After Hurricane Jean hit Florida’s Treasure Coast in 2004, Perry Martin’s beloved cat, Thomas Jr. — T2 for short — went missing and couldn’t be found. Martin searched for days for the orange tabby that he’d taken in two years earlier, and finally determined that T2 must have been hit by a car on the busy highway adjacent to his neighborhood.
“We didn’t have power because of the hurricane, so the windows were open and he somehow slipped out through a screen,” recalls Martin, 60, a retired K-9 officer with the Fort Pierce Police Department. “I looked everywhere, but he was gone. It was a sad time — I really missed him.”
Imagine his surprise last month when he received a call from an employee at his veterinarian’s office, who told him, “What if I told you that T2 was alive?”
“I said, ‘I’d probably tell you that you’re crazy — he died a long time ago,’ ” Martin tells PEOPLE. “I was stunned when she told me somebody had called in with T2’s microchip number and that he was waiting for me at the Humane Society.”
After a happy reunion, Martin took T2 home to meet his dog, Sassy, and to give him a bath. The tabby was in bad shape with an infected eye, a skinny frame and fur infested with fleas. He also had difficulty walking and preferred to spend most of his time sleeping, curled up on Martin’s lap.
“I wanted my vet to look at him, but he was on vacation, so I made an appointment for 2 1/2 weeks out,” he says, “and T2 and I got to know each other again. He was still as loving and friendly as he was when he showed up at my door wanting food one day in 2002. He charmed his way into my life. What a treat it was, to have him back.”
In late February, the cat had been found less than a mile away by a woman and her two children who took him home, but decided that he wasn’t a good fit with their dog, who didn’t appreciate felines, even friendly ones like T2.
“They took him to their vet, who called animal control, and from there, he went to the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast,” says Martin. “He’d survived for 14 years, so I feel that at some point, somebody else must have taken him into their lives and cared for him.”
Because T2 was 18 years old and in poor physical condition, “I figured I didn’t have much time with him,” he tells PEOPLE, “but I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few more months or so?’ “
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
When his vet returned from vacation, Martin took T2 in for an appointment on March 23, and learned that the cat was paralyzed from the hips down and had failing kidneys.
“The vet recommended that I put him down, because he was in excruciating pain,” he says. “It was really tough to hear that. But I knew it was the best option.”
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To make matters worse, Martin had put one of his dogs down just days before T2 reentered his life.
“I didn’t want to be there when the doc gave T2 the shot — I couldn’t bear it,” he tells PEOPLE. “So before I turned him over to the vet, I told him that Hope and Igor and Jazz — the other patrol dogs I’ve had in my life — would meet him on the other side of the bridge. For most of the way home, I cried. I sure wish we’d had more time.”
Martin is grateful, though, that he had a chance to see T2 again and feel the warmth of the feline, curled up cozily on his lap.
“Fourteen years! That’s just unheard of,” he says. “I’m so happy to have had those extra couple of weeks with him. How many people get a chance like that? I feel very grateful.”