NEENAH - Kevin Graves of San Diego hopes his second visit to Wisconsin will go much, much better than his first.
On his initial drive into America's Dairyland in February, Graves encountered whiteout conditions and found himself in the middle of a 131-car pileup on Interstate 41. Amid the chaos of the crash, he lost his beloved cat, Bastet, who was found dead 17 days later in a mound of debris.
The story of Graves and Bastet isn't likely to be featured in Wisconsin's next tourism ad. It understandably left Graves with a cold feeling of the land of beer and cheese, even with the outpouring of support from residents who searched in vain for Bastet following the crash.
Graves anticipates a warmer, more pleasant experience on his return trip. And this time he plans on leaving the state happy with not only one cat in tow, but two.
The 26-year-old will fly to Appleton International Airport later this month to adopt two kittens from one of the animal rescue organizations that helped him look for Bastet, the Appleton Post-Crescent reported.
"I haven't selected which pair yet, but I'm getting them from either Valley Cats or Almost Home" Kitty Rescue, Graves told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. "They are the two animal rescues that worked with me the most."
After losing Bastet, Graves knew he needed to adopt from Wisconsin. Explaining why is more difficult.
"There's not a tangible reason," he said. "It's not that the cats from Wisconsin are better or that it's more financially responsible. It's actually worse financially for me because I'm flying out there."
Graves, though, wants to replace the trauma and sorrow from the first trip with something more comforting, more joyful.
"It's kind of a cycle sort of thing, where I lost a cat there and now I gain a cat there," he said. "It just kind of helps me pay my bill. I'm not spiritual, but it's like a spiritual circle complete."
Graves will fly to Wisconsin on May 20. He will spend a couple of days with John Julius, a Greenville resident and cat owner who befriended Graves during the search for Bastet, before flying back to San Diego with the kittens.
He decided on two kittens so they can socialize with each other when he's not at home.
A flight attendant already has offered to pay the $125 fee for flying the kittens. The flight attendant previously offered to fly Bastet home to San Diego for free, had Bastet been found alive.
The Feb. 24 pileup on I-41 was the largest in Wisconsin history. It left one person dead and 71 injured.