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Video: After 1,800-mile trek, cat visits Studio 1A!

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    >>> now to the tale of the colorado cat missing for five years before she was finally found 1,800 miles away in new york city . willow has been reunited with her family. we'll talk to the family in a moment. but first, their story.

    >> we were having some work done in our bathroom. but the people coming in and out left the door cracked. memories

    >> that was the last time jamie and chris squires and their children saw willow . posters were put up, but no willow .

    >> we thought she was eaten by coyotes.

    >> but five years after she went missing willow was found in new york city .

    >> we were really actually shocked. we agreed not to tell the kids because we absolutely didn't want them to get their hopes up and then it not be her.

    >> a good samaritan brought willow to a shelter where she was tracked back to her unners thanks to a tracking chip they had implanted. the cat's tale struck a chord with folks.

    >> people called from india saying, your cat looks like one down from my house. or new zealand.

    >> this headline-grabbing, talk show appearing cat is a bonified celebrity. even new york city 's mayor weighed in.

    >> cats repeatedly have nine lives and he clearly wanted to spend at least one of them here in new york city .

    >> on thursday, willow and her family were reunited, including 3-year-old lola , too young to have met the wayward kitty. but how did willow make the journey from colorado to new york ? many speculated on what the journey may have looked like. perhaps even a stop in the catskills before heading south . but an anonymous tip on a blog may shed light. the tipster said willow was found as a stray by a new yorker visiting colorado on a ski trip and was flown to new york . the anonymous tipster posted a photo allegedly showing willow relaxing at home in brooklyn. do these unique markings match willow 's? it appears they do. no new york owner has come forward so far, but it's a likely scenario. experts say willow who was five pounds when she went missing is now a healthy, hefty seven. so it's unlikely she made the journey alone, but we may never know for certain how it was done. now willow the cat is with us along with her owners, jamie, chris, shelby, jack and lola squires. she's happy as can be, this cat. she hasn't left your side since we got in here.

    >> no, she's perfectly content.

    >> did she recognize you guys right off the bat?

    >> i think so. i think she did. there's been so much attention for her and she's been shuffled around so much. she's a blil anxious, i think, about everything.

    >> you guys had given up hope. nobody thinks a cat will show up five years after the cat dis disappears, especially when you live in colorado and you mentioned there are coyotes and all kinds of predators there. what was it like to get the news she was located?

    >> we were really excited.

    >> yeah.

    >> we weren't 100% sure. we wanted to make 100% sure. it's her.

    >> when you watched this thing snowball and the talk shows and the mayor of new york city mentioning her in a press conference, what was that like?

    >> surreal.

    >> surreal. it felt a little surreal. but any attention that can bring attention to microchipping or people finding lost animals, we're fine with that.

    >> what a great idea you had back when you got willow . you had the microchip implanted and never thought you would have to use it. that's how you guys were connected again.

    >> right.

    >> is this something you want all pet owners to figure out?

    >> yeah. we think it should be almost a requirement like you get rabies shot. get your pet microchipped. it's important.

    >> have you weighed in as a family on how this cat got from colorado to new york city ?

    >> we talked about it to lola . i don't think anybody will ever really know the actual truth of what actually happened to her. so even though we explained it, but it's better for us to think she's been off on a great adventure. we travel a lot as a family. so it's good to think maybe she was doing the same thing.

    >> but with another family. we don't think willow hiked from colorado to new york . the tunnels alone and the bridges --

    >> right, right. but for a 3-year-old --

    >> it's an adventure. lola , do you love willow already? is she going to be your cat from now on? not jack's, not shelby's? just yours? yeah. good for you. we're happy this has a happy ending . we are.

    >> so are we.

    >> when are you getting back home with willow ?

    >> sunday.

    >> are you keeping the door shut from now on?

    >> absolutely.

    >> i know there is a contract.

    >> there is a contract between jack and lola .

    >> all right, guys. nice to meet you. good luck.

    >> thanks.

    >> let's go to ann, natalie and al.

    >> that's right. he's one of hollywood's most eligible batch lukas rossi achelors and now it appears george clooney has tied

TODAY staff and wire
updated 9/23/2011 4:55:21 AM ET 2011-09-23T08:55:21

Five years after she went missing from her Colorado home, Willow the cat has been reunited with her owners.

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Back together with Willow, whose journey took her from Colorado to New York City, her owners are grateful for the technology that helped them identify their long-lost kitty.

Video: After 1,800-mile trek, cat visits Studio 1A! (on this page)

The Squires family — mom Jamie, dad Chris and their three children — visited TODAY on Friday with Willow, who has been on a whirlwind media tour since she was recently discovered in Manhattan, far from her original home in Broomfield, Colo. The family was able to identify Willow thanks to a microchip that had been implanted in her when she was a kitten.

“It felt a little surreal,’’ Jamie Squires told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “If it can bring some attention to microchipping, or people finding lost animals, we’re fine with that.’’

“We actually think it should be almost a requirement like (when) you get rabies shots, get your cat microchipped, (or) your dog microchipped,’’ Chris Squires said. “It’s very important.’’

The cat, who was found healthy and well-fed, has been a particular source of delight for the Squires’ three-year-old daughter, Lola, who hadn't been born when Willow went missing from the family's home near the Rocky Mountains.

“We talked about it, even to Lola, and I don’t think anyone is really ever going to know the actual truth of what actually happened to her,’’ Jamie said. “It’s better just for us to think she’s been off on some great adventure. We travel a lot as a family. It’s good to think (Willow) was doing the same thing.’’

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 Lola, as she greeted the cat for the first time at the Hilton New York hotel on Thursday evening.

The reunion — which came just moments after the family arrived at the hotel — was taped. TODAY flew them out to New York and they'll visit NBC's studios for interviews early Friday morning.

Story: Bright lights, smart kitty: How cat went so far

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.

During Willow’s absence, the Squires family fielded calls from people in India claiming that Willow had been seen and emails from people in New Zealand regarding the missing kitty. That’s why when Willow turned up in the Big Apple, it was hard to believe at first.

“We were really actually shocked,’’ Jamie said. “We agreed not to tell the kids because we absolutely did not want them to get their hopes up and then it not be her.’’

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.

Story: More interest in microchips thanks to Colorado cat

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.

“We were really excited,’’ Jamie told TODAY. “We weren’t actually 100 percent sure. We wanted to make 100 percent sure and have them send a photo, but it’s her.’’

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.

Image: Willow the cat in NYC
Mary Altaffer  /  AP
Jack Squires, left, and his sisters Shelby, center, and Lauren pet Willow on Thursday in New York City.

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.

'Never give up'
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.

Video: Cat found on NYC street, going home to Colorado (on this page)

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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Vote: How long should you search for a pet before giving up?

Explainer: True ‘tails’ of animal survival

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    The pup disappeared from his backyard in Kansas City, Mo. — and about four years later in 2007, his owners were stunned to receive a phone call from an animal shelter 1,100 miles away in Billings, Mont., saying that Mickey had been found and identified with the help of a microchip. Mickey's family said their dog no longer knew his name when he came home, and his teeth bore signs of wear and tear — but other than that, he was fine, and they were thrilled to have him back in their lives.

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