When devastating wildfires broke out in California's wine country this October, Jenn Thompson felt a tug at her heart to adopt one of the hundreds of cats rescued from the ash.
"I was telling one of my friends out here, 'I feel like I should adopt one of these cats,' because there were so many," said Thompson, of Longmont. "We lost a cat to cancer last spring and I've been telling my husband, 'We have a vacancy.'"
Before she could think about it any longer, she received a call on Oct. 31.
Thompson's cat, Pilot, who wandered away from the family's then-home in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 2007, had been found in the rubble by a good Samaritan looking for her own cats a little more than a mile from where Pilot went missing all those years ago.
Pilot was badly burned and in extremely poor shape, but alive and in the care of the Northern California pet hospital where Thompson's sister works. Vets had scanned the microchip inserted when he was a kitten and tracked down Thompson, who had since moved to Longmont.
"It's pretty crazy," Thompson said. "I got off the phone and told my husband, and he's like, 'You're going to go get him, right?'"
After a trip to Northern California to fetch Pilot, two surgeries, including one to amputate five of his toes, and lots of healing, he's finally settling into his new — but familiar — home with the Thompsons and their three other cats.
"I think he recognized my voice and that was pretty cool," Thompson said. "When I brought him back, he definitely recognized my daughter. Definitely. She was 8 when he went missing. Right away, he went and cuddled up with her. I had no doubt. It's like, OK, he knows my kid."
Thompson has no idea where Pilot has been for the last 10 years. The family welcomed him as a kitten in 2004 and he became a loyal indoor-outdoor cat, acting more like a dog by following Thompson's son and daughter wherever they went. He was 3 years old when he didn't come back one night.
She said they were devastated. They checked the local humane societies and animal shelters, but thought he might have become a meal for the area coyotes.
Then, the family moved to Longmont in 2010, never expecting to see Pilot again.
Thompson started a GoFundMe campaign in the hopes of raising $500. But when donations surpassed $4,000, she realized that her story touched so many.
"When I got the first donation, I cried," she said. "Everything has been so surreal. And just how many people have been interested and supportive and on Pilot's side, it's been really cool."
Pilot is an old cat now at 13. He's stoic, but loves people. And he still tries to stand in his water bowl like he did when he was young — a quirk Thompson had forgotten.
"We're so happy to have him back and whatever amount of time that is, he's comfortable and happy now," Thompson said.