See slide show of George.)" data-pin-do="buttonBookmark">
HOME AGAIN: George returned home last week after missing for more than 13 years thanks to an implanted microchip ID. (See slide show of George.) Image: Frank Walburg
De cat came back—thought she were a goner,
But de cat came back for it wouldn't stay away.
—Lyrics from "The Cat Came Back," a song written by Harry S. Miller in 1893.
It's a story that tugs at the heartstrings of all pet devotees: A cat given up for lost in 1995 has come home. As first reported by The Press Democrat, a gray and brown-tinged kitty with round, golden eyes named George was reunited with his Santa Rosa, Calif., owners last week after animal control officers tracked them down by scanning a microchip with identifying info implanted under the animal's skin. (See slideshow of George.)
Frank Walburg says his boy, George, now nearly 17, was but a shadow of his former self when found—weighing a paltry 6.3 pounds (2.9 kilograms), less than half the nearly 14 pounds (6.4 kilograms) he weighed the day he vanished over 13 years ago. He was also sick, suffering from a respiratory infection as well as toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease characterized by lethargy and weight loss, which can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
"He used to be like a heater on wheels," Walburg chuckles about his beloved feline friend, "like a lion in both appearance and walk," his wife, Melinda Merman, wrote on her Web site. Still, Walburg told the San Francisco Chronicle "there was no ambiguity that he was the same dude, no doubt about it."
George disappeared on June 23, 1995, back when Bill Clinton was president and Whitewater was in the headlines. Walburg says that he and Merman spent weeks scouring the neighborhood for him. They visited Sonoma County's five animal shelters every other day for six months, posted missing cat signs, sent flyers to and called every veterinary clinic in the area and offered a hefty $500 reward for his return. Alas, as days turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into years, Walburg says their hopes of finding George faded, "but we never stopped thinking about him."
"It was hard not knowing what might have happened to him," Walburg told ScientificAmerican.com, pausing to control his emotions. "We would imagine that he was just around the corner or trapped somewhere—and we would go and check."
And so one can only imagine how he and Merman felt last week when they received a call from Sonoma County Animal Care and Control: George was there, the message said. "We didn't know what to expect, we didn't know if he was dead or alive, because they also pick up animals on the road that have been killed," Walburg says, noting that he and Merman cried the entire 20-minute trip to claim him.
When they arrived at the county shelter, George was in medical isolation. "The routine practice is to scan for a chip and, if there isn't one, to make a determination on the spot" about an animal's fate, he says. "George was grossly sick, way underweight, he had watery eyes, was lethargic, not eating; there is zero doubt that since his health was so bad, they would not have been able to adopt him out to anyone and he would have been euthanized if it weren't for the microchip."
"He's home because of his microchip,'' Walburg says, noting that his wife, then a volunteer at the Humane Society (and now at Forgotten Felines, which spays and neuters feral cats and provides food for them until their natural deaths), insisted that George and his three littermates be micro-chipped when they adopted them in 1992. At that time, the technology was new and mostly used on dogs.
U.S. animal microchip manufacturer AVID Identification Systems, Inc., based in southern California, filed for a patent on the technology in 1985; the first chips were implanted into companion animals in 1989, according to Mary Metzner, AVID's shelter operations representative (who trains animal control officers and shelter personnel on how to properly implant and use the system). She says the rice-size radio-frequency identification (RFID) device is activated with a handheld scanner; the radio frequency used is 125 kilohertz.