09/15/2009 at 04:17 PM EDT
When Katrina Phillips's cat Clyde disappeared three years ago, the Tasmania, Australia, native grieved and then cut her losses. A birthday gift to her daughter, Ashleigh, Clyde wandered off one day, never returning home. "I reckon he'd just curled up in a campervan's bed and the people got to their destination [on the mainland] and realized they had a passenger," Phillips speculated to the Sydney Morning Herald
. "But maybe they didn't know where he was from or how to return him." She bought another cat for Ashleigh a year later – one that was tragically struck by a car – and then decided that pets just weren't for her family.
But that all changed last week, when Phillips received a call from a veterinarian nearly 2,500 miles away in the town of Cloncurry: Clyde had been found. Where he'd been for the past three years, no one knew, but thanks to a microchip in his ear, the little guy's family was located, and he'll soon be returning home.
A local nurse found Clyde in April, after he began wandering into the Cloncurry hospital. She took him in, but was forced to give him up last week when she moved. Clyde was turned over to local veterinarian Donna Weber, who discovered his microchip and contacted the Phillips. "Ashleigh thought I was lying when I told her they'd found Clyde," Phillips said. "It's awesome news and something we never expected to happen."
Clyde is now starting his long journey home. Weber drove him 75 miles to the airport Tuesday morning, and he now faces flights from Mount Isa to Hobart (located on the island of Tasmania), with layovers in Brisbane and Melbourne, courtesy of Dogtainers animal transport company. "We are all really nervous hoping Clyde will be okay and not scared after everything he's been through," Phillips said. But more than anything, she, Ashleigh and the rest of the family are excited to make their pet feel at home again. "We've got a crate for him to be in until he settles and we are building a cat run for him, too."Read more amazing animals on PEOPLE Pets:Cincinnati Cheetah Is World's Fastest – Beating Animal and Man!Bullet the Dog Survives 4 Gunshot Wounds