Cat missing since 2013 found in Ontario, reunited with California owners

A cat from California made an unlikely cross-border homecoming Friday when Canadian animal welfare officials reunited the pet with her American humans for the first time in four years. 

BooBoo was turned over to Olgah Chmelicek at a Buffalo, N.Y., hotel, surrounded by media there to cover the cat that's become an international sensation.

"She was a little skittish when she first came in [to the hotel room]," Chmelicek  told CBC Radio's Ontario Today host Rita Celli. "We're letting her run around. She was a little scared at first but now she's loving and loving."

She said it was like the cat was thinking, "I remember her — yeah! She's just very sweet. It's amazing, so surprising. Amazed."

Chmelicek said the whole experience has been unbelievable.

"She survived all these years when we all thought she was gone. It's incredible," she said. "I'm still in shock."

Long trek

BooBoo made headlines after she was rounded up earlier this month as a stray in Puslinch, Ont., a small town 4,000 kilometres away from her home in Watsonville, Calif., where her owners reported her missing in 2013. 

The stunning discovery that the stray picked up in Ontario was from California came from data on a microchip implanted under the cat's skin. That left Guelph Humane Society staff scratching their heads as to how the animal made her almost four-year journey. 

Cat delivery

Chmelicek told CBC's Celli that this isn't the first time the cat disappeared: as a kitten BooBoo used to sleep with the children's stuffed animals and was invisible for hours — even days at a time. 

One time she spent several days among the toys, but since her food kept diminishing, the family figured she was still nearby.

Also as a kitten, BooBoo befriended the family's pit bull dog. The two had a close relationship that lasted until the cat's disappearance. Animal roughhousing between the two pets left BooBoo with a permanent bend in the neck, which also helped identify her. 

"She's a very sweet cat. She would go up to anybody, she's a very friendly cat," said Chmelicek. 

Even though she was an outdoor cat, spending much of her day outside, travelling a distance of over 4,000 kilometres is remarkable.

"The normal range of an outdoor cat is about 47 metres, unless they are severely startled," Bruce Roney, executive director of the Ontario Humane Society, told Ontario Today.

"This is extremely unusual."

Call from Canada

Chmelicek said the first time she saw her telephone's call display show the Guelph Humane Society's number, she ignored it. 

"I didn't even answer the phone the first day, it's gotta be a wrong number," she said. "Who's calling me from Canada? I was shocked."

But after making contact and sharing the news with her husband and daughter, she said the response was immediate: "We've got to do whatever it takes to get her."

Chmelicek stresses that none of this would have happened if BooBoo had not had an identity chip implanted. That's how the Guelph Humane Society was able to track the family in California; even though they had moved, their cell numbers had not changed.

"I can't express how important it is to chip your animal," Chmelicek said. "Even though it's four years later ... miracles happen."