Lost and Found

updated 07/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

TABITHA IS SCRUFFY. TABITHA IS scrawny. And Tabitha is probably still scared. But the 3-year-old, brown-and-white tabby, who spent 12 days and 32,000 miles wandering around the fuselage of a Boeing 747, is going to be fine.

The peripatetic pet began racking up frequent-flier meows on June 30, when she somehow escaped from her cat carrier in the cargo hold and into the bowels of a Tower Air flight from New York City to Los Angeles, where her owner, aspiring actress Carol Ann Timmel, 26, was moving.

Timmel, told about Tabitha's predicament after landing, says the airline gave her 5 minutes to look for her missing pet—then the plane took off on its return flight. "They escorted me to the curb," she says, "and said, 'We'll get it when we land in New-York,' and left me crying."

Back in New York City, though, Tabitha was nowhere to be found. Nor did she turn up in San Juan, the plane's next stop—or at any of the other 20 stops it made in the next 10 days. Although the airline left food out for Tabitha, it's believed she didn't eat any and survived by licking condensation off the walls. Meanwhile, Timmel, with the help of animal-rights activists, began putting pressure on the airline. On July 11, Tower agreed to give Timmel a full 24 hours to search for Tabitha.

Starting at 2 a.m. on July 12 at JFK Airport, accompanied by helpers who included a self-styled clairvoyant and an airline mechanic, Timmel began searching for Tabitha. After about 7 hours, Timmel says, "Suddenly I heard this wonderful meow." The mechanic removed a panel in the cargo compartment, and there was Tabitha. "I put my arm out, and she put her paw in my hand," says Timmel.

Reunited—and with Timmel booked on the Today show and Entertainment Tonight—owner and cat were scheduled to fly home to L.A. on Thursday. On Tower Air. In first class. With two seats.

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