A 13-year-old cat whose owner recently died in Riverside was bound Thursday for a reunion with his former owner, thanks to assistance from the Riverside County Department of Animal Services and other entities.

Toby, a domestic short-haired feline, was impounded by animal control officers at the end of October, after his owner, Kirk Copeland, died from natural causes in his downtown Riverside apartment, according to the Department of Animal Services.

Agency spokesman John Welsh said within a day of Toby being picked up, his prior keeper, Amber Jennings, contacted officials at the Western Riverside County Animal Shelter in Jurupa Valley to claim him.

She explained the cat was hers before she gifted him to her uncle, Copeland, who needed a companion.

“My uncle ended up moving to California, and I moved to Oklahoma,” Jennings said. “It was the perfect fit for Toby.”

She felt her uncle would not be “at rest” unless Toby returned to her care.

“Toby meant so much to him,” Jennings said. “Toby’s also gotten me through many ups and downs in life, and it’s just the perfect happy ending — or new beginning — for us to have him home again.”

With the help of Southwest Airlines and the nonprofit Animal Solutions Konnection (ASK) Foundation, tickets and a pet carrier for Toby were arranged gratis, as well as complimentary round-trip airfare for Welsh — who, in the spirit of the season, volunteered to take the cat back to Oklahoma for the reunion with Jennings.

“I am paying for my hotel and food,” he told City News Service. “I started my shift early (Thursday), so I am essentially on my own time doing this.”

Welsh will go as far as Oklahoma City, where Jennings will retrieve Toby and take him back to her home in Duncan, roughly 90 miles to the south.

“These are the heartwarming stories we love to hear about and be a part of,” ASK Foundation President Carolyn Badger said. “We wish Toby a safe journey.”

Welsh said the Southwest Airlines flight he and Toby are scheduled to be aboard will reach Oklahoma City around midnight.

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