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Lost cat found in Idaho 9 years after wandering away from California home

"I’d like to know how the heck that cat got all the way to Idaho,” said Susan Moore, who adopted Harriet when she was a kitten.

Harriet turned up at the Kootenai Humane Society in Idaho, nine years after she went missing from her California home. (Kootenai Humane Society)

Susan Moore was sure she would never see her cat again. Harriet, a brown tabby, had disappeared from Moore’s ranch in central California nine years ago.

Moore was heartbroken after Harriet wandered off. She searched her 41-acre ranch near Clovis, Calif., called nearby animal shelters and registered with HomeAgain.com, a recovery service for lost pets, to no avail. Her husband, Brian Ellison, suggested the most likely reason for a rural cat vanishing: A coyote must have gotten her.

“I was very distraught about this cat going missing,” said Moore, who had tenderly cared for Harriet for three years after adopting her from a shelter as a kitten. “I was really bonded to this cat.”

Eventually, Moore, 57, accepted the sad loss.

Then, on Sep. 19, her phone rang. The caller was from an animal shelter, and said she had Moore’s cat.

“My cat?” Moore answered, confused.

“We have your cat, Harriet,” replied the caller, saying the cat was in a shelter in Hayden.

“You must have the wrong number,” Moore said. “And where is Hayden, California?"

The worker told her she had scanned Harriet’s microchip and found Moore’s information. She said she was calling from Hayden, Idaho — some 17 hours by car and more than 1,000 miles away from Moore’s ranch.

“I was completely shocked,” Moore said.

Vicky Nelson, development director at Kootenai Humane Society, where the cat was dropped off, was equally baffled. She said Harriet was found wandering around the small city of Hayden, and a Good Samaritan found her and brought her into the shelter, which is in the process of changing its name to Companions Animal Center.

“I wish she could talk because I’d like to know how the heck that cat got all the way to Idaho,” Moore said.

Harriet’s whereabouts and survival methods for almost a decade remain a mystery, but both Moore and Nelson have a few theories. The most likely explanation is that after Harriet wandered off, somebody picked her up in California, kept her as a pet and later moved to Idaho, where she wandered off again.

They learned they were dating the same man. They dumped him, took a vacation together.

“Somebody was either taking good care of her, or she knew exactly where to go for breakfast lunch and dinner,” Nelson said, adding that Harriet is a healthy cat.

Nelson added that her theory about Harriet’s travels is purely conjecture.

“It’s one of those things where you wish you had a little camera inside them where you see where they’ve been, how they survived, and who they were with,” Nelson said.

She said that Harriet is a case study in the importance of microchipping.

“Even folks that have been here 30 years, I don’t think anyone has seen an animal that was such a testament to microchipping as Harriet was,” Nelson said.

Moore — after recovering from the shock that her sweet Harriet was still alive — asked her brother, Steve Swarts, who lives in nearby Lewiston, Idaho, if he would pick up Harriet from the shelter and fly her home to California. But she also realized that Harriet had been separated from her for so long, and the kitty, now 13, may not even remember her.

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Local news media reported the story on Friday, and that same day, Maureen Wright, one of the shelter’s volunteers, saw Harriet waiting in a shelter cage. She immediately wanted to bring her home.

Wright, 75, lives on a mountain ridge in Hauser, Idaho, where she fosters older cats and dogs typically for the remainder of their lives. Senior pets are hard to adopt out, so the shelter provides medical care and supplies while the foster parent provides the love and housing.

With Moore’s blessing, Wright took home Harriet last weekend, where she joined four elderly dogs and four outdoor foster cats that live in a heated “catio.” About a month ago, Wright’s elderly indoor cat Yin Yang died, and she craved the companionship of a cat who could live with her indoors.

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Sure enough, Wright quickly fell for Harriet, whom she has re-named Isis after the Egyptian goddess. The cat is settling into her new home and gets along great with the foster dogs.

“She’s beautiful, regal, and just an absolute lover,” she said. “So, she has a home with me for the rest of her life. She’s off the market.”

Moore, chief executive officer of Dumont Printing, said Harriet resurfacing in her life brought back memories of when the cat lived with her at the ranch, where Harriet divided her time between the barn and the house. Moore often brought Harriet in to work with her, and her colleagues were sad when the cat went missing in 2014, she said.

When Harriet was found, Moore thought she would send her to live with her 84-year-old mother, Barbara Swarts, rather than be a barn cat with her nine horses and five roping steers. Moore said she is happy that the kitty now named Isis has a new home, and that she doesn’t have to go through the stress of traveling.

“I told my husband, ‘She definitely has more than nine lives, that’s for sure,’” Moore said.

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