Freda Watson was devastated when her cat, George, went missing 12 years ago in Winnipeg, saying she cried a long time for the pet she affectionately called her "little boy."

She was crying again on Thursday when the pair was reunited.

"Oh my god, I can't believe I got my cat back," Watson said in an interview on Friday. "We love George. He's my little boy."

George was found wandering the street near Grant Avenue earlier this week and taken to the Winnipeg Humane Society. Staff there found a faded tattoo and began investigating to decipher it and find the owner.

Watson's last name, address and phone number had all changed since the time George slipped out of her Weston-area home past a babysitter. It was Watson's former sister-in-law who got the message from the Humane Society, and she in turn called Watson.

'I carried him in my arms and he put both his paws around my neck as if he was hugging me.' - Freda Watson

"I said, 'Are you serious?'" Watson recalled. "I couldn't sleep the night before. I was crying that night and I was crying in the morning."

She was told George had been hissing at the Humane Society staff but Watson says he calmed down when she touched him.

"As I went to the kennel and pet him, he sniffed me and all of a sudden he was just rubbing up on me like he remembered me," she said.

"I carried him in my arms and he put both his paws around my neck as if he was hugging me."

Watson, who got George when he was just four weeks old and bottle-fed him in those early days, says someone must have been caring for him over the years, because he's in good shape.

"He's really healthy. He was well taken care of, whoever had him," she said.

"I was so happy to get him back, I couldn't even imagine how overwhelmed I was. I never thought I could feel like that. But then I was thinking about how the family would feel that had him for so long."

She posted her story on social media and noted that if the other family wants to visit, they're more than welcome.

"But George is truly our family and he deserves to spend some years with us. He's getting old — he's going to be 14 in December."