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[collected 2001-12-14 00:23:57 CST (Dec Fri) 1008311037]

This is the story of the night my ten-year-old cat, Rudy, got his head
stuck in the garbage disposal.  I knew at the time that the experience
would be funny if the cat survived, so let me tell you right up front that
he's fine.

Getting him out wasn't easy, though, and the process included numerous home
remedies, a plumber, two cops, an emergency overnight veterinary clinic, a
case of mistaken identity, five hours of panic, and fifteen minutes of
fame.

First, some background.   My husband, Rich, and I had just returned from a
five-day spring-break vacation in the Cayman Islands, where I had been sick
as a dog the whole time, trying to convince myself that if I had to feel
lousy, it was better to do it in paradise.

We had arrived home at 9 p.m., a day and a half later than we had planned
because of airline problems.  I still had illness-related vertigo, and
because of the flight delays, had not been able to prepare the class I was
supposed to teach at 8:40 the next morning.  I sat down at my desk to think
about William Carlos Williams, and around ten o'clock I heard Rich
hollering something undecipherable from the kitchen.

As I raced out to see what was wrong, I saw Rich frantically rooting around
under the kitchen sink and Rudy, or rather, Rudy's headless body scrambling
around in the sink, his claws clicking in panic on the metal.  Rich had
just ground up the skin of some smoked salmon in the garbage disposal, and
when he left the room, Rudy (whom we always did call a pinhead) had gone in
after it.

It is very disturbing to see the headless body of your cat in the sink.
This is an animal that I have slept with nightly for ten years, who burrows
under the covers and purrs against my side, and who now looked like a
desperate, fur-covered turkey carcass, set to defrost in the sink while
it's still alive and kicking.  It was also disturbing to see Rich, Mr.
Calm-in-an-Emergency, at his wits end, trying to soothe Rudy, trying to
undo the garbage disposal, failing at both, and basically freaking out.
Adding to the chaos was Rudy's twin brother Lowell, also upset, racing
around in circles, jumping onto the kitchen counter and alternately licking
Rudy's butt for comfort and biting it out of fear.  Clearly, I had to do
something.

First we tried to ease Rudy out of the disposal by lubricating his head and
neck. We tried Johnson's baby shampoo (kept on hand for my nieces visits)
and butter-flavored Crisco: both failed, and a now-greasy Rudy kept
struggling.

Rich then decided to take apart the garbage disposal, which was a good
idea, but he couldn't do it.  Turns out, the thing is constructed like a
metal onion: you peel off one layer and another one appears, with Rudy's
head still buried deep inside, stuck in a hard plastic collar.  My job
during this process was to sit on the kitchen counter petting Rudy, trying
to calm him, with the room spinning (vertigo), Lowell howling (he's part
Siamese), and Rich clattering around with tools.

When all our efforts failed, we sought professional help.  I called our
regular plumber, who actually called me back quickly, even at 11 o'clock at
night (thanks, Dave).  He talked Rich through further layers of disposal
dismantling, but still we couldn't reach Rudy.  I called the 1-800 number
for Insinkerator (no response), a pest removal service that advertises
24-hour service (no response), an all-night emergency veterinary clinic
(who had no experience in this matter, and so, no advice), and finally, in
desperation, 911.  I could see that Rudy's normally pink paw pads were
turning blue.  The fire department, I figured, gets cats out of trees;
maybe they could get one out of a garbage disposal.

The dispatcher had other ideas and offered to send over two policemen.
This suggestion gave me pause.  I'm from the sixties, and even if I am
currently a fine upstanding citizen, I had never considered calling the
cops and asking them to come to my house, on purpose.  I resisted the
suggestion, but the dispatcher was adamant:  "They'll help you out," he
said.

The cops arrived close to midnight and turned out to be quite nice. More
importantly, they were also able to think rationally, which we were not.
They were, of course, quite astonished by the situation:  "I've never seen
anything like this," Officer Mike kept saying. (The unusual circumstances
helped us get quickly on a first-name basis with our cops.)  Officer Tom
expressed immediate sympathy for our plight. "I have had cats all my life,"
he said, comfortingly. Also he had an idea. Evidently we needed a certain
tool, a tiny, circular rotating saw that could cut through the heavy
plastic flange encircling Rudy's neck without hurting Rudy, and Officer Tom
happened to own one.  "I live just five minutes from here," he said; "I'll
go get it."

He soon returned, and the three of them, Rich and the two policemen got
under the sink together to cut through the garbage disposal. I sat on the
counter, holding Rudy and trying not to succumb to the surreal-ness of the
scene, with the weird middle-of-the-night lighting, the rooms occasional
spinning, Lowell's spooky sound effects, an apparently headless cat in my
sink and six disembodied legs poking out from under it.  One good thing
came of this: the guys did manage to get the bottom of the disposal, so we
could now see Rudy's face and knew he could breathe. But they couldn't cut
the flange without risking the cat.

Stumped, Officer Tom had another idea.  "You know," he said, "I think the
reason we can't get him out is the angle of his head and body.  If we could
just get the sink out and lay it on its side, I'll bet we could slip him
out."  That sounded like a good idea at this point, ANYTHING would have
sounded like a good idea and as it turned out, Officer Mike runs a plumbing
business on weekends; he knew how to take out the sink!  Again they went to
work, the three pairs of legs sticking out from under the sink surrounded
by an ever-increasing pile of tools and sink parts. They cut the electrical
supply, capped off the plumbing lines, unfastened the metal clamps,
unscrewed all the pipes, and about an hour later, voila!  The sink was
lifted gently out of the countertop, with one guy holding the garbage
disposal (which contained Rudy's head) up close to the sink (which
contained Rudy's body).   We laid the sink on its side, but even at this
more favorable removal angle, Rudy stayed stuck.

Officer Tom's radio beeped, calling him away on some kind of real police
business.  As he was leaving, though, he had another good idea: "You know,"
he said, "I don't think we can get him out while he's struggling so much.
We need to get the cat sedated.  If he were limp, we could slide him out."
And off he went, regretfully, a cat lover still worried about Rudy.

The remaining three of us decided that getting Rudy sedated was a good
idea, but Rich and I were new to the area.  We knew that the overnight
emergency veterinary clinic was only a few minutes away, but we didn't know
exactly how to get there.  "I know where it is!" declared Officer Mike.
"Follow me!"   So Mike got into his patrol car, Rich got into the drivers
seat of our car, and I got into the back, carrying the kitchen sink, what
was left of the garbage disposal, and Rudy.

It was now about 2:00 a.m.  We followed Officer Mike for a few blocks when
I decided to put my hand into the garbage disposal to pet Rudy's face,
hoping I could comfort him. Instead, my sweet, gentle bedfellow chomped
down on my finger, hard, really hard and wouldn't let go.  My scream reflex
kicked into gear, and I couldn't stop the noise. Rich slammed on the
breaks, hollering "What? What happened? Should I stop?" checking us out in
the rear view mirror. "No," I managed to get out between screams, "just
keep driving.  Rudy's biting me, but we've got to get to the vet.  Just
go!"

Rich turned his attention back to the road, where Officer Mike took a turn
we hadn't expected, and we followed.  After a few minutes Rudy let go, and
as I stopped screaming, I looked up to discover that we were wandering
aimlessly through an industrial park, in and out of empty parking lots,
past little streets that didn't look at all familiar.

"Where's he taking us?" I asked.  "We should have been there ten minutes
ago!"  Rich was as mystified as I was, but all we knew to do was follow the
police car until, finally, he pulled into a church parking lot and we
pulled up next to him.  As Rich rolled down the window to ask, Mike, "where
are we going?"  The cop, who was not Mike, rolled down his window and
asked, "Why are you following me?"  Once Rich and I recovered from our
shock at having tailed the wrong cop car and the policeman from his pique
at being stalked, led us quickly to the emergency vet, where Mike greeted
us by holding open the door, exclaiming, " Where were you guys???"

It was lucky that Mike got to the vets ahead of us, because we hadn't
thought to call and warn them about what was coming.  (Clearly, by this
time we weren't really thinking at all.)  We brought in the kitchen sink
containing Rudy and the garbage disposal containing his head, and the
clinic staff was ready.  They took his temperature (which was down
10-degrees) and his oxygen level (which was half of normal), and the vet
declared: "This cat is in serious shock.  We've got to sedate him and get
him out of there immediately."  When I asked if it was OK to sedate a cat
in shock, the vet said grimly, "We don't have a choice."  With that, he
injected the cat; Rudy went limp; and the vet squeezed about half a tube of
K-Y jelly onto the cat's neck and pulled him free.

Then the whole team jumped into code blue mode.  (I know this from watching
a lot of ER)  They laid Rudy on a cart, where one person hooked up IV
fluids, another put little socks on his paws ("You'd be amazed how much
heat they lose through their pads," she said), one covered him with hot
water bottles and a blanket, and another took a blow-dryer to warm up
Rudy's now very gunky head.  The fur on his head dried in stiff little
spikes, making him look rather pathetically punk as he lay there, limp and
motionless.

At this point they sent Rich, Mike, and me to sit in the waiting room while
they tried to bring Rudy back to life.  I told Mike he didn't have to stay,
but he just stood there, shaking his head.  "I've never seen anything like
this," he said again.  At about 3 am, the vet came in to tell us that the
prognosis was good for a full recovery.  They needed to keep Rudy overnight
to re-hydrate him and give him something for the brain swelling they
assumed he had, but if all went well, we could take him home the following
night.  Just in time to hear the good news, Officer Tom rushed in, finished
with his real police work and concerned about Rudy.  I figured that once
this ordeal was over and Rudy was home safely, I would have to re-think my
position on the police.

Rich and I got back home about 3:30.  We hadn't unpacked from our trip, I
was still intermittently dizzy, and I still hadn't prepared my 8:40 class.
"I need a vacation," I said, and while I called the office to leave a
message canceling my class, Rich made us a pitcher of martinis.

I slept late the next day and then badgered the vet about Rudy's condition
until he said that Rudy could come home later that day.  I was working on
the suitcases when the phone rang.  "Hi, this is Steve Huskey from the
Norristown Times-Herald," a voice told me.  "Listen, I was just going
through the police blotter from last night.  Mostly it's the usual stuff:
Breaking and entering, petty theft but there's this one item.  Um, do you
have a cat?"  So I told Steve the whole story, which interested him. A
couple hours later he called back to say that his editor was interested,
too; did I have a picture of Rudy?  The next day Rudy was front-page news,
under the ridiculous headline Catch of the Day Lands Cat in Hot Water.

There were some noteworthy repercussions to the newspaper article.  Mr.
Huskey had somehow inferred that I called 911 because I thought Rich, my
husband, was going into shock, although how he concluded this from my
comment that his pads were turning blue, I don't quite understand.  So the
first thing I had to do was call Rich at work. Rich, who had worked
tirelessly to free Rudy--and swear that I had been misquoted.  When I
arrived at work myself, I was famous; people had been calling my secretary
all morning to inquire about Rudy's health.  When I called our regular vet
(whom I had met only once) to make a follow-up appointment for Rudy, the
receptionist asked, "Is this the famous Rudy's mother?"  When I brought my
car in for routine maintenance a few days later, Dave, my mechanic, said,
"We read about your cat.  Is he OK?"  When I called a tree surgeon about my
dying red oak, he asked if I knew the person on that street whose cat had
been in the garbage disposal.  And when I went to get my hair cut, the
shampoo person told me the funny story her grandma had read in the paper,
about a cat that got stuck in the garbage disposal.  Even today, over a
year later, people ask about Rudy, whom a 9-year-old neighbor had always
called the Adventure Cat because he used to climb on the roof of her house
and peer in the second-story window at her.

I don't know what the moral of this story is, but I do know that this
adventure cost me $1100 in emergency vet bills, follow-up vet care, new
sink, new plumbing, new electrical wiring, and new garbage disposal, one
with a cover.  The vet can no longer say he's seen everything but the
kitchen sink.  I wanted to thank Officers Tom and Mike by giving them gift
certificates to the local hardware store, but was told that they couldn't
accept gifts, that I would put them in a bad position if I tried.  So I
wrote a letter to the Police Chief praising their good deeds and sent
individual thank-you notes to Tom and Mike, complete with pictures of Rudy,
so they could see what he looks like with his head on.  And Rudy, whom we
originally got for free (or so we thought), still sleeps with me under the
covers on cold nights and unaccountably, he still sometimes prowls the
sink, hoping for fish...
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