A calico cat named Willow, who disappeared from a home near the Rocky Mountains five years ago, was found Wednesday on a Manhattan street and will soon be returned to a family in which two of the three kids and one of the two dogs may remember her.
How she got to New York, more than 1,600 miles away, and the kind of life she lived in the city are mysteries.
But thanks to a microchip implanted when she was a kitten, Willow will be reunited in Colorado with her owners, who had long ago given up hope.
"To be honest, there are tons of coyotes around here, and owls," said Jamie Squires, of Boulder. "She was just a little thing, five and a half pounds. We put out the 'Lost Cat' posters and the Craigslist thing, but we actually thought she'd been eaten by coyotes."
Squires and her husband, Chris, were "shocked and astounded" when they got a call Wednesday from Animal Care & Control, which runs New York City's animal rescue and shelter system.
Willow had been found on East 20th Street by a man who took her to a shelter.
"My husband said, 'Don't say anything to the kids yet. We have to make sure,'" Squires said. "But then we saw the picture, and it was Willow. It's been so long."
ACC Executive Director Julie Bank said a scanner found the microchip that led to the Squires family.
"All our pets are microchipped," Squires said. "If I could microchip my kids, I would."
The children are 17, 10 and 3 years old, so the older two remember Willow, Squires said. As for the 3-year-old, "She saw the photo and said, 'She's a pretty cat.'"
The Squireses also have a yellow Labrador named Roscoe, who knew Willow, and an English mastiff named Zoe.
"We had another dog back then, too, and I remember that Willow would lie with them as they all waited to be fed," Squires said. "She thought she was a dog."
Squires said Willow escaped in late 2006 or early 2007 when contractors left a door open during a home renovation.
Since then, the family had moved about 10 miles from Broomfield to Boulder, but it kept its address current with the microchip company.
Bank recommended that all pet owners use microchips.
She said Willow, who now weighs 7 pounds, is healthy and well-mannered and probably has not spent her life on the mean streets of Manhattan. But there are no clues about her trip east or anything else in the five years she's been missing.
Squires seemed a bit worried about a possible New York state of mind.
"I don't know what kind of life she's had, so I don't know what her personality will be like," she said. When Willow disappeared, she said, "She was a really cool cat, really sweet."
The ACC and the Squireses were trying to arrange for transportation back to Colorado and health certificates and said it might be two weeks before the reunion. Willow may spend some time with a foster family in New York.
"The kids can't wait to see her," Squires said. "And we still have her little Christmas stocking."