The plane was just about to take off and 6-year-old Owen Lake was nervous. He groped around the seat for the stuffed tiger his aunt had made for him, the one he slept with every night. Once he found it, he knew he’d be okay.
But the tiger was gone. As the plane left the tarmac, Owen turned to his parents and asked: “Where’s my Hobbes?
Amanda Lake and her husband exchanged a look across the aisle. It was going to be a long flight.
Back on land, Tampa International Airport’s operations center manager Tony D’Aiuto saw a series of alerts. Lost and found had received a call about a missing stuffed animal. Housekeeping staff located the toy at an airside children’s play area.
The family knew the toy was safe and would be waiting for them when they returned to Tampa.
D’Aiuto picked up the stuffed tiger, admiring its hand-sewn stripes. It was plush and soft, much better than the toys you found at the store.
Calvin and Hobbes had been one of his favorite comic strips as a kid. Hobbes was always on an adventure in the books. Why not take him on one in real life?
That day D’Aiuto spent his lunch hour riding around the airport in a police cruiser with Hobbes. An amateur photographer, D’Aiuto posed the tiger on the tarmac, working out in the staff gym, and hitching rides on luggage carts. He felt a little silly at first asking the airport’s firemen and USO staff to pose with the stuffed animal, but everyone was delighted to play along.
“I don’t think Owen understands how much fun I and others had putting this together,” said D’Aiuto. He got the idea after reading about a British museum that had taken a lost stuffed lion on a similar photographic journey before returning it to its owner.
After work, D’Aiuto had the pictures compiled in a book at Walgreens. He paid $16. He used a coupon.
Halfway across the country in Texas, Amanda Lake appeased Owen by telling him Hobbes was on an adventure. She had no idea what the airport staff was up to.
“I said to Owen ‘you can tell Hobbes all about your trip to Texas and he can tell you all about his adventures at the airport,’” said Lake. “I was just making it up. Why would I think that anyone would do something like that?”
The Lake family arrived back in Tampa late Thursday night. Tired and wanting to get the kids home, Lake went alone to the lost and found. One of the police officers there told her she should get her son.
Not one to disobey authority, Lake brought Owen into the room. D’Aiuto was on vacation. James Parker, the late-night operations manager presented the photo book and recovered stuffed tiger to Owen on his behalf.
“He hugged Hobbes very tightly. I had a few tears in my eyes, “ said Lake. “It was late but when we got home he said ‘momma I want you to read to me.’ And what did he have but Calvin and Hobbes and Hobbes in his hand. He was very happy.”
A version of this article originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. All photos care of Tampa International Airport.