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Picture purr-fect
Ed Franceschina, director of Missoula Animal Control, holds Raggedy (at the time, a stray called Leo) at the Animal Control Shelter in Missoula last week. Diane Long of Charlo saw a picture of Raggedy in Saturday's Missoulian and reclaimed her pet, who had been missing for nearly three months.
Photo by Michael Gallacher/Missoulian

Photo op the finale of feline's wild ride

When Diane Long went to work early Saturday morning at the Charlo Grocery, she glanced at the newspapers in the Missoulian box. Then she looked again.

Then she said, "That's my cat!"

The photograph on the front page was of the director of Missoula Animal Control, Ed Franceschina. He was holding a large, long-haired orange cat who was out of his cage in the cat room at the shelter that day. The cat had come to the shelter as a stray found on Marshall Street on Dec. 31. The staff named him Leo for his striking appearance.

His real name is Raggedy. He lives in Charlo, and he's Diane Long's cat. He's been missing since the week before Halloween.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Long said Wednesday. "I tell you."

Long was sure it was Raggedy. She called Animal Control in Missoula. The staff member who answered thought it was unlikely.

"He's got little white eyeliner all around his eyes," she said.

Yup.

And whiskers that alternate white and black. Uh-huh.

And a turned-down right ear tip.

"He doesn't like to be held," she said. "He's not a real squeezer."

As a matter of fact, he hissed at the photographer.

"I was just dumbfounded," Long said.

"It's wonderful," said shelter attendant Elaine Sehnert.

Long couldn't come get Raggedy on Saturday because it's her 12-hour work day at the grocery - she opens and closes the store.

"Raggedy on the front page," she said. "I couldn't hardly work."

Sunday, the shelter is closed. Monday, it was closed for the holiday. She drove down on Tuesday. He rode home very quietly in her arms. He likes car rides, Long said.

"I'm a softie, so I had my tears," Long said, "I couldn't hardly talk for a while."

What he's been up to since the third week of October, nobody knows. But Long knows the start of the story.

One evening that week, some acquaintances from the Charlo area who were moving to Colorado stopped by Long's place west of town to work on their running lights on their trailer. They were only there about an hour and a half. When they left, one of Long's dogs whipped her head around and stared after the tail lights. The dog, Buteaux, is especially close to Raggedy.

"I knew, when I saw my dog look down the road, I knew he was in that trailer," she said. "He does like to get into vehicles. You know, sniff around."

Long had no idea how to contact the people with the trailer. She placed ads for Raggedy for a while. She has a menagerie of cats and dogs and chickens, but she really missed him.

Raggedy showed up at her house as a young cat four years ago this spring, matted and raggedy looking. Long combed the burs out and had him neutered at a spay/neuter clinic held in the valley. He liked to be outside, mousing, but came in for meals.

"He was always a good cat," she said. "An independent cat, but a good cat."

When he got home Tuesday, he was greeted by the dogs of the house.

"I scratched his ears, and he purred louder than I've ever heard him purr," Long said.

Sehnert, who has worked at Animal Control for 10 years, has seen at least one case in which a cat and human were reunited after the cat was missing more than a year. But this is the first one from that far away, Sehnert said.

Raggedy is an exceptional case. Last year, 10 percent of the 262 cats that came through Animal Control found their owners.

Long figures the acquaintances stopped in Missoula, and Raggedy jumped out.

"I'm going to keep him in for at least a week," she said. "He's not going anywhere for a while."

Reporter Ginny Merriam can be reached at 523-5251 or at gmerriam@missoulian.com

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