The Accidental Purr-ist

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This is the story of a British house cat who was let out of its home for a nighttime stroll . . . who then stowed aboard a luxury ferry and traveled from England to Barcelona, Spain more than 700 miles away.

Sandi, a red shorthaired tabby cat is owned by Tim and Patricia Austin. They live in a quiet village in Hampshire, England.

Tim, a retired businessman, had let Sandi out one evening as usual, but he and wife, Patricia, became concerned when Sandi did not return home the following morning.

The Austins quickly created a stack of 'lost cat' notices on their computer and posted them all over their town. No one had seen their wandering feline. The couple, both 67, feared their four-year-old cat had been run over a car . . . or possibly killed by a fox.

Imagine their surprise when an official from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs phoned four days later to say Sandi had been found 720 miles away in Bilbao, Spain!

Sandi was discovered when stunned ferry staff saw him crouched under a truck as they prepared to unload the Pride of Bilbao, a luxury ferry which had traveled from Portsmouth, Hampshire to Barcelona, Spain.

The ferry crew took Sandi to a vet who used an electronic "scanner" to read the information from an embedded microchip in the cat's neck that told then that he was registered in the United Kingdom.

While only Sandi knows the complete story (and he isn't talking), it is thought Sandi probably climbed up under the hood of a car to keep warm and was accidentally driven to the port in Portsmouth, 11 miles from his home, and onto the ferry.

The crew decided to give their feline stowaway a first-class trip home. Sandi enjoyed a special menu of salmon, chicken and milk and lounged in a warm pillow in an en suite cabin with sea view. The crew members visited Sandi hourly during the 36 hour sailing to give him pets and snuggles. Even the captain dropped in to share time with the lucky kitty.

If this were a fairy-tale, Sandi and his owners would have been reunited as the ferry docked in England ... but the cat's adventure is not quite over. Animals that cross national borders must be kept in quarantine for six months, at the Austins' expense, in case it picked up any foreign diseases while traveling.

The moral of the story, of course, is to make sure your pet is microchipped . . . just in case he goes on an unexpected vacation and becomes an accidental purr-ist.

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