WESTBROOK — If kittens could talk, Spice might have a heck of a story.
The 6-month-old gray-and-white feline is resting comfortably and playfully at the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook after what almost assuredly has been an eventful three weeks.
But the tale of how she ended up in Maine, some 2,300 miles from her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, remains a mystery that may never be fully unraveled.
Here’s what is known:
A woman who lives in a large apartment complex in Albuquerque was handing out candy on Halloween night. Her kitten, Spice, sneaked out during one of the many times the woman opened her front door to greet trick-or-treaters, and didn’t come back.
Less than a week later, Bob Watterson was browsing at the Catholic Charities Maine Thrift Store on St. John Street in Portland when he saw someone dropping off some furniture for donation. Watterson helped the man lift the furniture and, when they finished, he noticed a black duffel bag sitting just outside the door. He assumed it was part of someone’s donation and brought it inside. When he set it down and turned to leave, he saw the bag move.
“I walked back over, unzipped the bag and this cat popped out,” Watterson said.
The bag also had kitty litter and cans of cat food, but the kitten had no collar or other identification.
Watterson didn’t know what to do. So he took the kitten home. That was Nov. 5.
His wife and teenage daughter were initially happy to take in another animal. The Wattersons already have a cat and dog.
But after a few days, Spice wore out her welcome, mostly because she used the bed as a litter box. So the Wattersons brought the kitten to the shelter in Westbrook.
Jeana Roth, community relations manager for the Animal Refuge League, said the staff examined the kitten. One of the first things the veterinarian did was check for an implanted microchip, which has become commonplace for pets. If an identifying collar falls off or is ripped off, the microchip can still identify the animal.
As it turns out, the cat had a microchip.
The shelter’s staff called the company that made the microchip and got a number for the animal’s owner – in Albuquerque.
Jennifer Brown, an adoption counselor at the Animal Refuge League, said it’s not uncommon for strays to end up in Westbrook, but never from that far away.
“This was a first for us,” she said.
Brown was the one who made the call to Spice’s owner, on Nov. 14. The woman, Brown said, was elated but confused.
“She said, ‘I don’t know anyone in Maine. I haven’t visited Maine,’ ” Brown said.
The Animal Refuge League staff speculated that the kitten could have crawled into a long-haul truck at some point, but that doesn’t explain why it was found in a duffel bag.
Roth declined to reveal the woman’s name or provide her telephone number. She did call the woman to see if she would speak to a reporter, but said the woman declined and just wants her cat back.
No matter what happened to Spice during her weeklong journey across the country, the animal is in fine health.
On Thursday afternoon, when Roth took her out of her crate for a photo shoot, the kitten nestled in her arms and purred.
“She has a bit of a kitty cold, but that’s pretty common when an animal comes into a shelter,” Roth said.
What happens to Spice next is up in the air.
The owner wants her back, but doesn’t have the money to have her flown across the country, Roth said. The Animal Refuge League is not in a position to buy a one-way airline ticket, either.
For now, Spice will remain at the Westbrook shelter.
“We’re going to do everything we can to reunite her with her owner,” Roth said.