In a tale so replete with coincidences even the print version will make you double-take, twice, a cat who’d vanished ten years ago without a trace has emerged battered, burned, and clinging to life from raging wildfires in California, less than a mile from the site of his disappearance, only to be reunited with his original adoptive family — who now live in Colorado.

But the improbable tale of Pilot the cat — and his harrowing return to the Thompson family who love him dearly — only gets stranger from there.

Jenn Thompson pets Pilot on Thursday afternoon in her Longmont home. Pilot went missing 10 years ago in California, but was found during October’s wine country wildfires and returned to his family, now living in Longmont. Photo: Lewis Geyer

Jenn Thompson, her husband, and their two young children brought a kitten into their Santa Rosa, California, home in 2004, and named him Pilot — but the beloved furbaby abruptly took flight not three years after his adoption.

Although the Thompsons had opted to have Pilot microchipped, trips to humane societies and animal shelters proved fruitless; there was still no trace or reports of his reappearance by the time the family relocated to Longmont, Colorado, in 2010 — leaving reluctantly and with a pang in their hearts for the missing animal.

In the interim, the family adopted four other cats — one who only recently passed away from cancer — leaving another empty space in Jenn Thompson’s heart. And that was the impetus — as she watched the record-setting conflagrations near their previous home devour entire neighborhoods — for her decision to help the cats rescued from the massive, calamitous California fires.

“I was telling one of my friends out here, ‘I feel like I should adopt one of these cats,’ because there were so many,” Thompson told the local, Times-Call. “We lost a cat to cancer last spring and I’ve been telling my husband, ‘We have a vacancy.’”

Although offering to assist by adopting one of the plethora of stranded or abandoned cats was an act in the interest of animals, in general, she had no way to predict the astounding news in store.

On Halloween, before she had the opportunity to consider the commitment to adopt, Thompson received a call from California — but the news wasn’t at all what she had expected.

“It’s pretty crazy,” she recalled of the subsequent conversation with her husband for the Times-Call. “I got off the phone and told my husband, and he’s like, ‘You’re going to go get him, right?’”

Just over a mile from where he’d first vanished from his indoor-outdoor home and distraught family in 2007, Pilot approached a woman sifting through rubble looking for her own cats in the wake of the catastrophic fires — so the good Samaritan brought the starving and tattered animal to get the help he so plainly needed.

Incidentally, the Northern California veterinary hospital where the woman brought Pilot employs Thompson’s sister — vets there scanned the recovering cat and utilized the microchip implant to track down his adoptive family in Colorado.

After a journey to retrieve the longer-lost-than-not Pilot — whose actions and whereabouts during his interregnum will remain shrouded in feline secrecy — the Thompsons reacquainted themselves and were surprised he seemed to remember their brief time together over a decade ago.

“I think he recognized my voice and that was pretty cool,” Thompson remarked. “When I brought him back, he definitely recognized my daughter. Definitely. She was 8 when he went missing. Right away, he went and cuddled up with her. I had no doubt. It’s like, OK, he knows my kid.”

Pilot had to endure two surgeries, one to amputate five toes, but the aging kitty — described as ‘stoic,’ though nonetheless fond of humans — is heading for a relatively full recovery and happy to be reunited with the family he lost.

pilot

Photo: Lewis Geyer/Times-Call, staff photographer.

To Thompson’s surprise, Pilot maintains a quirk she’d forgotten from his kitten days — he occasionally stands in his water bowl.

Whether or not the cagey cat escaped coyotes and other predators the Thompsons had feared when he originally evanesced, Pilot’s escape from the raging infernos consuming California is a testament to the animal’s fortitude — but he isn’t telling anyone exactly how many of the nine lives he spent just to get back home — nor how many he has left.

Thompson isn’t concerned.

“We’re so happy to have him back and whatever amount of time that is, he’s comfortable and happy now.”


Images: Lewis Geyer/Timescall.com.