Lost cat trying to go home for holidays after mysterious 2,300-mile trip

IMAGE: Spice the cat
Spice the catAnimal Refuge League

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By Scott Stump

An animal shelter in Maine is working to make sure a lost cat returns home for the holidays, even though home happens to be on the other side of the country. 

A 6-month-old gray-and-white cat named Spice somehow made quite a journey of more than 2,300 miles from her owner's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, all the way to Portland, Maine, before eventually being taken to the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook, Maine, on Nov. 11. 

The owner of a cat named Spice is hoping for the cat's return after Spice was found more than 2,300 miles from the owner's home in New Mexico. Today

"We have been around 103 years, and I will tell you this is the first time an animal has arrived at the shelter from anywhere further away than a 100-mile radius,'' Animal Refuge League executive director Patsy Murphy told TODAY.com. "What are the chances?"

The cat was initially discovered in a duffel bag filled with kitty litter and cat food that was left at the Catholic Charities Maine Thrift Store in Portland on Nov. 5. A man who was shopping at the store, Bob Watterson, noticed the rustling in the bag and discovered Spice, who he initially took home after being unable to find any tags or collar on the cat, according to Murphy. Six days later, Watterson brought the cat to the Animal Refuge League after Spice made a mess in the house. 

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The animal shelter discovered that Spice had a microchip implanted, so it contacted HomeAgain, the company that handles the microchip data, and confirmed the cat's registration. HomeAgain then put the shelter in touch with the cat's owner in Albuquerque, who has told Murphy she does not want to be identified. 

"She was floored, absolutely stunned,'' Murphy said about the owner. "She doesn't know anyone in Maine and has never been here, so she had no idea how the cat got here. English is not her first language, and she is very shy, but she desperately wants the cat back.''

Several companies have offered their services to help Spice make the trip all the way back from Maine to her home in New Mexico. Today

While there is no way of knowing how Spice got all the way across the country, it's possible she hitched a ride with a long-haul trucker, or even hopped a train. The Catholic Charities thrift shop is close to an Amtrak station and a freight railroad, and clearly someone had been caring for Spice by leaving kitty litter and cat food in the duffel bag before she was found. 

The owner surmised that when she was handing out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween, the cat ran out of the house. Now the tricky part is getting her back, as the owner doesn't have the money to pay for a plane ticket to fly the cat home and neither does the Animal Refuge League. Southwest Airlines has offered to fly the cat home in the cabin of the plane. 

"We're not asking for anything more than we would ask for our own personal pet," Murphy said. 

Jonathan Ayers, the CEO of Westbrook-based IDEXX Laboratories, which manufactures and develops pet-related projects and services, has also offered to make sure Spice makes it back to New Mexico safely. 

"The goal is to get Spice home for the holidays,'' Murphy said. 

Spice's journey also illustrates a key procedure when it comes to owning pets. 

"The big takeaway is the importance of microchipping your cat, and the reunification that can happen whether it's two miles or 2,000 miles away,'' Murphy said. "It becomes a critical chip to re-homing the pet to the family." 

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