11/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST
Frankly, when Emily disappeared from her home in Appleton, Wis., in late September, her elder and much mellower feline housemates Tori and Ringo were relieved not to have her around making mischief. But her owners—Donny McElhiney, 37, wife Lesley, 32, and kids Nick, 9, and Abbey, 5—were distraught. Day after day, the McElhineys searched. And they prayed, at first for her safe return—and then just that somehow, somewhere, Emily was, says Lesley, "safe and loved."
Turns out prayer is a universal language. Five weeks later—and more than 4,000 miles away in the town of Pompey in eastern France—a group of employees at the paper laminating company Raflatac heard a meow coming from a 20-ft. shipping container of adhesive paper that had arrived from Wisconsin. "We opened the container very gently, and a little, very frightened cat ran out," says Joëlle de Becker. A tag around Emily's neck directed them to her vet, who called Donny McElhiney, who told his wife, who thought he was joking. As she says: "It took him [saying it] five times for me to go, 'Really?'"
Really. No one knows how Emily got into the container or survived the trip via truck and ship without food or water. Her family is just grateful she did—and is preparing for the return of their, alas, probably unrepentant pet. "Maybe," says Lesley, "we'll put a chip in her."