A cat that disappeared nine years ago in California was found in Idaho thanks to a microchip and a couple of good Samaritans.
The cat, a short-haired, tabby-colored domestic housecat named Harriet, previously lived at a California ranch with her owner, when she disappeared nearly a decade ago. On Sept. 19, a couple found her on the side of the road – about 1,000 miles away from her previous home – and took her to a nearby shelter.
The cat was dropped off at the Kootenai Humane Society in Hayden, Idaho, about 90 miles south of the Canadian border, said Development Director Vicky Nelson.
Harriet had a microchip, making it much easier to track down her shocked previous owner.
"We're always excited when we find a chip," Nelson told USA TODAY. "The lady (who) was at the front desk called the owner that was listed on the chip, she started talking to her, and the lady was pretty much speechless because she didn't realize that her cat was still alive."
Nelson said everyone was shocked Harriet turned up so far away from home.
Susan Moore, Harriet's former owner, lives on 41 acres outside of Sanger, California.
In 2010, the family already had dogs, so she decided to get a cat as well.
That's when Harriet came into her life.
She was just a kitten then, but the shelter told her she was very sick. They thought she had feline leukemia and suggested that she choose another cat.
"I don't want another cat," she told them.
So Moore took care of Harriet, giving her medicine twice a day and raising her in her office for the first month of her life.
When she was healthy enough, she moved to the family's ranch, spending lots of time outdoors with their dogs. She lived there until one night in 2013, she disappeared.
Then on Sept. 19, Moore got a call from Hayden, Idaho.
"We have your cat," she recalled the caller telling her.
She has had numerous cats. When they told her they had Harriet, she thought it was impossible.
"My son was 8 years old when she went missing," she said. "He's now 17."
She has also outlived the family's dogs.
How did she end up so far away, and what was she doing all this time?
Moore thinks Harriet may have sneaked into a horse trailer at the time of her disappearance and been picked up by someone when she got out.
Her husband also considered the possibility that she fell prey to a coyote. She searched everywhere, including at a nearby shelter.
"I was very distraught," Moore told USA TODAY. "I just had a very hard time believing she got caught by a coyote. She was very smart."
Nelson said there has been a rise in people relocating from California to Idaho, so she suspects someone found Harriet when she was out roaming around in California and didn't check for a chip. From there, they likely moved to Idaho, bringing Harriet with them.
Expert stresses importance of microchips in pets
Nelson said pets turning up safely speaks to how important microchips can be. Typically, people say the microchips look like a grain of rice – that's how tiny they are.
She said the chips are inserted using needles and are usually placed in the nape of the cat's neck, where it's fatty.
"You just kind of grab the skin," Nelson said. "Typically, they don't even feel it, which is good. And then when you have a scanner, it scans the information that's on the chip."
When scanned, the chips give shelters and other organizations a number that they can then look up to get information such as the owner's name, phone number, and sometimes, an address.
Nelson said they're pretty inexpensive ($25 at her shelter) and most veterinarian's offices can do the procedure.
"Some people think that if their animal has a collar on with an ID tag, that's enough," she said. "Unfortunately, animals climb around, they climb under fences, their collars could be pulled off and they wouldn't have any form of identification ... It's better to have a microchip because that way, you know they'll find their way back to you. It's their best chance to find their home."
Moore said Harriet could be reunited with their family but she also worries someone else might be looking for her.
"I feel like she belonged to somebody else after this," she said. "She lived somewhere for nine years. I mean, I have no idea whether she would remember us."
The cat is with one of the shelter's foster families.
"I wish Harriet could talk to us and tell us where she's been for the past nine years, but she can't, unfortunately," Nelson said.
For now, Harriet's past nine years are a mystery.
Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Missing cat from California found after nine years in Idaho