They say cats have nine lives, and for one Siamese cat yesterday in San Francisco, after nine long, lost years, he was finally reunited with the people he shared his first life with.
Vanilla the cat went missing from his owner, Dara Gerson, nine years ago in Sausalito, Calif., and was presumed to be lost forever. Despite Gerson's and her daughters' efforts to find him, posting signs around the neighborhood and searching for days, the cat was nowhere to be found.
"We lived in Sausalito and my older daughter was holding the cat, and somebody had a dog that scared the cat and the cat ran out of her arms," Gerson told ABCNews.com. "We put up posters and asked everyone in the neighborhood and never found him. But we never gave up hope. I'm a pretty intuitive person and assumed he was still alive."
Vanilla was indeed alive, and had somehow over the years made his way across the Golden Gate Bridge to a home in Noe Valley, about six hours away from Gerson and her family.
The cat had been living with a gentleman who was recently diagnosed with dementia. In early December, the man's caretaker contacted the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control about what to do with Vanilla. The man was being admitted to the hospital and wouldn't be returning to the house, so he wouldn't be able to keep looking after the cat.
"We don't know how he got Vanilla at all, but we took him into custody because his then owner wasn't able to take care of him," said Kristen Hall, a worker with Animal Care and Control.
"Whenever an animal comes in, we scan them for microchips. Vanilla had a microchip and it did not match up to the person he had been living with, which was the man that had been hospitalized. But it matched up to Dara, who had the same cellphone as all those years ago."
Since losing Vanilla, Gerson had moved to Topanga, Calif., but luckily had never changed her cellphone number that she registered to Vanilla's microchip. She was elated to hear Vanilla had been found all these years later.
"I just got a call. It was the best Christmas present our family got," Gerson explained. "We got a call from an officer at the animal control and asked if I was the owner of a cat named Vanilla. And I was like, 'Well, yeah, a really long time ago.' We were literally jumping around and screaming and going bananas. We were absolutely devastated when he went missing."
No one knows exactly where Vanilla has been all these years, and are unfortunately unable to ask his most recent owner for any clues.
"We can't find out what the backstory is because the gentleman just isn't available for that memory," Animal Care and Control deputy director Kat Brown said.
But thanks to the technology of microchipping, which implants a chip the size of a grain of rice containing the owner's information between the animal's shoulder blades, along with a little bit of fate, the beloved pet is now home. All the way back over the Golden Gate Bridge with his original family.
"It is definitely an awesome story," Gerson said. "You don't ever really hear about pets getting reunited with their owners after nine years. The amazing thing, he was so awesome then, and he's still just as awesome now. I had another child that's been born since we had him. He was so amazing with our older daughter and he still has the coolest demeanor."