By car, the 8.3 miles between Salem the cat's old home in the Beaumont Centre area to his new one in Masterson Station takes about 15 minutes.
But Salem — oh, let's just go ahead and call him Salem the Wonder Cat — took about two months to get there, and he alone knows the route.
The most amazing thing is that Salem showed up in the backyard of a house he'd never been to.
His owner, Elizabeth Ober, can't figure out how the cat managed the trek. She has mentally plotted courses requiring him to travel across New Circle and Versailles roads. She has considered that he might have somehow traipsed the back way through Calumet Farm, braving the elements and the occasional coyote.
But she's not sure how it can really be explained. In fact, when a skinny black cat, about half Salem's original weight, showed up howling in her yard, she didn't believe it was him.
Sure, the cat seemed to know the family dog, Lucky, and he purred as he approached her kids, Jonathan and Catherine. He was declawed, like Salem. He howled instead of meowed, just like Salem.
Still, Ober didn't believe that the cat she and her husband had adopted more than 10 years ago while stationed at an Air Force base in Turkey had come home.
"My kids just went crazy," Ober said. "I was like, 'No way.'"
On the day that Ober's family moved out of their house on Beaumont Centre Lane, Salem, mostly an indoor cat, shot outside and couldn't be found. The family returned to their former house each day for about a month to set out food in hopes he would come to them. They saw kitty paw prints around the food outside their back door. But Salem never showed.
Ober resigned herself to the idea that he was probably gone.
Then, last week, that skinny black cat showed up in the backyard of their new home.
Salem looks like your standard black cat, and Ober wasn't convinced until she had his microchip scanned and his identity was confirmed.
Chevy Chase Animal Clinic's Dr. Sarah Blanchett, who treated Salem after his trek, said the cat was happy and alert and a little thin, but none the worse for his trek. She has heard stories about animals beating the odds to find their owners. But, she said, "never anything to this extent."
Salem went to a house he'd never seen and knew nothing about. His journey, she said, "is just incredible."
People around the clinic speculated that maybe Salem was trapped in a box or hopped aboard the moving van. But Blanchett said the cat probably wouldn't have survived two months in a box.
There has been some scientific speculation that some cats have the ability to tune in to an inner compass that allows them to tap into the earth's magnetic field, like homing pigeons. But even that wouldn't explain how Salem found a place he'd never been.
Ober is still wondering, but mostly she's just happy Salem is home and "has resumed residence at the foot of the bed."