I Never Thought My Cat Would Go Missing. Until She Did.

My cat Gracie was missing for 36 hours. It was the most horrifying, panic-drenched 36 hours of my life.

Like many cats, Gracie is a little stubborn. When she's chilling in a closet or napping under the couch, she's not coming out, whether you call her name or not. So when I didn't spot her before going to bed one night, I didn't think too much of it. But when I began dishing food into her bowl at morning feeding time and I didn't hear her tiny paws bounding toward her favorite flavor of wet food, I knew something was wrong.

Immediately, I began searching for her in every nook and cranny. I looked under all the beds. I tore apart every closet. I looked under the fridge, in every single cabinet, in the fabric of the couch, in the bathtub ... even in the stove. I looked in all of those places twice. Gracie is an indoor-only cat, and I was desperate to find her. After ransacking the entire house, reality began to sink in: my cat was missing.

The absolute horror that I felt at this realization is difficult to put into words. I was frantic. I called a dear friend and insisted that he cancel all his meetings to help me look for her. I ran through the neighborhood crying and calling her name. I didn't know how she got out, but she was most definitely not inside. Panic, grief and terror swirled inside me like a storm. I was clueless as to what to do.

In a moment of clarity I gathered myself, sat on the floor with tears streaming down my face and Googled "what to do if your cat goes missing." The first thing I read said that fewer than 2 percent of missing cats are ever returned to their owners. Nausea swept over me in full waves. I tried valiantly to hold it together.

My first task was making flyers. I wanted to plaster the city with photos of her face in hopes of getting her back to me, but first I had to make the posters. I've never felt more helpless and impotent than I did sitting before my computer trying to pick a font that could convey how badly she was missed. My cat was gone, and I was trying to decide between Helvetica and Times New Roman. I wanted these Missing Cat posters to stand out amongst the dozens flyers announcing noise shows and cheap guitar lessons. But I also wanted to be out looking for my cat.

I didn't even have a printer. I had to take my flyer to a nearby copy center, a bus ride away, to get as many copies as I could. These were even more precious minutes spent not looking for my cat. A kind copy clerk who could sense my despair loaned me the office stapler to attach flyers to power poles, an act I'm still grateful for to this day.

I plastered the entire neighborhood with photos of her sweet face. I handed flyers to neighbors and told them to please be on the lookout for a skittish gray-and-white shorthair who would probably not come to them if they called. I screamed her name and crawled along the sidewalk on all fours, looking frantically under every car and truck.

The next step I took was to visit animal control. I entered the facility, flyers clenched in my fists, and told them that my cat was gone. A gruff man with little sympathy led me through the cages of cats they'd picked up from the street. Some were kittens, some were sick, but none of them were my Gracie. After confirming she wasn't in the cages, the animal control officer dropped a giant binder into my lap.

"These are the dead cats. You can look through here to make sure she's not in there."

I lost it then and there, sobbing as I flipped through pages and pages of photos of cats who are no longer with us. I don't think I drew a single breath until I reached the end. She wasn't in their book of dead cats, but she wasn't in the cages either. I had to get back out onto the street to find my girl.

Hours of more searching ensued. I put her litter box outside in hopes the scent would draw her home. By late afternoon I was exhausted from the trauma and the searching and the sobbing. I took a break from calling her name, sat on the back stoop, and put my head in my hands in despair.

And that's when I heard it: her little meow.

My head snapped up, darting wildly about, trying desperately to locate the source of her tiny mews. I crawled on my hands and knees, inching closer and closer to the sound, when it dawned on me: she was under the house, in the crawl space.

Relief flooded me and more tears came, this time tears of immense joy. I coaxed her toward the small door that served as a tiny entrance to the space under the house, and once I had her in my grasp, I pulled her out and held her to me as tightly as I could. Even as she scratched up my arms as she struggled.

Once we were both inside, I fell to the floor and wept. I still to this day have no idea how she wound up under the house. I looked all over for a possible hole or crack or hidden passageway that she might have used to get under there, but I couldn't find anything. I was always worried she'd end up back down there, and was very relieved when we finally moved.

I often think about those horrific 36 hours. When I'm stuck underground on the subway or having a disastrous bad day, I often think to myself, "at least Gracie is not missing."

But as a result of that harrowing ordeal, I now know exactly what one needs to do before the unthinkable happens and a beloved pet goes missing.

Here are some things you can do right now to increase your chances of being reunited with your animal should he or she go missing, God forbid.

The thought of your cherished pet going missing is a hard thing to handle, but a little preparation in advance can make all the difference when you are faced with this nightmare scenario. Your pet's life could depend on it.