Thursday, January 15, 2009

Saint Kevin?

Yesterday I had a very unique opportunity that doesn't come along very often. After getting home in the afternoon, I hit the elliptical machine for a quick 30-minute workout, then rehydrated afterward with a bottle of suds.

Not halfway through my beverage (held in one hand while playing Frisbee with my daughter with my other hand), my neighbor came rushing over in an obvious state of angst and solicitude. Always willing to help out my fellow man or woman in any way I can, I set down my longneck to listen to her distressed request. My 5-year-old daughter watched very curiously and tentatively from several feet away.

I was hoping from the tone of her (my neighbor's) voice that everything was okay with her husband, a retired, elderly man who is usually the one to rush over to solicit a favor. It was very uncommon that his wife would make the 50-yard trek through the briers and brambles.

"Is everything okay?" I asked, implicitly asking about her husband.

"Nooooooo. I need your help . . . . fast!" she said anxiously.

I immediately thought that a tree, a ladder, the refrigerator or something heavy had fallen onto her husband who now lay gasping for air with crushed lungs and broken hip unable to move. This was a "Life Alert" situation, and I was being summoned as first response. Flashes of my past experiences and math and construction backgrounds immediately flashed into my head as I developed a quick plan of attack. I took another swig of my beverage for some liquid courage to help me through this Code Red event. My daughter took my lead, as she was already putting away the Frisbees and putting her jacket back on. All this happened in an instant.

"What's the problem?" I asked with the calm, stoic confidence of a seasoned EMT.

I wasn't prepared for what came next. In fact I was rather shocked by her answer to the question.

"My cat is stuck under my deck and my husband isn't home!!!!"

Knowing her cat was very important to her, as dear to her as any other member of her family, I was relieved that it wasn't anything more serious, but much of my adrenaline suddenly left me as I realized what a non-critical, routine rescue this was going to be, even though it would incorporate more of my construction background than heavy lifting followed by CPR.

Nonetheless, I snapped into action. I grabbed my drill, hammer, and several pry and crow bars. I also grabbed my telescoping light-bulb changer pole that has come in very handy so many times before for knocking Frisbees out of trees. My instinct told me that this might come in pretty handy when used parallel to the ground as well as a "Kitty Cajoler." My daughter grabbed a few "tools" of her own: her baby doll, a flashlight, and a spare battery for the cordless drill. With a few last minute gulps of my rehydrating fluid, the three of us set off with blood in our eyes and snot in our noses (the cedar was really bad yesterday.)

Apparently the cat, which had never been out of the house for more than 10 closely supervised minutes at a time, escaped three days prior and had been missing since. With no food or water and overnight temperatures dipping below freezing, my neighbors had almost given up all hope of ever seeing their "Fluffles" ever again. But yesterday, just as I must have been finishing up on the elliptical, the neighbor's dog, while outside for its "business" began yapping at the deck. Sensing the tirade was more than just a delusional cross-eyed dog trying to ward off the benign threats of a piece of treated lumber, she investigated between the slats of the deck and discovered her beloved, lost feline. After placing a pine cone directly above the motionless kitten to mark its location, she called her husband and came to get me.

Once "Team Korpi" arrived on the scene, I was confused as to how the cat was "trapped" beneath the deck, as there were several points of entry with enough clearence between the deck and ground for the cat to simply walk out on its own, the same places that allowed me a good look underneath to reveal plenty of crawl space even for the fattest of housecats. I assumed she must have her claw, tail, whiskers, or something caught on something else, but that idea was soon abandoned as the cat was no longer beneath the carefully placed pine cone.

It became apparant that the cat was under the deck by choice, secluding itself like a troubled teenager who locks himself in his room. I asked my neighbor if she and "Fluffles" had had an argument, knowing that that line of questioning wouldn't help get the cat out. Using food and an mbarrassing high-pitched overly-dramtic sweet voice, I tried to pursuade the cat, which I now found cowering against one side of the deck well out of reach, to come out on its own. The cat appeared to be appropriately catatonic and non-responsive, but still alive.

As I tried to back out several screws from the 10-year-old deck boards, the cross-point heads either stripped out or broke off below the surface from the applied torque. As I was about to start cutting out a large square section with my circular saw, the male homeowner arrived on the scene. He preferred I pry up the length of one board. And so with his help, we began snapping off lengths of the stubborn boards until we felt we had enough exposed area to work the cat withing grasping range. This would prove to be the toughest part of the entire process.

With daylight fading quickly, I lay on my side on on side of the long, narrow deck and proceeded to extend my telescoping Frisbee retrieving pole underneath in the direction of the cat. With only a few inches of room, my arm was wedged up to my shoulder between the earth and the deck. With the pole fully extended, I swund it back and forth vigoruously trying to scare the cat into moving in the direction of the newly exposed area where the masters were waiting to scoop her up.

After almost 30 minutes of doing this, not only my my arm about to fall off from fatigue, but the cat never wandered withing arm's length of its owners. I left the pole in place and went to try to remove a few more board length hoping the cat wouldn't have the courage to run past the "monster" pole that now lay motionless.

The cat stayed put, and the male homeowner reached down to grab her, but this was enough to startle the cat a few inches out of his reach. For me, it was back to the extension pole to awaken the sleeping pole monster to scare the cat back the other direction. After another 10 minutes of sweeping it back and forth, my knuckles scraping across unseen rocks, the cat positioned itself a little closer to the opening. This time, the female owner knelt down and spoke in a comforting tone the cat knew well, even getting a couple of fingers on the cats fur, stroking gently. With limited arm span, she couldn't get a grip on the cat to pull it out. That's where I came in.

Mimicking the voice of my female neighbor, I kept up the verbal reassurance as I reached in an gently stroked the cat's head. At the near extent of my own reach, which extended beneath a 2 by 8 beam, I knew it would be tough to grab the collar-less fat recalcitrant cat between the 3 inch space between the rocky ground and the sturdy beam, but I was tired of the charade. With the quickness of a rattlesnake bite, my gentle strokes immediately changed to a strong grasp of the cat's front leg. As I pulled one way, the cat dug in the other way. I was just hoping she didn't scratch me up more than I already was.

The struggle between my 210 pound build and the cat's 10 pound frame seemed to last several minutes, but withing seconds, I had her squeezed through the beam and out into the exposed area. The female cat owner reached down and picked her with both arms and the reunion party was officially on, tear and all. The cat, however, wasn't crying, was barely moving, and noticeably freaked out.

After picking up all my tools and getting many hugs and thanks from everyone involved (the female cat owner called me a "Saint," something I suspected all my life), my daughter and I made the trek back home in the dusk. I assured her that the blood on my knuckles wasn't going to require stitches or surgery and that I wasn't going to die from it.

As I washed up at home, I realized that it was my WIFE who was really the Saint, for she had dinner ready. At that moment, I felt very proud of myself, not only for saving the cat, and marrying my Saint, but for making the decision long ago to buy that telescoping pole. It has paid for itself several times over.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story. I love it.

Anonymous said...

What a hero! Thanks for the ideas on alternative uses for my light changer pole.

Brenda said...

what a dramatic experience!