Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The movement inside the gym bag startled Robert Watterson.
He was even more surprised when he unzipped it and a furry little head popped out – a kitten.
But the mystery was just beginning. The kitty is from Albuquerque. Watterson found her outside a thrift shop in Portland, Maine, over 2,300 miles away.
How she got there, nobody seems to know.
But Spice the cat is getting a plane ride back to her owner in Albuquerque. The owner wants to remain anonymous, according to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, but she was tracked down because Spice had a microchip with her identification.
In any case, Watterson, a handyman in Portland, says he’s glad the kitty will make it home.
“It was a really cool cat and had the softest fur you’ve ever felt on an animal,” he said Friday in a telephone interview.
The tale begins on Halloween, when Spice slipped out the door, perhaps as her owner responded to trick-or-treaters, said Jeana Roth of the Animal Refuge League in Portland.
Five days later, Watterson was browsing through a Catholic Charities thrift shop in Portland. He helped someone carry in some stuff and noticed a duffle bag on the stoop outside the shop.
“I saw something move in the bag,” Watterson said. “I didn’t know what it could have been. Out popped the cat’s head. It was pretty cool.”
The bag also had cat food and litter in it. Watterson believes someone in New Mexico picked up Spice while traveling to Portland, then decided to give up the cat by leaving her at a charity.
Watterson took the kitty home, where he already has a cat and dog. But Spice peed on the bed, and he eventually took her to the Animal Refuge League.
A scan of the cat revealed a microchip with the information on her owner, back in New Mexico. It’s a 35-hour drive between Albuquerque and Portland.
“I can’t imagine the story,” Roth said.
Spice’s owner in New Mexico didn’t want to speak with reporters, Roth said. She just wants her cat back.
Spice is now recuperating at the Animal Refuge League. But she’ll be back soon thanks to Jon Ayers, CEO of Idexx Laboratories, a veterinary technology company.
Ayers, who lives in Maine, read about Spice in the Portland Press Herald. He has four cats of his own and knows losing a pet is a nightmare.
“It just immediately struck me that there was a very strong bond between this pet owner and Spice,” Ayers said in an interview. “When I heard Spice’s story, I realized she really wanted to go home.”
Ayers is paying for someone with the Animal Refuge League to travel round trip to Albuquerque. Spice will ride in the plane’s cabin, presumably in a pet carrier on her companion’s lap.
“We don’t want Spice to incur any more stress than she already has,” Ayers said.
Barbara Bruin, Albuquerque’s director of animal welfare, said microchips are a critical way of reuniting lost pets with their owners. Animal Humane New Mexico and the city of Albuquerque will microchip pets for free through the end of the month.
Microchips are about the size of a grain of rice, injected near the animal’s shoulders. It’s painless.
“I have no idea how the cat could have traveled that far,” Bruin said, “but this is a testament to the importance of microchips and we are giving them out for free this month.”