Five years after she went missing from her Colorado home, Willow the cat has been reunited with her owners in New York City.
How the calico cat ended up on a Manhattan street remains a mystery. But three children and their parents are certainly glad that she'll be headed home with them.
"Hey, kitty cat!" squealed three-year-old Lauren "Lola" Squires, as she greeted the cat for the first time at the Hilton New York hotel on Thursday evening.
Lola hadn't been born when Willow went missing from the family's home near the Rocky Mountains. But since the cat popped up more than 1,600 miles away, she has captured the little girl's imagination. Now the family is on a whirlwind media tour. The "Today" show flew them out to New York and they were headed to NBC's studios for interviews early Friday morning. The reunion _ which came just moments after the family arrived at the hotel _ was also taped.
The cat's adventures _ which mom Jamie Squires now hopes to parlay into a children's book _ were the subject of intense speculation in some circles. The news website Gothamist claimed an exclusive when an unnamed tipster said a New York man "fell in love" with the cat while on a ski trip in Colorado and adopted her. A blogger for The New Yorker wondered whether she'd "be bound to complain that nothing stays open late enough," upon her return to Colorado.
Willow disappeared when a contractor left the front door ajar during a home renovation project five years ago. The family sent out frantic online messages and put up posters around their home in Broomfield. But when Willow didn't return, they assumed the petite 2-year-old had been eaten by a coyote.
But it turns out Willow was never on the menu. On Sept. 14, a man brought her to Animal Care & Control in New York, saying he had found her on East 20th Street. A quick scan identified a microchip implanted when she was a kitten. The chip contained a code linked to a database of owner information. Despite moving from Broomfield to Boulder, the Squires had updated their information, making it easy for authorities to contact them.
When Jamie's husband Chris got the call, the couple doubted it could really be Willow. They asked the shelter to send a photo of the cat in question.
Sure enough, it was long-lost Willow.
At the Hilton, Jamie Squires marveled at the weight the cat had put on. She seemed to be well-cared for, with a shiny coat and tipping the scale at a healthy seven pounds when she was found.
The children _ the older two are Jack, 10 and Shelby, 17 _ delighted in asking where Willow could possibly have been for all that time. They may never know the answer. But Jamie Squires, who has vacationed around the world with her family, tells them Willow might have done some globe-trotting of her own.
Willow is set to fly back to Boulder on Sunday. She will join her former housemate, a yellow Labrador named Roscoe, and a new one: an English mastiff named Zoe.
Julie Bank, executive director of New York's Animal Care & Control, which runs the city's animal rescue and shelter system, said the unlikely reunion underscored the importance of implanting microchips in pets. All animals in city shelters get the chips before they're adopted.
Bank added that when a pet goes missing, people often give up hope too soon.
"You should never give up," she said. "You never know when your pet is going to return home."
Karen Zraick can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/karenzraick