Do cats have nine lives? Tips the Egyptian Mau was separated from her family for nearly two years after escaping from her box upon arrival at Changi Airport. But after 21 months of living "in the wild", she was brought home.
SINGAPORE: In September 2014, the Hager family had been looking forward to settling into Singapore with their two cats, Emmie and Tips, after relocating from the United Kingdom. But it was not to be.
Tips the cat had arrived at Changi Airport from Britain, but somehow managed to escape from her carrier. Despite an intense search, she stayed under the radar.
That fateful day is still fresh in 15-year-old Katie Hager's memory.
"Dad got a call after dinner, saying 'We have only one cat.' They didn't know which cat it was. 'We only know where one cat is; she somehow got out'," Katie recounted. "We got the two carriers (later), one with Emmie in it, the other with the door hanging open - which was pretty awful to see.
"Everything you can think of, we felt it. We weren't getting information. People weren't able to tell us what had happened, or who we could ask, who would know, or who was responsible. There was nothing we could do," said Katie's mother, Victoria Hager.
Mrs Hager recounted that losing Tips was particularly frustrating as she did not know which organisations she could approach. In the end, she sought out animal shelters, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), as well as animal groups on Facebook.
"We gave them photos, descriptions and Tips' microchip number - thank goodness we did," said Mrs Hager, with a smile of relief.
"WE WERE HOPING FOR MONTHS"
The Hagers held onto hope that Tips might, miraculously, be picked up - but even that began to fade away as time went by.
"We were hoping for months, but it sort of got to the point where we figured that she wasn't going to come home. We stopped trying - it felt so awful to get so many no's," Katie said.
Mrs Hager added that the family found out the airport area had been fogged soon after Tips' escape, and assumed she had been caught in that and died as a result.
Tips' disappearance hit the Hagers hard, but none more so than Katie, who had developed a special bond with her.
"Tips was very, very strongly bonded with Katie. She'd sleep with Katie almost every night - they were a pair," said Mrs Hager.
Katie - who has two brothers, one of whom proudly declares he is not a "cat person" - lit up when talking about her history with Tips. One particular memory stands out - a faint scar Tips left on her face, barely noticeable until pointed out.
"I was sort of messing around with her one day, and she tends to swipe with her claws, so she got my face," Katie said. "At first I hated it, but when we didn't have her, it was the only thing I had left - just this little scar."
A MIRACULOUS RETURN
On Jun 27, 2016, Mrs Hager got a call from the AVA while driving home. Not knowing who it was who rang, she brushed it aside and forgot about it, until she read a text message and email sent by the AVA as well, informing her that Tips was found.
After making arrangements to pick Tips up the next morning, both herself and Mr Hager decided to keep the phone conversation a secret from their children until they saw Tips in the flesh.
But when Mrs Hager and her pet were reunited, there was no mistaking it - it was Tips.
"Absolutely, it's her," Mrs Hager said of what first ran through her mind upon setting eyes on Tips. "She mewed at us, and she just looked so amazing. We expected her to look scruffy, moth-eaten, flea-ridden, dirty - but she looks terrific! She looks the picture of health."
Apparently, Tips - now five - had been well taken care of. "They said the community feeders in Changi had been feeding her. A disturbance had been reported around that place, pest control was called. They rounded up a bunch of cats and Tips was one of them!" Mrs Hager said, with obvious delight.
Katie, on the other hand, was in a state of disbelief when she heard that Tips was finally home. "I got up and started crying for 20 minutes," she said. "It felt like a dream. It didn't feel real at all."
The only reminder of Tips' time away is a little weight loss. Back in England, she was "a tear drop-shape of a cat", but Tips is now lean and muscly.
The feline, which was adopted from an Egyptian shelter soon after she was born, seems to have nine lives. Tips was not expected to survive before her adoption, and now, she has lived to be the centre of yet another miraculous tale.
Tips, which had never been in the Hagers' Singapore residence, has settled in surprisingly well in her first 24 hours home. She pranced around the room and climbed up and down the furniture - the table, chair and bed - with ease, seeking out Katie and Mrs Hager to get their attention occasionally.
"We opened (her carrier), she walked out, walked onto (Mr Hager's) lap, rubbed her face on his beard - which is something she always used to do - turned around, curled up and settled down. Within 20 seconds, she was curled up on his lap," shared Mrs Hager.
"We thought she might be completely feral. She remembered him. It was amazing! Usually you send them to a cattery for two weeks, they come back and ignore you!"
After this incident, the Hager family said they would be hesitant to put their cats on a plane. "We would be very reluctant to fly the cats anywhere again, but we would if the alternative was to give them away," said Mrs Hager.
She also had one takeaway from the entire episode. "This is the ultimate tale of telling people, 'Get your pets microchipped!' Because without that, we would never, ever have gotten her back."
The Hagers declined to name the airline which lost their cat, only saying they are "absolutely delighted" to have a beloved member of their family back, even if her cheeky side annoys them sometimes.
Mrs Hager recalled: "I had one funny moment - she was meowing and meowing upstairs, and she was weaving at my feet, nearly tripping me up. I remembered how annoying she could be."
"It's like she never left!" Katie said, with a laugh.