When 1-year-old Ashes the cat escaped from Denise Cilley's home in 2015, her family feared the worst. They didn't believe that the domesticated indoor cat could survive in the western Maine wilderness.
So when Cilley got a call late last month from a Florida animal shelter about her missing cat, she was understandably confused.
While it's not clear how Ashes made the 1,400 mile trip to Florida, the female gray tabby cat will soon return to its home in Maine, thanks to an airline employee and an internet fundraiser.
According to Patch.com, Cilley adopted Ashes, then a kitten, in October 2014. The family took care to keep the cat inside, even though they owned other cats that would occasionally venture outdoors.
However, Ashes escaped the home in August 2015 — likely making its way out of the house with the other cats.
After several weeks of searching for the cat, the family finally gave up hope. According to UPI, the family believed the cat might have been taken by a fox or another predator native to the region.
But on Jan. 22, Cilley says she got a call from an animal shelter in Longwood, Florida, a suburb of Orlando.
While Cilley was initially confused when the shelter reported that they had found a microchipped cat registered to her, she eventually put the pieces together.
"I'm like, 'Well how old is this cat?' 'Pretty old,.' I'm like, 'I've been missing a cat for six and a half years,'" Cilley told WGME-TV in Portland, Maine. "Then my daughter heard me talking on the phone and was like, 'Is it Ashes, is she alive?' and yes, she is."
Patch.com reports the Ashes had a few medical problems, including a respiratory issue and missing teeth. However, veterinarians say the cat is recovering well.
However, the question of how to get Ashes back to Maine was still up in the air. Luckily, Cilley was able to connect with an animal advocate named Janet Williams, through a mutual friend.
Thanks to connection in the airline industry, Williams found a Southwest employee who offered to take Ashes back to Maine on a day off. In addition, a GoFundMe campaign raised more than $1,800 for the cat's medical expenses.
Cilley and her family are looking forward to having Ashes home soon. She encourages everyone to microchip their pets.
"They're not that expensive and can save so much heartache if your cat ever gets out," Cilley told Patch.