It was an ominous day at the Cortez Airport.
"Where's Mabel?" "Has anyone seen Mabel?"
Suddenly, it was clear that this was not a normal day.
Mabel was missing.
The call went out, search parties were assembled, fears soared.
Mabel was missing.
They searched all over. Airplane hangars, fields, empty buildings, parked cars, they knocked on doors - they searched everywhere.
Four days passed - no Mabel. Six, seven, eight days. Mabel was gone.
The fear and sadness hung over the airport like an early morning fog.
Mabel wasn't coming back. There was no other way to think.
A predator got her, she was hit by a car - the worst was feared.
It's been more than four years since Mabel touched down at the airport. Almost from day one, nearly everyone at the airport took Mabel under their collective wing.
But Mabel was in charge, doing her own thing, going where she pleased, keeping the premises mouse free.
For Harvey Baker and Barb Serfoss, the pain and worry of a missing Mabel took over. But everyone missed Mabel. From the mechanics, to the car rental workers to the passengers who frequent the tiny airport. Everyone knows Mabel.
Over the years, a few passengers, some allergic to cats or just not cat people, have shooed Mabel away. But most can't resist the friendly and loving cat.
Day 10, Harvey, who works for TSA, was screening passengers in security.
He admitted that he was sick with worry about Mabel.
Then he heard something. A faint meow!
Mabel was back! Cold and hungry but Mabel was home.
"I tell you, I almost cried. If I wasn't working in the security checkpoint, I think I would have cried," Baker says.
Happiness engulfed the airport and a cheer erupted from the passengers.
Mabel was back! Mabel was home!
Serfoss, who works for Great Lakes Airlines, did cry when she saw Mabel.
"I was so excited," Serfoss says. "I didn't think she was coming back. I was sure that she was gone for good."
On Friday, Jan. 4, Day 11, Mabel was curled up on a chair in the waiting area, a beam of sunshine providing warmth and a little girl providing the love.
Passengers snapped photos and caressed Mabel's soft fur.
She didn't mind. She never does.
Those 10 days were tormenting for Baker and everyone at the airport.
"It was real painful. I lost sleep over it," he says glancing over at the sleeping cat. "I had half the county looking for Mabel."
Shortly before Mabel went missing, Baker gave her a Christmas present. A new tag that says "Cortez Airport Security."
As passengers line up to head through security, Mabel usually takes her position on the back of a chair and watches, greeting each one as they pass.
"She does our 'Cat scans,'" Baker says with a grin.
The happiness that Baker, Serfoss and others at the airport feel about Mabel's return is evident.
"She belongs to the airport," Baker says.
The 7-year TSA veteran pulls up a cell phone video he shot awhile back of Mabel hanging out in the cockpit of a Great Lakes Airlines plane. The cuddly kitty pokes her head out the pilot's window and you can hear the onlookers giggle and shout to Mabel.
Baker figures that Mabel got locked in a hangor or building and couldn't get out.
Once Mabel returned, smelling of oil, she made all the rounds to let everyone know that she was back and she was fine.
"She was rubbing up against everyone," Serfoss says smiling.
When Mabel showed up about five years ago, airport personnel knew they had a new friend. But they checked all around at shelters and with neighbors to make sure she hadn't wandered away from her home. She was already spayed, so she once belonged to someone.
Then they all pitched in and took Mabel to the vet to get shots and checked out.
Now, she's Mabel the Cortez Airport cat.
Baker says she rarely messes in the terminal and there have been a couple of birds and mice that she's left by the front door that they have to dispose of, but other than that, she's the exemplary tenant.
Almost every morning, Mabel keeps an eye out for Baker, who serves the unpaid security volunteer her breakfast.
Baker, an animal lover who has four dogs, two cats and two horses at home, can't hide his affection for the small airport cat.
But when Baker says she belongs to the airport, there's no doubt.
"She wants to visit the passengers. She seems to know when people are scared to fly and kids really love her."
Her soothing purr and comforting rubs calm passengers down, Baker says.
One frequent flier even lives closer to Durango but prefers the Cortez airport so he and his granddaughter can visit Mabel.
Travelers bring Mabel gifts and she is easily one of the most photographed cats in the state - maybe the nation.
Mabel takes it all in stride. She is a cat after all. Cool and curious, and a girl that knows where home is.
Mabel has returned to her routine. A life of leisure and love. She is back visiting everyone. People in the hangars, the garage, the terminal, the offices, the baggage area and security.
Mabel is home and everyone is happy.
The little girl snaps one more photo of Mabel before her mother tugs her away.
Are you ready for your close-up, Ms. Mabel?
Mabel is more than a mascot. She's everyone's pet. She's a celebrity.
She's Mabel - Cortez Airport Security. And it's time for an afternoon nap before the next wave of passengers are set to arrive.
Welcome home Mabel.