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When Lucy went missing last Friday, an entire neighborhood went on alert.

The 10-year-old Maine Coon has been a fixture on Essex Street in Salem, Mass., for a long time. “Lucy is like a downtown institution,” said the cat’s owner, David Pelletier.

On an average day, Lucy makes his rounds through the stores in the neighborhood, greeting his adoring fans.

(For the record, Lucy really is a male. When he was a kitten, “he had so much hair we couldn’t tell [whether he was a boy or a girl],” Pelletier said. Assuming the cat was a female, the Pelletiers gave him a girl’s name — which has stuck with him.)

The Barking Cat, a local pet store, has been Lucy’s favorite hangout spot in recent years. Shop owner Jeff McKee has provided the cat with a water bowl, a special bed high above customers with dogs, and regular doses of Kitty Kaviar, his favorite treat.

“He’s just a real sociable cat, and has always been the mayor of this end of Essex Street,” said McKee.

So when area residents reported that Lucy had been snatched off a city street, the alarm went out.

On Friday night, Brian Donnelly and Mary Kelley spotted an elderly man awkwardly carrying Lucy down the street.

“The cat was out in front of him with his paws extended forward,” Donnelly said. “… It was almost like there was a cartoon question mark over the cat’s head.”

Donnelly and Kelley drove back around the block to look for the man and the cat, but by the time they returned, the two were gone.

When Pelletier got the news, he called and e-mailed friends asking for help in his search. McKee put up a sign in the window of The Barking Cat and posted a notice on the store’s Facebook page.

On Tuesday, a customer called McKee with a possible lead. When the woman learned about Lucy’s situation, she remembered that friends had told her about an elderly man in their apartment building who showed up with a new cat last weekend.

The manager of the apartment building in question called the police to report the incident. Detective Bill Jennings, a veteran with the Salem Police and Barking Cat customer, responded around 11 a.m.

When Jennings knocked on the apartment door, the 72-year-old tenant opened the door. Jennings immediately noticed Lucy.

“That ain’t your cat,” he said as he picked up the purloined feline.

Forty-five minutes later, Lucy was back in his throne at The Barking Cat.

The man told Jennings that the cat was a stray and had followed him onto a bus.Police are not going to press charges because of the man’s age and health issues.

As for Pelletier, he is delighted to have Lucy back. “This has just been hilarious,” he said.

[Sources: Salem News and Salem Patch]