NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Five years after she went missing from her Colorado home, Willow the cat has been reunited with her owners in New York City.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reports
The calico cat was found last week on East 20th Street. How she made the 1,600 mile journey is still a mystery, but thanks to a microchip that was implanted when she was a kitten, she’s now back with her original owners.
“Hey, kitty cat!” squealed 3-year-old Lauren “Lola” Squires, as she greeted the cat for the first time at the Hilton New York hotel on Thursday evening.
Lola hadn’t been born when Willow went missing from the family’s home near the Rocky Mountains. But since the cat popped up in New York City, she has captured the little girl’s imagination.
Now the family is on a whirlwind media tour. The “Today” show flew them out to New York for interviews early Friday morning. The reunion, which came just moments after the family arrived at the hotel, was also taped.
The cat’s adventures, which mom Jamie Squires now hopes to parlay into a children’s book, were the subject of intense speculation in some circles.
Gothamist.com said the feline may have been adopted by a New Yorker on a Colorado ski vacation, thinking she was a stray. The two then flew back to New York, where Willow stayed for the next five years.
Willow disappeared when a contractor left the front door ajar during a home renovation project five years ago. The family sent out frantic online messages and put up posters around their home in Broomfield. But when Willow didn’t return, they assumed the petite 2-year-old had been eaten by a coyote.
But it turns out Willow was never on the menu. On Sept. 14, a man brought her to Animal Care & Control in New York, saying he had found her on East 20th Street. A quick scan identified the microchip that contained a code linked to a database of owner information. Despite moving from Broomfield to Boulder, the Squires had updated their information, making it easy for authorities to contact them.
When Jamie’s husband Chris got the call, the couple doubted it could really be Willow. They asked the shelter to send a photo of the cat in question.
Sure enough, it was their long-lost cat.
At the Hilton, Jamie Squires marveled at the weight the cat had put on. She seemed to be well-cared for, with a shiny coat and tipping the scale at a healthy seven pounds when she was found.
The children, the older two are Jack, 10 and Shelby, 17, delighted in asking where Willow could possibly have been for all that time. They may never know the answer. But Jamie Squires, who has vacationed around the world with her family, tells them Willow might have done some globe-trotting of her own.
Willow is set to fly back to Boulder on Sunday. She will join her former housemate, a yellow Labrador named Roscoe, and a new one: an English mastiff named Zoe.
Julie Bank, executive director of New York’s Animal Care & Control, said the story of Willow also provides an important lesson for pet owners.
“The message is A, microchip your animal. B, keep that microchip current with current address information so if an animal does get found, it can get returned to you and C, if you do find an animal, whether you’re on vacation or even just near your home, there might be somebody looking for that animal,” she said.
Bank added that when a pet goes missing, people often give up hope too soon.
“You should never give up,” she said. “You never know when your pet is going to return home.”
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)