When Perry Martin got a call from his veterinarian's office suggesting that someone had found his cat, the retired Fort Pierce K-9 officer was flummoxed.
Thomas Jr. — nicknamed "T2" — had been lost in Florida during Hurricane Jean in 2004 and never seen again.
"They said, 'Perry, what would you do if we told you that T2 was alive?'" Martin told WPTV. "And I said, 'I'd probably tell you you're crazy because he died a long, long time ago!'"
Optimistic that the orange tabby truly had surfaced, Martin made his way to the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast where he indeed found his long-lost kitty.
"As soon as I looked at that face, I knew exactly who he was. A little bit older, kind of like me!" he said with a laugh. Their happy reunion was documented on Facebook by the shelter, and the story soon spread around the world.
T2 had been microchipped by Martin's vet, and even though Martin had moved and changed phone numbers, shelter employees managed to track him down with a little sleuthing.
When T2 first disappeared, Martin and his neighbors searched for him unsuccessfully. Martin even filed a missing-cat report with the Humane Society.
"With him being microchipped, I figured someone would find him and call me," he told TCPalm. When that didn't happen, he assumed the worst.
The call eventually came that T2 had been found ... but it was 14 years later than Martin expected.
Where was T2?
Martin thinks T2 likely found another home for a while.
"I'm convinced he had to have had somebody bring him into their house," he told WPTV. "He must have been part of somebody's family and maybe he got out. I just can't see him living wild in the area I figured he would be."
Right before the kitty made his way to the shelter, he strolled up Lisa Wadsworth's driveway in Stuart, Florida. Wadsworth and her two children fed the kitty and gave him a bath.
"He was emaciated and walking funny," she told TCPalm. "But he was the sweetest cat I'd ever met."
They had to keep him outside because the family dog wasn't a fan of kitties, but they started to grow attached to the friendly feline they had dubbed "Ginger." Knowing they couldn't keep him, they decided to take him to their vet, who scanned him and found the microchip. Two numbers were disconnected and no one answered the third, so they thought the cat had been an owner surrender.
They left the cat with their vet for treatment, knowing he would be turned over to animal control. Wadsworth was going to call her vet to check on the kitty's fate when she was elated to see T2's reunion with his owner on television.
As for T2, he's back with his dad and a new friend, a gentle golden retriever named Sassy.
"He had an opportunity to come home, spend time with his family and be on a good note when he passes," said Martin. "Until that day, he'll be spoiled like he was before he left."
After about two weeks with T2, Martin had to make the difficult decision to put his kitty to sleep. A visit with the vet found that T2 was paralyzed from the hips down and had been shuffling along without full use of his legs. He also had a growth in his eye and an infection in his mouth, affecting his vision and his ability to eat.
Although their time together again was short, Martin told TCPalm he was thrilled to be reunited with T2, if only for a few weeks.
"What animal can get that second chance to say goodbye?" Martin asked. "It doesn't happen."
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in March 2018.