07/17/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Her cat Lapis had been missing for two months, so Jennifer Hill wasn't expecting the message on her answering machine June 11. A man was calling to say he had found the 2-year-old black-and-white kitty. Hill was even more surprised when David Grant told her where he was calling from: Canada's Yukon Territory, about 3,000 miles from Hill's home in Boulder, Colo.
"My first thought was that this was a prank," says Hill, 33, a graduate student at the University of Denver. "I called the operator and asked if the area code they gave was really the Yukon." Told that indeed it was, Hill called Grant, and she and Lapis were reunited. But the mystery remains: How did the cat get so far? One explanation: Hill thinks that Lapis may have jumped into the back of a truck on April 19. "She's an indoor-outdoor cat, but she's always inside between 4 and 5 p.m.," she says. "When she wasn't back by 5, I knew something had happened."
Hill papered her neighborhood with flyers with Lapis's picture. But, as spring turned to summer, she began to lose hope. At about the same time, though, Grant, a landscaper in Whitehorse, a small town about 120 miles short of the Alaskan border, visited a friend's home and spotted a strange cat hiding under a nearby building. It was wearing a collar and ID tag, and neighbors had been feeding it. "It seemed a little stressed out, for sure," says Grant. "When we finally got the collar off the cat's neck, I said 'Hey, I'll give the number a call.' "
Hill, who spent $2,000—including airfare and a $200 reward she insisted on giving Grant—getting Lapis back, says the experience has taught her one thing: "Put a tag on your pet. It brought my cat back."