"She'll come back."

That's what the few people I told about our cat's disappearance said. But I knew they were only trying to make me feel better.

It didn't work. I knew Lucy was gone for good.

Still a beauty at 17, with sharp green eyes and silky gray fur, ours was a headstrong cat, one who held the world in slight disdain.

When she wasn't complaining loudly to my husband or me in her odd quack-like meow, she was seeking out the best nap spot: a sun spot on the rug; one of the many blanket-filled baskets placed strategically around the house; or, for some unknown reason, the back of my head.

She also loved to go what we called "outside," but was actually the front or back porches of our Minneapolis bungalow. Our front porch caught the morning sun. The back porch, which my husband designed and built, held a table and chairs and a sofa, which Lucy (better known as the Toonces), commandeered from April to October.

She seemed pretty content with this tamer version of outside, perhaps because we had trained her to be afraid of the real thing.

Looney Tunes (another nickname) had been a farm cat for the first five years of her life. Because she had been free-range and we lived in a busy urban neighborhood, we knew we had to keep her from sneaking out. So we instituted the Scary Outdoors Training. I would carry her outside and my husband (his name is Harold, but he also has lots of nicknames) would make a loud noise to startle her and the Katzenjammer and I would run inside to certain safety.

It only took a few training sessions before Buncy (not sure where that nickname came from) was content to be "outside" on the porches. She never seemed remotely interested in the rest of the out of doors.

Then we moved. The move itself was trauma enough for her, but we added insult to injury: Our one-level rambler had front and back decks, but no porches. No "outside" for kitty.

For a while, she wandered around the house, quacking to go out. Then she seemed to settle in. What she was really doing was slowly, sneakily teaching herself how to open the sliding screen door to the back deck. I caught her at it once. We added a latch. The second time I found the screen door ajar, I knew.

We did all the normal (and not so normal) stuff recommended on lost cat websites: asked our new neighbors, put up signs, called the local shelters, placed notices on Next Door. We even got permission to go through the nearby yards with flashlights, night being deemed the best time to find a lost cat.

For four nights, we shined our flashlights, calling her name(s) and crinkling her favorite bag of treats. Every night we went out with a little less hope than the night before.

"She'll come back," our neighbors said.

But I knew better. It had been a week now. This was a cat I had to coax out from under the safety of the bed hours after the last rumble of thunder had passed. There was no way we were going to coax her from whatever protection a deck, shrub or parked car provided.

I was right. She didn't come back.

Ava brought her.

Ava is 8 and sweet and funny and talkative and plays soccer and tennis AND golf. She's also something of a cat whisperer, according to her mom, Kate.

Well, it's not just cats. Ava seems to connect with just about any animal — including a gray cat that had been hanging around her yard for several days.

Ava convinced her mom and dad that the skinny, scraggly looking cat quacking at their screen porch door wasn't a stray, but was "loved by somebody" and lost. In no time, Toonces was cradled like a baby in Ava's arms, and Kate was paging through Next Door.

Thanks to Ava and Kate, just over a week after going on the lam, our quacking cat was back — gorging on Fancy Feast and heading for her favorite basket of blankets.

You read stories about how lost pets travel hundreds of miles for months or years to get back to their beloved owners. This isn't one of them. This is the story of an old cat that wandered five blocks from home and wouldn't have made it back without the help of a kind family and a brave 8-year-old girl.

Looney Tunes slept off her return home. Not long after, I found her back at the sliding door methodically clawing a hole in the always-latched screen.

We're so happy she's home. We're also building a screen porch.