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
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
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
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,
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
"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
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
"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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