Miss Kitty’s mysterious life journey came to an end Tuesday, and while it may never be known exactly how the long-missing cat spent the last decade, her family is grateful to be certain of her whereabouts now.

This painting of Miss Kitty as an Egyptian Sphinx was a Christmas gift for Jennifer Banis’ mother before she died. A few years after the cat was lost, the family let go of the painting, donating it to a thrift store. Recently. they walked into the home of some new school friends and saw the painting hanging “front and center” over their fireplace. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Banis

Miss Kitty was euthanized Tuesday afternoon, just six days after the emaciated, anemic, flea-infested calico was picked up by the animal control officer in Durham. A microchip embedded between her shoulders alerted staff members at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick that Miss Kitty once had people who cared about her.

Miss Kitty went missing from her home in Topsham in late summer 2009 – two years after Jennifer Banis adopted the multicolored cat that had been included in her mother’s obituary when she lost her battle with ovarian cancer at age 55.

Brenda Martin was an adventurous woman who explored the tropics, swam with dolphins and watched a desert sunrise from a hot-air balloon. Miss Kitty, who came to Martin as a stray, was listed among her survivors as “her cosmic traveling companion.” A mystical portrait of Miss Kitty, painted before Martin died, suddenly resurfaced in Topsham several months ago and now has new meaning, as if it foreshadowed the cat’s return.

Yet despite several days of care by a veterinary specialist in Portland, including a tracheotomy and surgery to repair a collapsed larynx, Miss Kitty succumbed Tuesday to pneumonia and a host of other health problems that plagued the 16-year-old cat. She died surrounded by Banis, her husband and their four children at Portland Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Care.

“I really wanted to have a happy ending,” Banis said, her voice shaking as she spoke shortly after Miss Kitty passed Tuesday afternoon. “I really think my mother brought her to me so she wouldn’t die alone in the woods.”

Exactly where Miss Kitty has been the last 10 years is unknown. Did she find another home? Had she been roughing it outdoors for more than a decade?

“I wish we knew,” said Banis, 43. She had given up hope of finding the cat long ago.

Recent photo of Miss Kitty. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Banis

Miss Kitty reappeared a little over a week ago on Old Brunswick Road in Durham – about eight miles from Banis’ home in the village center of Topsham. Route 201, Interstate 295 and the Androscoggin River lie between where the cat started out and where she wound up. A resident of Old Brunswick Road reported Miss Kitty to Jeff Cooper, the animal control officer.

“She said a cat had been hanging around her house for the last two days and wouldn’t leave,” Cooper recalled Tuesday. “She had been putting food out for her. She said the cat was very thin and seemed to be deaf.”

When Cooper went to the woman’s house on Aug. 21, she carefully picked up Miss Kitty and put her in the animal carrier. At Midcoast Humane, Brittney Kunst, intake supervisor, did the initial general exam.

“She was definitely in poor condition,” Kunst said Tuesday. “She was very thin, and her fur was matted. She looked like she had been outside for a while. She definitely needed some TLC.”

Running a wand over Miss Kitty’s back, Kunst detected a registration number from the microchip embedded beneath the cat’s skin. She checked an online registry and found Martin’s address in Charleston, South Carolina, along with two names and four phone numbers. The first two numbers were disconnected. Kunst was leaving a voicemail with the last number when someone picked up the phone.

“It was awesome,” Kunst said. “As soon as I talked to them, they came right over to get her. We’ve had it happen a few times, when pets have been reunited with people because of microchips, but this is the longest separation I know of.”

That night, Banis and her husband, Ian Talmage, who run a catering company, delivered Miss Kitty to the Portland veterinary clinic. Over the next several days, the staff there tried to improve Miss Kitty’s chances. Banis chronicled the experience on Facebook.

“She’s in bad shape but we are going to do all we can to make her happy and comfortable,” Banis wrote. “They are giving her oxygen, heated blankets, food, fluids and medicine for asthma because they think it might be the cause of her labored breathing. Keep praying she makes it through the night and continues to get stronger. We’d love to be able to let her live out the rest of her days at home with us surrounded by soft blankets and love.”

After surgery on Aug. 23 for the collapsed larynx, things seemed to be looking up. “The doctor said she appears to have 25 lives,” Banis wrote. Miss Kitty went home with Banis and her family on Sunday, when each of her children spent time petting the cat, only to return to the clinic on Monday because the cat was struggling to breathe.

Amid the ups and downs of the cat’s treatment, Banis recalled the portrait of Miss Kitty as an Egyptian sphinx that she commissioned an artist friend to paint for her mother as a Christmas gift before she died. A couple years after Miss Kitty went missing, Banis decided to give the painting away in a thrift pile because it was too painful to see.

Then, several months ago, she walked into a new friend’s house in Topsham and saw the painting hanging on the wall. In retrospect, Banis said, finding Miss Kitty’s portrait again seemed to foreshadow her return, and now the friend has promised to return the painting.

On Monday, the surgeon performed a tracheotomy and administered steroids to reduce inflammation. By Monday evening, Miss Kitty was doing much better. “She ate a big meal at 6 p.m., and I just had to scold her for chewing on her catheter,” a clinic nurse told Banis. “She’s doing awesome and already being her sassy little self again.” But by Tuesday morning, Miss Kitty had developed pneumonia and her airway remained blocked.

“It all was too much for her little body,” Banis said Tuesday afternoon. “She was doing OK for a while. Then it just became clear to me that she came back to us because my mom wanted to make sure she was safe and comfy when she passed.”

Banis said she was especially glad that her mother’s “best friend” got to meet her children, who range from age 6 to 11. They cried when Miss Kitty died, she said, “but I think it was good for them to be present and be part of the process.”

Banis said she’s also grateful for the support she has received from the community, including contributions through a GoFundMe campaign set up to raise $2,500 for veterinary bills, which have totaled roughly $8,000, Talmage said.

“My mom was a really caring, connected person when she was alive, and I appreciate that people are connecting with us through this experience,” Banis said. “I know my mom is happy now. Miss Kitty is with her, and she’s taking care of her now.”

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