Reunited, and it feels so good!

Sophia business owners can take down the pictures of unofficial town cat Peanut, who vanished Oct. 30.

Pictures of the 15-pound, black-and-gray striped tabby cat with four white boots, white chest and a raccoon tail have been hanging in downtown windows since Peanut disappeared more than two months ago.

But Saturday night, after months of searching the streets and tunnels of Sophia and surrounding areas, the missing feline returned to the Stagecoach Salon, where he was greeted by about 15 friends who had been anxiously awaiting his arrival.

Although the search for Peanut had been well publicized, with two articles appearing in The Register-Herald and segments on several local newscasts, all tips on the missing kitty’s whereabouts proved to be dead ends until Saturday when he crossed paths with James Pence of Fayetteville.

Pence said he was working on his truck when Peanut walked into his yard. The feline eluded Pence and his wife, but “flopped right down” for Pence’s son, James Jr., “like he knew him.”

Thinking Peanut might belong to his neighbor, Pence questioned her about the mysterious cat.

“It wasn’t hers, but she said, ‘I think that might be Peanut.’”

Pence, who says he does not get the newspaper, did not know about Peanut, but was quickly told by his neighbor that “everyone was looking for him.’”

A collar and tags baring Peanut’s name and the Stagecoach phone number were still around his neck, but calls to the salon, which was closed, went unanswered.

Determined to find the cat’s owners, Pence contacted The Register-Herald around 7 p.m. and left phone numbers where he could be reached. The Register-Herald immediately contacted Stagecoach co-owner John Fanary at his home and gave him Pence’s phone numbers. Fanary then called Pence.

Pence described his visitor and told Fanary about the collar, and a short time later, the men met at Burger King in Oak Hill, where Peanut was returned to Fanary’s open arms.

Although Fanary and Stagecoach co-owner Rocky Lohmann are Peanut’s official owners, before his disappearance the cat made a daily habit of stopping by neighboring businesses where he visited with owners and befriended customers.

Touch of Class nail salon owner Tish Smith was eating dinner Saturday night in Oak Hill, and after learning Peanut had been found, she drove straight to Burger King to see her long-lost friend.

“It’s Peanut,” Smith said, confirming his I.D. “It’s really him.”

Fanary, along with friend Chip Faulk, joined Smith at Burger King shortly after and then drove back to Stagecoach, where they were greeted by Lohmann, Fanary’s parents and a handful of other well-wishers.

“Is it really you, Peanut?” Lohmann asked when he saw his furry friend.

Although skittish at first, within minutes Peanut was devouring a plate of Fancy Feast. Fanary and Lohmann, who said they knew he would be back, had saved his bowl, food and litter box.

After going back and forth from dry food to canned food for a few minutes, Peanut began exploring before he eventually plopped down in front of Smith for a belly rub.

Although Fanary and Lohmann were not sure of Peanut’s whereabouts since he vanished, Fanary says he still believes the feline was cat-napped by someone who saw him outside Stagecoach and decided to take him home.

“I think he was taken and got loose somehow,” he said.

Before the disappearance, Peanut weighed in at about 15 pounds. Fanary said he’s lost a couple of those pounds, but aside from some fleas and a slightly unpleasant odor, he seems to be doing just fine.

Peanut will continue to visit the businesses surrounding the Stagecoach, Fanary said. But not just yet.

“We’re going to let him be himself, but we’re going to take him to the vet and get one of those chips put under his skin so we can track him,” he said. “Until then, we’ll keep him inside.”

When Fanary and Lohmann were searching for their friend, they promised to fill up a tub with roasted chicken and ranch dressing, Peanut’s favorite food, should he return. The men also promised a celebration.

Next Saturday, they will keep their promise by throwing a party in Peanut’s honor.

“We’re going to have a welcome home reception for Peanut next Saturday here at the Stagecoach from 3 (p.m.) until 6 (p.m.),” Fanary said. “We’ll have roasted chicken and ranch.

“We want all his friends to come out and see him.”

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