Missing 7 Years, Cat Returns Home in Time for the Holidays: 'He's Our Christmas Miracle'
Benny, now renamed St. Nick, found his way home thanks to a microchip loaded with his previous owner's contact information
Nancy Bryant's cat had been missing for seven years when she received a call from a shelter near her home in New Hampshire on Dec. 8, saying that her now 14-year-old cat had been found.
She renamed Benny "St. Nick" to honor the festive reunion.
"He's our Christmas miracle," Bryant, a 65-year-old retired certified nursing assistant, tells PEOPLE. "I still can't believe it."
Bryant adopted the playful, long-haired black cat in 2011 when a friend's daughter was moving and needed to rehome him. Every day, he loved to go outside and explore the nearby woods, but he always came back home.
"One day he didn't come in," says Bryant.
Alarmed, she papered the neighborhood in missing-cat posters and sent out search parties.
"We kept searching the woods – we just never found him," Bryant says. "I finally figured some animal just got ahold of him."
Bryant didn't know that the cat's previous owner had him microchipped. A few weeks ago, a good Samaritan found the cat wandering the streets, took him to a vet, who took him to the New Hampshire SPCA in Stratham. The SPCA's staff scanned the cat's microchip, and tracked down the previous owner, who led them to Bryant.
"That was pretty crazy and unheard of," says Kelly Marinel, Manager of Animal Care at NHSPCA Stratham. "The fact that we were able to reunite him, and the fact that it was from so long ago was pretty amazing."
On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Marinel watched as Benny was reunited with his owner.
"It was really heartwarming," Marinel says. "Benny's an older kitty too – just to see him go back home, to the home that's been looking for him all this time was really special."
'He hugged me right away. And he let me wrap him up in a blanket," Bryant says of the reunion. "I sang to him all the way home. He fell asleep twice. He's just a good baby."
Now home, the cat is constantly with her.
"He's very lovable," says Bryant. "He has to be around us all the time."
When she and her husband play cards, the cat lays on the table and bats the cards. "He likes a lot of attention," she says. "He will come up and tap you when he wants you to pet him or scratch his ears. He’s very smart. He's just fun. He makes our heart feel good."
The veterinarian says Benny's now diabetic, almost deaf, and has vision problems. When Bryant picked him up, his spine and ribs were sticking out, she says, but he has gained 8 lbs. since he's been home.
"We call him our Christmas miracle. But we're always saying that just the strength it took to endure whatever he endured just means that he'll never give up," Bryant says. "Don't give up. He had the strength to survive. After this year, he's just a miracle. He's just our miracle."