The story of Plurna the stuffed cat was legend in the Bauer family.

Emily Bauer was 4 when she lost her favorite stuffed animal. She sobbed for weeks as the family tore apart the house, dug up the sandbox where Plurna was allegedly left — and even searched under their old farmhouse in Charles City, Va.

Plurna was gone. But the story of the lost cat, Emily’s heartbreak and the massive search undertaken by the Bauers — with their three older sons — was often retold at family gatherings. It was even recounted with dramatic flair last weekend, 14 years after Plurna disappeared, when the Bauers visited friends on the West Coast.

Then, on Tuesday, Plurna appeared.

The cat was covered in dirt and vines, and moss was growing across the body, but she was generally intact. A worker on the 100-acre farm where the Bauers live spotted her in the woods as he was putting up a fence for the goats, and he brought her to the house.

“I was so gobsmacked I could not believe my eyes that he was holding Plurna,” said Susan Wise Bauer, 51, who led the unsuccessful search party for the stuffed cat all those years ago.

Bauer immediately took Plurna to the home office of her husband, Peter Bauer, and held up the dirt-caked toy.

“His eyes got to be the size of plates and he said, ‘We have to go show her!” Bauer said.

They marched the stuffed animal to Emily’s room, and when she looked up she couldn’t talk.

“Emily squeaked,” Bauer said. “She couldn’t even get words out.”

But Plurna was dirty. So Emily, who recently graduated from high school and is taking a year off before college, spent hours with a tweezer pulling roots and moss off Plurna’s fur. She gently washed the cat, and put her in the dryer on gentle cycle.

“She still kind of smells like dirt, but she’s in surprisingly good shape,” said Emily.

Still in shock that the beloved stuffed animal was found in one piece, Bauer took to social media, where she has a following as an author of books about education, and also as the owner of a bed-and-breakfast on the family farm.

To her surprise, total strangers by the thousands seemed as excited as she was that Plurna was found. People posted their own stories of favorite stuffed animals that were lost and then found again, or just lost for good and still bring back a sad memory.

It's not a miracle--I don't want to overstate this story--but all of our jaws are hanging open. Fourteen years ago,...

Posted by Susan Wise Bauer on Tuesday, September 24, 2019

“It really hit a note,” Bauer said. “I love that people are posting pictures of their own stuffed animals, and writing what they thought Plurna was up to in the woods all those years. Most of them are strangers. It gave them hope in some way.”

It did the same for Bauer. It’s been a tough year with her husband facing a serious illness and her parents, who are in their 80s, also having health challenges.

“OK, Universe,” she wrote on Facebook. “Thanks for the lift. We needed it.”

Read more:

Discover something new:

We’ve curated these stories to inspire your curiosity.

In the 1960s, this Florida coast line was a boomtown thriving on the race to the moon. Now, private investment in space travel might bring that back.

In consumer products, the best predictor of whiteness was whether someone owned a pet — followed closely by whether they owned a flashlight.

Developers are starting to focus on smaller entry-level houses, good news for prospective buyers. But it could also signal a negative outlook on the economy.