Turns out, it was a black and white tuxedo cat. Very hard to see in the darkness. He was a little panicked out there on his own, obviously not an outdoor cat. Since we live out in a rural area on a dead end road, it was unlikely he just wandered out of a neighboring house. Probably dumped, someone hoping he would find a home like Barnie, the last cat who showed up unannounced.
It took a couple days to tame this guy, food eventually winning out over fear. He was a bit thin, but otherwise in good health. Maybe someone got tired of him? We checked with our nearest neighbor, and no, they had never seen this cat before.
I had to consider the options. Could he be added to our house? Would he be better with a home of his own? I took him to the clinic and planned to test him for FELV and FIV and do what I needed to ensure that he was healthy enough to adopt out. In the meantime, we called him Ellis.
First things first, let's scan for a microchip. I honestly expected to find nothing, but it is the quickest and easiest of tests to do. You know, just in case. Surprise! He had been microchipped. The ID number was registered to the county shelter, which was closed. They are on a very limited budget and hours have been drastically reduced. I had to wait 48 hours to call and find out who this guy belonged to.
I voiced my concern with the person at the shelter. This cat was obviously dumped off. Was there a protocol or way to verify a good home before returning this cat? She said to call and see how it went, and if they didn't want the cat I could bring it back to the shelter. Or they could call on my behalf. Neither option was very encouraging, but what if someone really missed him? That he somehow found his way here, almost 15 miles from the address on file? I have heard stories stranger than that.
I called the number registered to this microchip. The phone was answered on the second ring. I said, "I think I have your cat" and he replied "my cat?" This did not inspire confidence. So I went on, explaining that it was a tuxedo male and that he had a chip registered to this phone number. "My cat! That's my cat! He was the best cat ever. I thought I would never see him again" was the reply. This was a relief.
Turns out, they adopted this cat at the end of last year, about 6 months ago. He was an indoor-only cat who got out of the house one day. They searched and searched, but finally gave up hope. He kept saying how thankful he was, and could he come get the cat right away?
I had to go to town anyway, so we agreed to meet there. He was very grateful and knew things about this cat so I felt that the story checked out. (Who else would guess that this cat flops over for belly rubs like a dog?)
I also found out that our Ellis was really a Luigi, and was glad to see a microchip help reunite this kitty with his family. There was a gap in time, though, between going missing and being found. Where was he, what happened, and how did Luigi get so far from home? We will never know.
NOTE: It is easy to forget about pet microchips - if your pet has one, be sure to keep your contact information - name, address, cell phone numbers, etc., updated at the registering agency. You may also want to include secondary contacts in case you are out of town. If your pet isn't microchipped, now is a good time to consider this form of pet ID - it just may save your pet's life.