By Jennifer McLogan

SOUTHOLD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A cat on Long Island’s North Fork managed to find its way home after being lost for weeks during February’s snow storms.

After almost three weeks of searching, John and Carol Forestieri, of Southold, were fearful.

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“It was futile, at least at that point. Ice storms, snow storms, rain, cold, bitter,” John said.

Buddy, their cat of 10 years, had gone in for minor surgery Feb. 8, and when John was placing the cage back in the car…

“The door was slightly open and he just pushed through and — gone,” John said.

John and Carol raced into the woods after Buddy.

“Snow up to, you know, crazy. He was crying the whole time and he was disappearing, and eventually his cries faded out from distance,” John said.

It is three miles by car from the animal hospital to the Forestieris’ home. It’s assumed Buddy took shortcuts, trekking over a busy highway, sheltering and scrounging for food.

“I think he’s pretty savvy, and I have a theory that he followed the deer tracks,” John said.

Buddy’s veterinarian explains cats have a homing instinct, perceiving direction by relying on magnetic fields along the earth’s north and south poles, much like a compass.

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“More cats than dogs, they just have an instinct and they know how to get home,” said Dr. Robert Pisciotta, of North Fork Animal Hospital. “We were all thrilled Buddy made it home. We were all rooting for him.”

“I still don’t quite believe it ’cause I didn’t expect it, and I get choked up every time I see him,” John said.

Even though cats possess a seemingly miraculous homing instinct, that doesn’t mean all lost cats will find their way home. Vets say consider having your pet microchipped.

Buddy may not need one. Weeks later, he was scratching at the back door at 4 a.m.

“At first I thought I was dreaming ’cause I had been dreaming about him. I knew it was him without even seeing him, it was the same scratch and he did give a cry,” John said.

It was a joyful awakening.

“It was a tearful moment. It was emotional and personal,” John said.

Buddy brought love back home.

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Buddy did lose several pounds, but his owners say he has been rewarded with his favorite canned cat food for dinner every night since.

Jennifer McLogan