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.
My husband, Rich, and I had just returned from a 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 and around ten o'clock I heard Rich hollering something indecipherable 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 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 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, racing around in circles, jumping onto the kitchen counter and alternately licking Rudy's backside 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 baby shampoo & 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. 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 pm. 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, 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. "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 room's 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,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, viola! 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 brakes, 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 fortunate 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 at times 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. Even today, over a year later, people ask about Rudy, whom a 9-year-old neighbor had always called the Adventure Cat. 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, 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 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 (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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