Laura Sturza is a writer who lives in Rockville.

On the last night of a painfully long February, our cat, Moki, slipped out the front door of our Maryland house and into the frigid night, despite his advanced age and a kidney ailment that requires treatment. Moki was so stealthy in his escape that my husband, Tom, and I didn’t even notice he was gone until long past dark. So, we piled on coats on top of sweaters, and with both of our voices still weak in the aftermath of bad colds, we roamed the streets calling for him.

Even if February is the shortest month, this one couldn’t end soon enough. Tom and I started practicing social distancing before it became a part of everyone’s life. My cold had lasted for the first half of it, and Tom’s the second. Meanwhile, there were the stresses of moving. I’d spent the better part of the month clearing out my 94-year-old mother’s apartment. We had recently moved her to an assisted-living facility that, fortunately, she loves. I had hoped March would bring a blessed turnaround. But, before that could happen, on Feb. 27 my mother received some very bad news about her health (nothing related to the coronavirus). Then, on a confounded extra day known as leap day, my cat disappeared. Fifteen years ago, my father and my cat died two months apart. I was terrified that the situation was repeating itself. We had to find Moki.

Tom and I were unsure how to track him at night. I didn’t panic but went inside and scoured the Internet for ideas. There were tips about creating posters and notifying shelters. I had used them all before, because this wasn’t my escape artist’s first foray into the outside world. I’d adopted Moki when I lived in the Los Angeles area, long before I met Tom. Our interspecies family moved back to my native Maryland from California three years ago to assist my mother.

My cat, in his youth, had pushed out a screen from my second-story North Hollywood apartment while I slept. That time, I spent a week on a feverish search in 100-degree heat. My California neighbors got to know me so well that when I tried handing a flier about my missing feline to a little girl and her dad, the girl said “Moki, right?,” letting me know she had already seen my posters on every bulletin board and utility pole within a mile. It paid off when, after many purported sightings by neighbors, the woman right next door spotted him and helped me nab the little rascal as he stood loudly meowing in the enclosed parking lot behind her apartment building.

Now, given the late hour, plastering my Rockville neighborhood with posters wasn’t going to help. And all of the animal control centers in our area were closed. Temperatures were dropping to the mid-20s. In desperation, I called my former hometown and talked to Los Angeles Animal Control Officer Angela Llerenas. She warned us that, if Moki were nearby, leaving lights on outside might attract a predator that could hurt him. She suggested we put out boxes filled with our clothes so he would smell us, and that we leave his litter box outside. We followed all of her directions. Then Tom and I roamed our neighborhood again, still with no luck.

Exhausted, we went back inside, and I began collecting Moki photos for a poster to run online. Though it was 1:30 a.m., sleep seemed impossible. So, I made one last search nearby. I circled our house, and just as I was about to call it a night, I saw Moki’s tail! Probably because it was twice its usual size from fear. He let out an earthshaking howl. I had read that missing cats can be so scared they will bolt, so I got low to the ground and talked to him quietly. That seemed to relax him. I scooped him up, took him inside and proceeded to sob uncontrollably, refusing to let him go until his fur warmed. He is a cat who isn’t fond of being held for long, but he willingly allowed it this once.

After I calmed down, I called Llerenas to thank her and let her know that her cross-country guidance had helped bring my cat home. I could not be more grateful that a city employee from my former hometown provided the expert input that probably saved Moki’s life — along with rescuing me from overwhelming anxiety.

Because of Llerenas, the same scenario from 15 years ago wouldn’t replay itself this year. And finding Moki gave me hope that my mom can survive her diagnosis and fulfill a destiny she began declaring when she was in her 50s. “I’m going to live to be 100,” she has repeatedly told us. With a passion for life as strong as Mom has, and with an improved diagnosis after additional tests, I very much hope that she surpasses her goal of living to 100 in good health. But, no matter what challenges our family faces as we support Mom’s pursuit of well-being, I can curl up for many more nights with Moki beside me, thanks to the kindness and expertise of a city employee on the other side of the country who helped us on a frightening February evening.

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