Missing cat returns to family evacuated by Lilac Fire

OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- A cat who went missing when her owners were forced to evacuate during the Lilac Fire has miraculously returned home.

The Novello family was among the thousands of people who were forced to evacuate from their homes when the fast-moving Lilac Fire broke out last month in Bonsall. In the chaos, the family's beloved cat Patches vanished from the crate and jumped out the back of their truck.

"It was latched and everything. She clawed her way out of it," Kathleen Novello said.

As Novello's children, three dogs and a tortoise regrouped, Patches was nowhere to be found. Determined to find Patches, the family put up fliers, shared Facebook posts and searched far and wide, but the cat was nowhere to be found.

After a few weeks passed by, despair set in.

"She was a completely indoor cat and I thought, she's just not equipped to survive out there," Novello said.

Then, on Saturday -- Novello's twin daughters' 21st birthdays -- an unmistakable meowing sounded at the door. Somehow -- without food, water or shelter -- Patches had returned home after five weeks and one day.

“She was laying on the little daybed out on the porch and she just looked at me like, 'here I am' and I looked at her and I said, 'Patches, where have you been?'" Novello said. "I got on my phone and I texted all my kids in a big group chat: 'You guys are not to believe this but Patches is home!'"

Patches has since earned the nickname Houdini.

“It’s the kind of thing that you always hope for, but often doesn't happen in real life,” said Novello. "I was flooded with elation."