Darleen Novak clutched her empty cat carrier, looking eager and worried at the same time.
“She’s been gone for 83 days,” she said, standing at the counter of the Animal Protective Foundation shelter in Glenville.
She was looking for Alphie, who had slipped out of her Guilderland house this summer and never returned.
Novak plastered telephone poles with Alphie’s picture, went on every missing-pet website to describe her beloved cat and even took out an ad in the Times Union. She got dozens of phone calls from residents who thought they’d seen Alphie and spent hours searching their yards in the evenings.
But she never found her.
And now she’d gotten an almost unbelievable call from the APF in Glenville — 9 miles from her home.
A Schenectady resident had turned in a small stray Siamese cat with distinctive markings.
A vet tech at APF regularly browsed online “missing pet” ads in hopes of connecting shelter animals with their owners. She had never found a match yet, but when she saw Alphie’s picture, she immediately thought of that stray Siamese cat.
APF sent a photo to Novak. And Novak showed up, with Alphie’s old carrier, hoping against hope that it was her cat.
The room hushed as the vet tech carried the cat in, safely in a cardboard box.
Novak eagerly opened it up, and Alphie leaped into her arms, digging her claws into Novak’s shirt, clinging to her for dear life.
Novak couldn’t speak. For a long moment, all she did was hold her cat, stroking her.
“She’s real, real skinny,” she said finally. “She needs some fattening up now.”
Alphie never hunted for her own food — never even found a mouse, Novak said. And the 10-year-old cat had lost most of her teeth to gingivitis. Novak said she had no idea how the cat had managed to eat.
“This is really a miracle, because she’s missing teeth,” she said. “I didn’t know whether she would survive or not.”
Vet tech Heather McNamara, who identified the stray as Novak’s missing cat, said she had been searching sites in hopes of someday making such a match.
“I’ve lost animals before,” she said. “I just like to help look, get the animals out of here and back home.”
Novak said she suspected that a well-intentioned resident took care of Alphie for much of the last three months.
“If people find a stray, always look for the owner, because a lot of people don’t,” she said. “A purebred cat like this, people like it and they say, ‘Nah, I won’t bother looking,’ and they keep them. Nobody knows how many hours I put in looking for her, night after night.”
Members of her church prayed for Alphie’s safe return, she added.
If Alphie walked from Novak’s house to the house of the resident who turned her in, she crossed the Thruway as well as walking 9 miles. For a cat whose only outdoor adventures had been a split-second leap outdoors to hide under the shed, her journey was remarkable, Novak said.
Alphie slept on her every night and tried to stay on her lap every time she sat down, she added. She never thought the cat would run away.
But Alphie slipped into the backyard this summer when Novak brought a friend outside to have lunch on her patio. Novak intended to chase Alphie back in at once, but the elderly cat seemed so content, sleeping in the sun. She decided to let her stay.
After she walked her friend out, she went back to carry Alphie inside. But in that short time, the cat had disappeared.
“I don’t know if something spooked her,” she said. “If something chased her. I don’t know what happened.”
She studied her cat’s paws — the claws seemed healthy — and then her nearly toothless mouth.
“I wish she could talk,” she said. “What a story she’d have to tell!”