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A former UT student thought their lost cat died years ago. They've been reunited after he was found in Blount Co.

A lost cat thought to have died in 2018 turned out to be very much alive after the Blount County Animal Center did some sleuthing to find its original owner.

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — A cat that been lost for three years and formerly thought to have died is finally home with its original owner for the holidays Monday thanks to the Blount County Animal Center.

Over the summer, the animal center found a stray cat on the side of the road in really bad shape. They named him "Simba," and was severely emaciated with a variety of health issues -- including having a portion of his tail ripped off. The animal center said it appeared he had been on the run for quite a while.

The cat was microchipped, but when the animal center pulled up his data -- it said he had been reported dead several years ago, and the phone number was disconnected.

Veterinarian Dr. Michelle Williams at the animal center decided to do some sleuthing on the internet to track down the owner back in July, and was able to figure out the cat had originally belonged to a former University of Tennessee student after tracing the number to a rental unit on UT's campus.

"He looked a million years old though his teeth said he was about 5 or 6. It felt like a hopeless case, but Doctor Williams does not give up easily!" the animal center said.

Eventually, she was able to find the owner on Facebook and reached out to her -- discovering she was now living in New Hampshire. They also found out his real name: Castiel.

The owner was blown away that Castiel was still alive, saying she was certain he had died after she found a dead cat in the woods that had looked identical to him days after he disappeared.

Castiel still needed a lot of medical care to regain his health before he could be reunited with his owner. In October, that day finally arrived. Castiel had regained a healthy weight and looked like an entirely different cat from the one that had been brought into the shelter in July. 

Dr. Williams personally drove Castiel to reunite him with his owner halfway in Pennsylvania.

They said he is settling right back in to his new home with his old owner.