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Rudy, got his head stuck 
in the garbage disposal . . .

Patti, from Suburban Philadelphia

This is the story of the night my 10-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 15 minutes of fame.

My husband Rich and I had just returned from a 5-day vacation in the Cayman Islands-where I had been sick as a dog the whole time. We 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 for 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 10 o'clock I heard Rich hollering from the kitchen.

I raced over to see what was wrong and spied 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 and his head stuck in the garbage disposal. Rich had just ground up the skin of some smoked salmon in the disposal, and when he left the room Rudy (who always was 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 10 years, who burrows under the covers and purrs against my side, and who now looked like a fur-covered turkey carcass, defrosting in the sink while it's still alive and kicking. It was also disturbing to see Rich, Mr. Calm-in-any-Emergency, at his wits' end, trying to simultaneously soothe Rudy and undo the garbage disposal, and 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 with 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 under the sink with his 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 finally, in desperation, 9-1-1.

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. 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, 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, who expressed immediate sympathy for our plight ("I've had cats all my life," he said), also 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. 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 off 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. (You can see where this is going, can't you?) "If we could just get the sink out," he continued, "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 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 driver's 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 really hard and wouldn't let go. My scream reflex kicked into gear. Rich slammed on the brakes, hollering "What? What happened? Should I stop?"

"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 Officer Mike, where are were 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, he 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 vet's 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 footpads," 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 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 and again. At about 3 a.m., 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, having finished with his real police work and still concerned about Rudy. 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 for 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 said. "Listen, I was just going through the police blotter from last night. Um, do you have a cat?" So I told Steve the whole story, which interested him immensely. 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 9-1-1 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 took 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, which 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 $1,100 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, and 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, still sometimes prowls the sink, hoping for fish.

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