It was a happy reunion for Tilly and her owner last Friday -- the cat had been missing since October.
Petrified about the winter weather, plus coyotes and similar wildlife, Denise Doucette brought Tilly, a 9-1/2-year-old female indoor barn cat she found near her home, into Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem last week.
"Every morning at 5:30 a.m., I'd see her [Tilly's] fat body running up the hill," Doucette joked.
Tilly was shy at first, but eventually came up to Doucette's door. To give the cat a haven from coyotes, she left the garage door open a few inches for shelter and food for about a month. Since Doucette's cat was hissing at the new presence in the home, she then trapped Tilly and brought her to the shelter that Friday morning.
"I wanted to keep her," Doucette added. "If the animal rescue league didn't find the owner, I would have found a way to. She's so sweet."
After looking over the cat's markings, the shelter contacted the owner, Tina Teixeira, who had initially reported her cat missing on Oct. 19. Teixeira said Tilly accidentally slipped out of her apartment complex.
Teixeira had brought in a missing cat poster and pictures of Tilly to the shelter and routinely called to see if there was any news. She also hung up posters around Peabody.
"I was hysterically crying," Teixeira said, recalling her joy at being reunited with her pet feline. "I wasn't expecting to cry that much, but I was so happy that I couldn't believe it. She's wicked happy to be home. She's spoiled, purring and lying in our bed."
According to adoption counselor and communications director Stephen Oakes, everyone -- Teixeira, Doucette and the shelter staff -- was instantly crying happy tears at the reunion. They were all astounded as well that Tilly was even found because she is an indoor cat and wasn't familiar with her outside surroundings.
Oakes said the "moral of the story" is: "Cats are lost and found every day. Even strictly indoor cats are at risk for escaping and getting lost. It is highly recommended you keep identification on your cats or even microchip them. Microchipping provides permanent ID without the collar. When a cat is found, NEAS, other shelters and veterinary hospitals scan it. If it has been microchipped it can easily get traced back to its owner."
Oakes also encourages adoption since saving an adopted pet opens cage space so that NEAS can save yet another.
Doucette said she experienced the same type of pain first-hand when one of her cats was lost for eight days, stuck in a neighbor's house while the neighbor was on vacation.
As to Tilly's condition, Teixeira added: "She was in great shape, having a couple scratches on her nose, but she didn't lose any weight. I thought she'd be skin and bones, but she probably hunted and was fed."
In addition to being amazed at her healthy condition, Teixeira was astounded that Tilly was fine.
Oakes said her fur was a bit matted, but not nearly as badly as other winter strays brought to the shelter. Tilly was also alert, he added.
"I hoped I'd find her," Teixeira said. "But I honestly didn't think I would have. I thought either someone kept her -- or what I didn't want to think -- something bad happened to her. Denise was really sweet, and if she didn't find a home, she was going to keep her. She left her garage door open six inches to provide shelter."