Charlene Lanigan holds her cat McGee at her home in...

Charlene Lanigan holds her cat McGee at her home in East Islip. The 5-year-old feline was reunited with his owner almost 36 months to the day he went missing. (Feb. 2, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

Three years.

McGee had been missing, and while Charlene Lanigan had stopped stuffing missing cat fliers into neighborhood mailboxes and quit leaving the doggy door open at night in case he came back, she never stopped searching for him.

"In December, I went on a bike ride with my granddaughters, and I told them to look for McGee," Lanigan, 64, said Saturday at her East Islip home. Only one of her young grandchildren is old enough to remember the cat, but they'd all seen his picture. "I was heartbroken."

But on Jan. 17, almost 36 months to the day after McGee, now 5, left home, Lanigan and her large, long-haired gray and white cat were reunited at the Islip Animal Shelter in Bay Shore.

East Islip resident Bobby Boyle, 40, found the cat in his yard after superstorm Sandy and started searching Craigslist and missing pet websites for notices about the friendly, fluffy cat.

"This is an expensive, nice cat," Boyle remembers thinking when he found the cat. "What is he doing here?"

Boyle took McGee to the town shelter on Jan. 16, exactly three years after he went missing, hoping his owner might look for him there. When he asked the shelter to scan the cat for a microchip, they found Lanigan's name and number.

"I was there in 10 minutes; I flew to the shelter," Lanigan said, calling Boyle "my hero."

Shelter supervisor Joanne Daly said that finding a lost pet after so long is rare. A few years ago, the shelter took in a shih tzu mix that had been missing for four years, and reunited dog and owner.

"The woman reported the dog missing -- I believe she was from Queens -- and the dog was found out here," she said. "Small dogs, nice cats, people find these, and they just pick them up and keep them, or give them away."

Having your pet microchipped goes a long way, she said, adding that the shelter now microchips every dog it adopts out, and microchips cats upon request.

After a tearful reunion, Lanigan brought McGee home, in excellent condition and a pound heavier than he had been in 2010 -- Lanigan said the only difference was that his tail is less fluffy and his meow is hoarse.

McGee recognized the family's beagle-cocker spaniel mix, she said, and immediately rubbed his face on the dog. That night, McGee slept across the top of the same couch he had napped on three years ago.

But a lot had happened since McGee left. For one, Lanigan got another pet, a sleek, short-haired black cat named Oliver, who's learning how to deal with another cat in the house.

And in 2012, Lanigan was diagnosed with -- and successfully battled -- breast cancer.

Her defeat of cancer and the homecoming of her friend have made Lanigan sure of one thing, she said: "Never give up hope for anything in your life. There's always hope."