A teenage girl has hailed an early "Christmas miracle" after being reunited with the cat she thought had gone forever almost a decade ago.
Isobel Thatcher had barely started school when her beloved Max "wandered off" from her home in Shorefields, Rainham, nearly ten years ago and didn't return.
It has now emerged the cat, 16, has spent the last three or four years being fed in the conservatory of an elderly woman in Station Road - merely a mile from his old home.
When she felt unable to care for him any more, her son got in touch with the Animals Lost and Found in Kent charity, who assessed Max and checked for a microchip.
Julie Thatcher, Isobel's mother, was found to be the registered owner and after a few Facebook messages, Max was finally returned home today (Monday), much to the delight of the family.
Mrs Thatcher, 46, a teaching assistant said: "When he didn't come back all those years ago, I think we all assumed he'd been run over and that was it.
"Then suddenly we got these messages and within a few hours they came to our door and I just said 'that's him' - even though it's been ten years, he's very distinctive so we recognised him straight away.
"Little did we know he was essentially hiding under our noses."
Max was described as being a lot skinnier than when he had previously been seen, but has found comfort curled up on the bed of Mrs Thatcher's daughter.
Isobel, 14, a pupil at Rainham School for Girls, added: "It's the best thing to happen to me all year - it's a Christmas miracle.
"I was really upset when he went missing, I just presumed he'd died after all this time.
"It came completely out of the blue and I really wasn't expecting it but I'm so happy."
Animals Lost and Found in Kent is running a free microchipping day at Manor Vets in Chatham on December 2 in a bid to reunite animals quickly should they go missing.
Natasha McPhee, from the charity, said: "Anyone who has a cat or a dog should make sure they are chipped and that details are kept up to date, regardless of how many years have gone by."