Missing cat reunited with family after 7 years with help of Riverside County animal service chief

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (KABC) -- Most cats that get taken to an animal service center do not get reunited with their owners, but Riverside County Department of Animal Service Chief John Welsh traveled from Southern California to Knoxville, Tenn. in a day to reunite a cat with its owners.

"We like getting animals back to their rightful owners, even if they tend to be half the country away, or more than half the country away," Welsh said.

Joe and Leanna Drnec moved to Knoxville from California in 2015 but lost their beloved cat prior to the move. They say Ebi enjoyed spending time outside but one day she never came back home.

"It's been such a long time, we never thought we'd see her again," Joe said. "We really hoped and prayed that she found a good home, and that's kind of what we thought in the back of our minds, she must have found a good home. I think that's what people do just to kind of cope with it."

Welsh said someone brought Ebi to the shelter, and through Ebi's microchip, Welsh and his team found the Drnecs.

"It took us some time to figure out what were going to do, how to get this cat back to Knoxville," Welsh said. "The logistics were basically me asking my wife, 'Can I do this and you're not going to kill me?' And the reason why I have to ask my wife is because we can't use taxpayer money on a personal pet."

Welsh paid for the trip with his own money, traveling more than 2,000 miles with Ebi by plane and car to do so. He said less than 2% of impounded cats are reunited with their owners.

"My wife and I, we don't have children. We just lost our cat recently, and that was really hard for us, and I know how much cats mean to people, so very much money very well spent."

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