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When thousands of people were stranded at Ben-Gurion International Airport last month after contaminated fuel was discovered, little did they realize that they were not the only ones stuck in the departure's hall. Living somewhere among them was a house cat, with a NIS 3,000 price on its head, who had been evading authorities for days. Last week, after a month of feline fugitivehood, the cat was finally found and returned to its owner.

The story began when Katharina von Munster and Dr. Lars Hansel planned to start a new chapter in their life in Washington, D.C. after six years in Israel. On April 27 von Munster arrived at Ben-Gurion with Malkita and Muli, the couple's cats, who were making the move with them.

Von Munster took care of buying plane tickets for the cats and saw to the special arrangements.

However, on the day of the flight, the representative of the German airline Lufthansa came and informed the stunned von Munster that Muli was not interested in leaving Israel. The cat had taken advantage of a hole in the cage and was now loose somewhere in the departure hall at the airport.

Von Munster fretted over whether to board the flight and abandon the cat or to remain there and try to look for it. The people of Unit 170, the Airport Authority's crime-prevention unit, were called in. Touched by the story, they promised to do everything in their power to locate him.

The couple took off on their flight with Malkita, but not before promising a reward of NIS 3,000 for finding Muli. The couple also distributed notices with a picture of Muli, who was wearing a blue collar.

After landing at their destination, the couple phoned Ben-Gurion airport nearly every day to find out if there was any trace of the lost cat.

At one stage von Munster even informed the authorities at Ben-Gurion that she was coming there to help in the search for the cat. The commanders of Unit 170 briefed their people to keep an eye open and to continue the attempts to locate the vanished cat.

Special teams were dispatched to the sorting centers and the baggage channels, but to no avail.

"We get a lot calls but Katharina's call was something special," said one member of the unit. "The feeling was as though a child had been lost and therefore we invested great effort in the attempts to find the cat with the blue collar."

Just as it seemed as though hope was lost, the plot took a dramatic turn. Last week, one of the Unit 170 people stepped outside the unit's offices to smoke a cigarette late at night. To his surprise he saw a pair of gleaming eyes peering at him in the dark. When he approached he saw it was Muli.

Apparently, the cat had made a home for itself in the storehouse adjacent to the unit offices. No one knew how it managed to feed itself.

After he reported finding the cat, the attempts to catch it began. As usual, Muli refused to cooperate. The unit people brought food and milk, leaving overflowing bowls for the cat in the hope of gaining its trust. They also enlisted the advice of Airports Authority experts on rodent trapping, but that too was to no avail.

In the end Louis, a member of the special unit and a new immigrant from South Africa with animal trapping experience, designed a special trap with fresh tuna.

And indeed, at the end of last week, when Louis and his colleagues came in for a new shift, there in the cage Muli was waiting for them. The Unit 107 people transferred the animal to a cat shelter, where he waited for the couple.

The unit declined to accept the NIS 3,000 reward.