For years, Neisha Starling had been actively looking for two cats she gave up for adoption in 2014 — Zeppelin and Hurley.
To her shock and delight, last week she found one of them and was reunited.
"Finding Zeppelin was a miracle," Starling said from her home in Freetown, P.E.I., just east of Summerside.
Last week, she was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a post from P.E.I. Lost Pet Network. Someone had found a cat in Charlottetown's Victoria Park and shared a photo. Starling said despite the seven years that had passed since she had seen her pet, she knew it was Zeppelin.
"My eyes just started to water, I just knew that it was him," she said.
'It haunted me'
Back in 2014 the mom of three was going through a divorce and couldn't afford to keep the cats, whom she had raised from kittens.
She found the cats a new home, using Kijiji. When she checked on them a week later, their new owner said the cats were hiding and peeing in the house. Starling offered to take back the cats, but the new owner stopped responding to her messages. Starling posted to Kijiji looking for the owner or any information about the cats, and despite hearing nothing, she continued to post photos of them to Facebook over the years, asking if anyone had seen them.
"It haunted me — I felt like I abandoned them," Starling said. "It ate away at me."
It just gave me so much peace that he's been OK all these years. It felt amazing. — Neisha Starling
When she saw Zeppelin's photo last week, she immediately messaged the finder. That woman had already dropped off the cat to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.
"At this point in time, I didn't know whether he's been abandoned all these years or what, so my first instinct was 'I need to bring him home,'" Starling said.
Starling hopped in her vehicle to go to the college, but was told they'd found a microchip in the cat, called his owner and he'd just been picked up.
"This time I was completely devastated because I felt like I was so close to seeing him again," she said.
'He has a good home'
Desperate, she posted again on the P.E.I. Lost Pet Network, explaining the situation and begging the cat's owners to get in touch with her.
Josh Carter of Charlottetown saw the post and reached out to Starling. He had adopted Zeppelin seven years ago from the P.E.I. Humane Society, and named him Maurice.
How could they be sure Maurice was Zeppelin? Starling showed Carter several old photos of the cat, and every marking matched. He is the right age, about 14 years old. The cat has unique spots on his white paws, Starling said, and he has a "tell": he loves water and would get right in the bathtub with her, which is unusual for a cat. Carter agreed, Maurice loves water.
Carter invited Starling to visit the cat, saying "it felt like the right thing to do." The next day, she came bearing treats and toys.
"It was kind of surreal, my eyes just started to water — I knew for a fact this was Zeppelin," she said of seeing him again.
It was a beautiful thing to see. — Josh Carter
"It just gave me so much peace that he's been OK all these years. It felt amazing."
She said she held him and cried, told him she loved him and apologized to him over and over for leaving him.
"It was a beautiful thing to see," Carter said of the reunion. "She was very emotional."
He said Starling is welcome to visit Maurice any time. He admits he has considered giving the cat back to Starling (she hasn't asked), but can't fathom it.
"I've had him for so long now ... Uprooting him now after six years and giving him back to another family, I don't know if that's necessarily the right play," Carter said. "She knows that I've grown to love him and he has a good home here."
Maurice was always "the most docile, chillest cat," Carter said, and loves to purr. Now elderly, Maurice sleeps most of the day and takes a few slow strolls around the house.
Starling said she hopes to reassure others who may have lost a cat that reunions are possible. She has four cats now, and is planning to get them all microchipped in case they get lost.
But her search isn't over: Starling said she still holds out hope of finding Hurley, whom she gave up at the same time. He would be about 12 years old, has arresting light blue eyes and also has a "tell," she said: he likes to sleep in the bathroom sink.
"I mean, some people win the lottery twice!" she said.