Jason and Liz McKenry of Annapolis, Maryland went through a pet parents worst nightmare.
It was in 2006, before they were married and had children, they adopted a two year cat so Liz’s cat Bailey would have a buddy.
Someone left the door ajar, and that’s when Ritz, their grey tabby, ran out their door never to be seen again.
They tried of course to find him.
Said Jason, “We spent months looking all around and talking to the shelters.
Anything we could think of, we tried."
They posted flyers all over the area.
They called the shelters every few days, fearing that Ritz would be euthanized.
"Almost universally, the answer I got from all the shelters and vets was that they checked for dogs, but they really didn't check routinely for cats."
Days fell into weeks into months and into years.
Liz kept Ritz's "Lost Cat" poster to remember her fuzzy friend.
"It felt like if I deleted it, it never happened, and he'd be forgotten.
And I couldn't do that."
They never really gave up hope, but time moves slowly on.
They indeed got married, had two children, moved from the apartment into a home of their own.
And then, 16 years later…..
Half a dozen miles from their old apartment, Emily Russell is a lover of animals.
She had been feeding eight cats that showed up outside her mobile home near Lums Pond for years, and two years before, this sweet grey tabby showed up and joined the others for dinner.
Of the eight, he was the only one that let Emily pet him, and he slept under the home.
She says she also let the friendly cat come inside so he could play with her two indoor cats.
“He was just so sweet and innocent. I named this cat Tom because he looks like a Tomcat. He’s an old man.”
A few weeks ago, Tom showed up with an injured leg and paw.
“It looked like he got hit by a car.
His front leg was very hurt. He was holding it up and he wasn’t able to walk.”
She and her father took the cat to Lums Pond Animal Hospital hoping to save him from euthanasia.
The vet thought and advised the two that he thought it best to put Ritz down.
And whilst they were making the difficult decision, the vet scanned for a microchip.
“I started bawling my eyes out,” said Emily. “If I had known he had a chip, I would have taken him sooner, but he just looked like a feral cat.”
And that’s when the McKenry’s received an automated text message from the company that installed Ritz's microchip, letting them know that their cat was at a nearby vet.
"I was like, 'Well, that's gotta be a mistake.' I mean, I'm thinking they recycled the microchip number.
And she's upstairs and she overhears me, and she goes, 'What did you just say?!'"
"He's been gone for 16 years, I didn't think this was possible," said Liz.
And so it goes.
16 years later, Ritz is now recovering, enjoying time in his favorite chair, and receiving plenty of attention from the children.
Since, they found out from an old neighbor that all those years before, a grey cat was in his truck bed without his knowledge, until he saw from his rearview mirror the cat jump out a dozen miles away from home.
They surmise that was Ritz.
Said Jason, "I wish he could talk.
I'd love to hear his story."
Ritz is now a record holder. No pet has ever been lost for longer and reunited because of a microchip.
Everyone connected to the cat, from those who were feeding him to the makers of the microchip, is stunned by the story.
"Sixteen years? That’s a new record as far as I know," said Tom Sharp, president of AKC Reunite, a national database for microchipped pets. "That’s amazing."
The family has made it their gentle mission to dote and caress and love on Ritz now that they again have their chance.
A lot of lost time to make up.
So grateful for this opportunity.