A cat that got away from its owners during a trip through Riverside County, leading to a two-month separation during which it almost starved to death, was taken back home Friday, on the road to recovery.

“I just can’t believe she was found,” said Jan Hahka, who believed her beloved black-and-brown cat “Bella” had been lost for good. “I’m just so overjoyed to get to have our baby back.”

Bella was discovered Wednesday in Banning, so emaciated and unstable that Riverside County Department of Animal Services Officer Carra Mathewson initially believed Bella was at death’s doorstep and might have to be euthanized to prevent further suffering.

“I rushed to the shelter, but I honestly didn’t think she’d make the trip,” Mathewson said.

According to Jan’s husband, Randy Hahka, he left the family’s Goleta home en route to Phoenix on Dec. 7 in order to go assist his ailing mother.

Hahka told animal services officials that he pulled off of Interstate 10 in the San Gorgonio Pass to stretch his legs and let Bella go to the bathroom. However, the 8-year-old cat went adventuring, dropping out of sight underneath the freeway, prompting Hahka to initiate a two-hour search that proved fruitless.

According to animal services spokesman John Welsh, the distraught man had no option but to leave and head on to Phoenix. The Hahkas called animal services and asked for help finding Bella, but agency officials were unable to locate the cat in the area.

On Wednesday, an employee of Coyne Powersports at West Ramsey and 22nd streets in Banning spotted the gravely depleted cat plodding along the roadway in front of the business in the brisk cold air and was so disturbed by the animal’s condition that he took off his jacket and bundled her up, Welsh said.

He said that’s when Mathewson was dispatched to retrieve the kitty, which had a microchip under her skin bearing contact information for her owners. She was taken to the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus and placed under the care of veterinarian Dr. Sara Strongin.

“She was too weak to sit up, stand, or walk, but when we put wet food in front of her, she shoveled her face right into it,” Strongin said. “She’s still got a way to go, but she surprised us with how quickly she responded to treatment.”

Bella was roughly four pounds when entering the shelter, but thanks to intravenous fluids and supplements, shee was five pounds by the time Jan Hahka and her teenage daughter, Katie, retrieved her Friday afternoon. The reunion was captured by Welsh and can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzkQ4lhdiOU&feature=youtu.be .

The Hahkas returned to Santa Barbara County after a four-hour drive, planning to take Bella straight to a veterinary appointment to ensure she continues her recuperation.

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