As the fur flies

December 02, 2005

The door opens at the house on South Fidelis Street and Emily the cat either pauses reflectively before it or puts her head down and dashes through - cats having no other means of crossing a threshold - but in either case she ends up outside and around the corner where she decides to explore a shipping container at the paper warehouse, and by the time she gets out again the container has traveled by truck from Appleton, Wis., to Chicago and by freighter to Belgium and by another truck to a laminating company in Nancy, France.

Skinny and thirsty, but not dead, she is taken in by kindly workers who spot a blue tag with the name and phone number of John Palarski, of the Tri-County Veterinarian Center. They call Mr. Palarski and he calls Lesley and Donny McElhiney, who live in the house on South Fidelis Street.

This is Oct. 24, and the McElhineys wonder what to do. They e-mail the Appleton Post-Crescent (circulation 60,000), asking for advice. The P-C, as it styles itself, goes one better and runs a big front-page story in both morning and evening editions, plus a slew of follow-ups, and this attracts the attention of the Associated Press, NBC, NPR, the Times of London, and, eventually, Continental Airlines, a sentimental and canny outfit that makes a big deal of agreeing to bring Emily home.

Yesterday, the cat got out of French quarantine and took to the skies, in business class.

Standoffish and rather self-absorbed, cats rarely open their hearts to you, but what human heart is not warmed, or at least a little bit tickled, by this extravagant trans-Atlantic tale of journey, redemption and return? Two lessons stand out: Always wear your tags. And remember, it was a newspaper, of all things, that made a happy ending possible at the house on South Fidelis.

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