Chachas said he had a sinking feeling. His 7-year-old son had begged that they leave the cat in the city because he was afraid the animal might get lost, but Chachas ignored his pleas.
Chachas and his wife went into crisis mode. They left dozens of opened cans of cat food around the neighborhood, knocked on doors, made fliers offering a $5,000 reward, drove their Denali through neighboring cornfields in search of Buddy and left on all the lights around the house. The next afternoon, on no sleep, Chachas prepared to give his son the news that Buddy would not be coming back. That's when a local pet store owner suggested he call Lillis. Chachas, a managing director at his bank, soon found himself taking orders.
"She said, `You're well-intended -- now go undo everything you've done,'" Chachas said.
Lillis ordered the Chachas' to scrap the reward. A rich man doesn't need the money, she explained and a poor man who spots Buddy will see instead a bag of money with fur on it. He'll chase after the cat, likely terrifying it and then he'll hoard news of the sighting in hopes of getting the money later.
"Rewards are useless," she said.
Next: the fliers. A local man whose cat Lillis found now volunteers to design fliers for lost pets according to Lillis' strict specifications. She demands a minimalist approach: the word "Lost" above a large color photo of the animal, with a phone number below.
"We don't need to know the pet's life story," she said. "And in the picture, not the Christmas tree and the pet, not the child and the pet. Just the pet."
Lillis demands that fliers be affixed to trees and telephone polls with a minimum of 48 staples, so they can't be torn down.
Next: Lillis ordered all those cans of cat food picked up and told the Chachas' instead to buy a can of Figaro cat food, an especially aromatic brand, she said. Turn off all the lights around the house but one, Lillis instructed. Then place Buddy's litter box under that one light and open the can of Figaro -- loudly.
"There's not a cat in the world that doesn't know the sound of a can opener," Lillis said.
Chachas said he was skeptical, but desperate.
"We did everything we were told," he said.
At around 7 that evening, Chachas collapsed in a chair and dozed off. A few minutes later, his wife woke him. Buddy was outside.
John Chachas opened the front door. Buddy slinked in and summer was saved.
"Pat had the psychology of a cat, like she was one herself," Chachas said. As for Buddy, Chachas said, he'll be staying in the city this summer.