Eight-year-old Ryan Reber thought something exciting might be happening when his mother picked him up from school early Wednesday afternoon.
A short while later, Zone 3 Pittsburgh police Officer Christine Luffey surprised the second-grader by reuniting him with the calico cat that had escaped from their Allentown home five months ago and was then, police said, stolen by a neighbor.
"I was very, very, very, very happy," Ryan said in between time spent playing with the cat and his video games. "It's just not the same without China."
Pittsburgh police arrested James Augustine, 68, on charges of theft, receiving stolen property, stalking, harboring a nuisance and exceeding the number of pets allowed in a household.
Mr. Augustine and his wife said they thought they were simply taking in a stray cat and had grown attached to the furry feline.
Calie Reber, Ryan's mother, said the family began caring for the cat -- who they named China -- around 2007 after her previous owners moved, and they decided to keep her. She stayed indoors but occasionally managed to slip outside onto the family's fenced-in front porch, always returning indoors quickly.
Last December, the Reber family called for paramedics for Ms. Reber's daughter Makayla, who has been in and out of the hospital since she was born nine months ago. At some point during the chaos, China slipped outside.
When she didn't return the next day, or the day after that, the family grew concerned.
Ms. Reber told police she spotted the cat on her front step about a month later and saw Mr. Augustine trying to take the cat. When she asked him for the cat, he told her it was his and threatened to kill her, according to a criminal complaint. Mr. Augustine said that story was not true.
Officer Luffey wrote in the complaint that she met with Mr. Augustine's wife to discuss the cat and that when she reached Mr. Augustine on the phone, he threatened to beat Officer Luffey if she took his cat. She wrote that on several occasions Mr. Augustine drove by the Reber home, cursed and threatened them.
Reached by phone after he left the Allegheny County Jail Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Augustine said he did not threaten the family. He said he and his wife were under the impression that they had taken a stray cat in about a year ago and he felt as though someone had taken his child.
"It was my cat as far as I'm concerned," he said. "Now possibly, if I wasn't as attached a couple days after she came here and they would have came and knocked on the door and said that's my cat sitting in the window, I may have a different outlook on it, but they showed no compassion for that cat. I don't go out stealing cats."
The Rebers provided the police with veterinary bills proving their prior ownership of the cat, and police have said they have no reason to believe the Rebers mistreated the cat.
Ms. Reber said her son was ecstatic to have the cat back. She said he became depressed without China.
Once, they spotted the cat in the Augustine window and Ryan asked if he could throw a rock at the window and take the cat back, Ms. Reber said. She told him they would call the police and get their cat back the legal way.
She contacted the Pittsburgh police, who worked with the Allegheny County district attorney's office on the case.
Meanwhile, Ryan kept thinking of his cat. "That's all this boy wants. I had to do something," Ms. Reber said. "You're taking a cat from an 8-year-old. Who does that?"
Correction,posted May 16, 2013: The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly said the cat had been stolen. Police say it was reported stolen, but that has not been proven.
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-261-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.