Pupils win praise from family after return of beloved pet proves vital tonic for widow
School pupils who returned the pet cat of a widow with dementia have been praised for their quick thinking.
Marley the grey tabby was a gift to Greta Taylor (83) six years ago, shortly after the death of her husband James.
Having been a great comfort for her health, Greta, from Londonderry, was soon hospitalised after Marley went missing on September 4.
Luckily, four eagle-eyed pupils - Sam Gibson (13), Jack Boyd (13), Amir Bounaja (12) and Jack Mulligan (12) - from Lisneal College spotted the starving pet two weeks later, returning him to the overjoyed Greta.
Now, the friends have been thanked by the family and treated to a free trip to McDonald's from their headmaster.
Speaking yesterday, Mrs Taylor's daughter Julie said she couldn't thank the boys enough.
"After losing my dad and the dementia diagnosis, Marley was really such a key figure to keep mum's brain active," she said.
"That was really the thing that kept her going, when Marley went missing there was a big change in her behaviour which left her chair bound. Telling her Marley was missing was very negative for her. That in turn affected the arthritis in her knee and she ended up in hospital."
Julie said the family offered the Lisneal students money and sweets as a reward but they turned it down.
"They were just chuffed they did something good," she added. "It just shows the good that posters for missing pets can do and we can't thank them enough."
Yesterday, Lisneal principal Michael Allen praised his "cat rescue heroes" for their kind act which had left Mrs Taylor feeling "over the moon."
Recalling the rescue, Sam said: "We were just coming back from the town when we spotted him.
"I think he got a bit scared of us and he ran away at first, but the lady was really happy to get him back."
"It's great," added Jack Boyd.
"When Sam saw the cat, Amir and the other Jack ran down and got the poster, I was the one with a phone who called her daughter. She was really happy and came down right away."
Mrs Taylor's other daughter Annette said the happy ending had restored the family's "faith in teenagers".
"My mum has met them and personally thanked them - she told them that they are her new heroes," she said.
The pensioner's health deteriorated rapidly after her "miracle lifeline" vanished last month.
But the unexpected homecoming is now giving the 83-year-old the motivation she needs to get back on her feet.
"He was like a gift from God - he kept her active and gave her a routine, which is important when you are on your own," Annette previously told the Belfast Telegraph.
Marley has proved himself to be an important figure in Mrs Taylor's life after he was rescued by the wife of the late broadcaster Gerry Anderson six years ago.
Christine Anderson handed the stricken kitty over to Mrs Taylor's family, who credit him with halting the progression of Greta's illness.
The relieved family have already noticed a remarkable turn-around in Greta since Marley was found.