The Cat That Crossed 3000 Miles To Come Home

In August 1951, a wire-service story appeared in numerous newspapers about a six-year-old cat named Tom that found its way back to its owners by walking across the entire United States.

Mr. and Mrs Charles Smith lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, but in 1949 they had to move to San Gabriel, California. For some reason, they couldn't take their cat with them, so they made arrangements for the man buying their house to adopt him. Two weeks after the move, they got a call from the new owner, telling them Tom had run away.

Fast-forward two years. The Smiths hear a cat meowing in their driveway. They go outside and, lo and behold, it's old Tom! Skinny and tired, but happy to see his family.

As far as I can tell, the press accepted this story at face value. Though if you think about it, the idea of it is absurd. The cat would have had to travel around 4 miles every day, having no idea where it was going, crossing deserts and mountains. I'd say that's impossible.

The more logical explanation is that a cat resembling Tom started meowing in the Smith's driveway, and the Smiths decided it was Tom. After two years, they probably only had a vague recollection of what Tom even looked like. And the press, once they got wind of the story, didn't ask too many questions. After all, why let logic get in the way of a good story!

15-month-old Pat Smith with 'Tom'

Here Elizabeth Smith is introducing 'Tom' to the fish bowl as a test.
The old Tom turned his nose up at raw fish, and apparently so did the new Tom.
(via USC Archive)

Spokane Daily Chronicle, Aug 3, 1951


Posted on Mon Jun 11, 2012


Bought a house from people who moved 20 miles away. Their cat returned to the house 3 times, through farms, sugar cane fields etc. The 3rd time we (and his owners) gave up and let him stay!
Posted by maxhugen  on  Mon Jun 11, 2012  at  08:51 PM
You're supposed to take special care when moving and you have cats. If they get out during the move, they'll try to go to their old home. I have a friend who learned this from bitter experience, losing her beloved orange tabby who was hit by a car trying to return to her old house.

I don't know what mechanism causes this, but birds migrate thousands of miles every year using the Earth's magnetic field, so why not also a territorial animal like a cat?
Posted by Bill the Splut  on  Wed Jun 13, 2012  at  09:57 AM
Difference here is that the cat wasn't going to its old home. The owners left it at the old home. It supposedly found its way to the new home it had never been to before. It magically sensed where its owners were.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Wed Jun 13, 2012  at  10:05 AM
You're right! Maybe...Tom had GPS on his iPhone? Okay, you're just right. It is a really unlikely story.
Posted by Bill the Splut  on  Wed Jun 13, 2012  at  10:44 AM
Cats have much better senses then we do, so of course this story seems false.. But I can assure you that it is entirely possible (and I have no doubt this is true) Because when these animals get attached to their owners and they (The owners) move, The cat will work tirelessly to find the owners.. Its unbelievable but somewhere in their brains they have a navigational sense that is very strong, and stories like this are not to uncommon, And after properly researched it is found this is true.
Posted by Corin  on  Mon Jul 23, 2012  at  11:04 PM
What kind of person thinks someone wouldn't remember what their own cat looked like after two years? Someone who's never had a pet, maybe? An ailurophobe? I'd still be able to pick my mom's old cat out of a lineup, and she's been dead for half my life now, which is a lot longer than two years.
Posted by Interrobang  on  Tue Aug 28, 2012  at  05:40 PM
@ Corin, "Citation Needed" on your "after properly researched" bit there. Like cats plenty, tho 😊
Posted by Matt W  on  Thu Oct 04, 2012  at  01:58 AM
Interrobang, in this cat line up, would the clue be that your Mother's cat was the one that was dead? 😊
Posted by MudCrab  on  Sun Mar 17, 2013  at  10:13 PM
You guys don't know if this story is true or not. You shouldn't put up stories that you don't know for certain are or aren't true. You'd think the family would know their cat better than a bunch of people randomly reading the story that have never known the cat. Animals are all exactly the same. They have different markings and different personalities. These stories may seem impossible, but we still don't know for sure how animals sense and navigate. Heck, it took centuries before people finally came to the realization that animals are actually conscious beings.... although I doubt the proof was in mainstream media.

"The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the conclusion of the Conference, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Philip Low, David Edelman and Christof Koch. It was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low, and Christof Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes"

They found consciousness in, among other creatures, zebra finches which have TINY brains!

So we are still learning about animals and how they think/ sense/ interact with the world. I say if the family says it's their cat, they would know far better than we would and since even science is not clear on the nature of animals, some animals may very well be able to travel vast difference to find their loved ones.
Posted by Tamara Dippel  on  Sat May 04, 2013  at  10:11 AM
he used google map :3
Posted by mary  on  Tue May 14, 2013  at  12:05 AM
This story was in "Strange As It Seems", a poor man's Ripley's Believe It Or Not which also sold as a paperback series. Unfortunately, they gave even fewer details, i.e. no names; and by not challenging us to believe it or not, they were probably not as insistent on verifying claims. Or was this a case of saying it was true because the papers printed it?
Posted by Baccar Wozat  on  Tue Oct 22, 2013  at  10:35 AM
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