Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cats in strange places

An odd thing happened over the weekend.

I visited friends for Labor Day, and on Sunday π and I went out to run an errand. We got back and, as we walked up the steps to the apartment, we heard a cat meowing very loudly and pitifully, the kind of meow that says, "I'm extremely unhappy just now and would you please do something about that?"

Although I am a dog person, I am not one to ignore a critter of any species when it is in distress, and thus The Search Was On.

For fifteen minutes or more the two of looked high and low for this cat, which periodically repeated its feline SOS. The poor thing obviously knew just where we were, but we obviously did not know where he was, and the sound of his distress call was not easy to localize. We looked high and low - all three levels of the apartments, in the balconies, around the hedges, on the ledges, in the tops of the small trees planted along the sidewalk, under the cars in the parking lot, and even on the roof of the building - but to no avail.

Several times we nearly gave up, but each time that pitiful meow brought forth renewed effort. The cry was too pathetic - the cat must be found!

At length I thought I heard it coming from the vicinity of two cars, of them belonging to π. I looked under one - I looked under the other. The cat chose that time to let out a particularly loud howl, very close at hand - or perhaps I should say very close at head, given that I was at this point on hands and knees.

It had to be under π's car. I checked again. There was nothing there. As I moved to get a better view, I happened to look into the air ducts at the front of the car - and two eyes looked back.

It was a black kitten, a stray, perhaps two months old. He had probably climbed in to stay warm and gotten stuck, it being easier to get in than to get out. He had then ridden two or three miles at the front of the car. In the ductwork below the bumper and forward of the radiator, he was safe from moving parts, but it cannot have been a pleasant experience for him.

As one might expect, after all this trauma he was extremely frightened and extremely pissed off. Our efforts at rescue were met with hissing, spitting, and flashing claws; we finally decided that discretion was the better part of valor and called animal control, who extracted the cat with relative ease. Every hair on the kitten was standing on end - he looked like the mother of all hairballs, with claws.

There must be a litter of them about, and with automotive inclinations: the animal control officer told us that the day before, he had pulled an identical kitten from another engine compartment at a nearby gas station. And the next day, π spotted another one in her parking lot. She is now, I believe, compulsively checking under the hood for additional cats every time she goes out.

After all, it's a Volvo, not a Catillac.

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