Contributed by columnist Dirk Ellingson
You’ve heard me lament the dearth of cat lovers in these parts. A local business refuted my assertion with a recent act of kitty compassion.
I emerged from work on a hot summer evening and thought I saw a small mammal scurry under my car. I wasn’t certain because the sun was setting and I’m very nearsighted. But I checked around and under the car to make sure I wouldn’t run over any little creature backing out and heading home.
Once at my house, I thought I heard a cry. I live near the forest and frequently hear dusk fauna. As Dracula remarked, “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” This call was something different. I looked under the car and under the hood. Nothing to see. Still I wondered if I carried home a stowaway in the Ford Focus.
The next morning while watering the garden and flowers, I heard clearly that same distinctive mew I thought I heard the night before. Certain the sound came from the front of the car, I popped the hood yet could see no animal or sign of movement. New cars have so many clustered components that you can no longer see the concrete below your engine. I remember when you could drop a wrench working under the hood and it always clattered to the ground.
A small animal could survive a Louisiana night if trapped somewhere around the chassis but I feared a summer day parked even in the shade might kill it. I didn’t think it had a source of water safe to drink. I was certain there was an unseen kitten. I didn’t think he could extract himself from his automotive trap.
I went to my local tire shop to implore them to put the car on the lift to investigate. A fellow with a flashlight was sympathetic to the little fellow’s plight but the boss made clear there were too many trucks ahead in need of giant tires and repair to fool with such an odd request. In their defense, they’re not in the business of saving feral strays. I made haste to the next closest place of auto repair, namely the Brown Service Center on Homer Road where I get my oil changed.
I announced that although the day was young, this would likely be their strangest request. There was a kitten trapped in some unseen compartment between my front tires. We could hear his cries for help. A few weeks earlier when I went to Brown’s for an oil change, a young woman named Erin recoiled in horror at my standard transmission as if there was a dangerous animal in my car ready to strike. She requested a colleague drive it into the bay. This time there really was an animal. Hopefully he wasn’t dangerous. Or ready to strike.
Erin, Ricky, Jody, and Eli sprang into action. Rather than lifts, they employ subterranean access where workers can work on the bottom of automobiles. I brought a cat carrier and offered gloves in case the riled beast came out scratching. We were assuming it was a little kitten but it might be something more formidable.
They removed a cover from the chassis and rescued the animal. He was a little gray tabby no worse for the wear. I’d guess a couple months old and apparently male. He was neither filthy or emaciated. He huddled on the blanket in the carrier and we offered him food and water. I’m not sure why Brown Service Center had cat food in the shop but perhaps like firefighters, they’re sometimes called to rescue cats. I offered to pay them. They charged me nothing.
I brought the kitten back to my house. I put soft food and water in the carrier. He ate the food but sat in the water. We already have two cats and are not seeking more, but I began to fancy adding a third for the great origin story of riding to my house without me knowing it. I would name him Hitch, short for Hitcher. The little Hitchhiker. A name with double meaning. My Minden stray white cat from 2018 is named Tully. Now I would have Tully and Hitch. The jeep drivers on Rat Patrol. I could rename my Missouri calico cat Moffitt from the World War II television series of my childhood.
It occurred to me the little fellow might need to relieve himself after a long night in the car and I didn’t want him to mess up a blanket on loan from my dog. I took him out of the cat carrier and carried him out to the yard. I stood between he and the forest line, fearing the predators therein if he made a run for the wilderness. I should have stood between he and the carport.
Cats are fast. But I gambled the new surroundings would interest him and slow his investigations of the grass. He padded around a few seconds, then sprinted back the ten feet to the carport and the familiar car. It took seconds to regain lodging from the night before and I screamed to the heavens. To my ears, the mew changed from a call of distress to taunting. I no longer wanted a third cat.
I returned ashamed to Brown Service Center and would not have blamed them had they drawn the shades and turned me away. “This clown again?” But they were gracious and accommodating as before. They extracted the kitten once again. They refused payment once again. Above and beyond the call of civic duty.
The good thing about my second trip to Brown Service Center was a woman there eager to adopt a stray kitten. One of the mechanics assured me she would provide the little fellow a good home. I hope he’s stayed out from under her car. But I now suspect the little devil can get out by himself if he so desires. Or maybe not. He apparently spent the night in and under my car. Unless he emerged at some point in the night, found the scenery unsettling, and returned to the friendly confines of the Ford Focus chassis.
So, when next you visit Brown Service Center and read the name tags on the shirts of Erin, Ricky, Jody, or Eli, point and say, “Hey you’re one of the benevolent souls who rescued that kitten.” They might smile. They might reply, “All in a day’s work.” Or they might slip away fearing you’re another customer too inept with tools to free an animal trapped in your car or truck.