Home again after seven weeks... the cat whose disappearance sparked prayers and a £1,000 hunt
A Belfast couple who spent £1,000 in a bid to find their missing cat have been left overjoyed following his "miraculous" return after seven weeks.
Michael McGrath (47) and his fiancee Marta Larkin (36) were shocked when Spencer reappeared almost two months after going missing from their home in west Belfast.
"He's a little skinny but in good health and he's been given the all-clear from the vet, although she would like him to put on a kilogram in weight," Michael said.
The animal lovers had become disillusioned with their "very expensive" search, which entailed posting 1,000 flyers around the city, paying to get 60,000 Facebook views, and placing ads in newspapers. They even called in a 'pet detective' from Dublin.
The couple had almost given up hope in their desperate quest and resorted to the power of prayer.
"I gave up on the search effort, but never stopped believing Spencer was alive," Michael said.
"We decided to go a different route and we ordered a St Anthony candle and a St Francis candle online because they are the patron saints of lost things and animals.
"We said a prayer for Spencer and watched the candle burn for five hours, then we blew it out and went to bed."
By morning the prodigal cat had returned, leaving Michael and Marta completely speechless.
"I unlocked the cat-flap at around 9.30am for our five other cats and Spencer just popped on through - he must have been sitting outside waiting to get in," Michael said.
"He was starving, very smelly and he's been very needy, but apart from that he's fine."
Shocked that their prayers had been answered, he picked Spencer up and rushed upstairs to Marta, who was still in bed.
"She couldn't believe it and did a double take," he said.
"She bounced out of bed and became very emotional, so he's been getting a lot of attention."
But Spencer's brother Feidhlim, who was rescued with him just over a year ago after their mother died, was not so pleased to see him.
"Feidhlim's behaviour changed quite dramatically when Spencer disappeared and he has been hissing at him since he came home, but he will come around," Michael explained.
"Spencer is definitely glad to see him."
The ginger feline is now receiving treatment because the vet believes he has been surviving on food scraps, which has upset his stomach.
"Either someone has been keeping him or he has been getting regular feeds from people. I think it's probably the latter," his owner said.
"I don't believe he was too far away given that he was able to find his way home."
Michael added that he had no choice but to stay positive as long as there was reason to believe Spencer could still be alive.
"He's like a member of the family. We never gave up on him and are so happy to have him back where he belongs," he said.
Spencer, who managed to escape through an open gate on bin collection day, won't be allowed out for at least a fortnight.
"When he does get out again, we'll make sure the gate is locked," Michael insisted.