give it up because she has nothing else to reward the person who finds Cleo with. We sincerely hope that Jane won’t have to give up the bike and Cleo will just walk in the door or something.
Jane’s self-sacrifice is an emotional contrast to the unscrupulous people who turn up in the story, namely the cheating kids and the thief. Although we see many people moved by the radio broadcast nobody comes forward with real help. Eventually we learn that is because Cleo is still at home, keeping herself in a quiet place while she has her kittens. So it all turns out happily, with the added bonus of joy of the kittens.
It is a bit unbelievable that nobody realised Cleo was pregnant, although she must have been about ready to give birth when she disappeared. It might have been better plotting to just have the cat come back.