The $2,000 Cat

People love their pets. People can be weird about their pets, too. I used to think people who would spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a dog or a cat were exceptionally weird. I mean, if you told me that, for $2,000, I could either buy four round trip tickets for my family to go to Hawaii and rent a car for a week on the Big Island, or get a purebred GoldenRidgebackDoodleLabHound, well…I would be on my way to the airport with a Mai Tai in my hand and Fido would be forgotten.

But, that price point took on a new meaning for my family recently when we got a new cat.

I should state up front that when we got Geddy Lee (Yes. We named him after Geddy Lee, the bassist and lead singer of Rush, my most-favorite rock band of all time) we didn’t pay two-large for him. Like many cats, Geddy was a “rescue cat”. I don’t like using that term because I think it was put in place in recent years to make the “rescuer” feel heroic or superior for taking on a stray pet. But, whatever. No one seems to get their pets from “the pound” anymore, and like many pet owners, we got Geddy from an animal rescue group that has set up shop in a local pet food and supply store.

I had to be sold on Geddy. My cat, Corina, had died a couple of months earlier at the age of 16, and I wasn’t up for getting a new cat right away. But, every couple of weeks, my wife would take me to our local pet food and supply store to look at the cats available for adoption. Eventually, I began to wear down as I spent some time with Geddy (who had been named JoJo by the store workers) and, after a couple of visits, I filled out the forms and forked over the dough to take JoJo/Geddy home with us.

I admit that I did a “Gulp!” when I paid the $150 fee for Geddy. But, that covered his initial shots and getting him “fixed”. And having all that done ahead of time and not needing to arrange my schedule to deal with those time-consuming things after the fact was worth the price. A store associate loaded Geddy up into a cardboard carrier and we took the four-month-old kitten home.

And with that. All was well. Until it wasn’t.

It had been a long time since my wife or I had dealt with a kitten; we were used to our two cats Baby and the late Corina, just roaming around the house, going outside from time to time, and pretty much putting in the 14 hours or so of sleep every day that all cats do. But, Geddy was just four months old. And coming from a contained environment in the store and into our crazy circus of chaos was going to be a big shock to his system. The people at the store suggested we set Geddy up in one room, like a bathroom, with food, water and a litter box for a few days while he adjusted to us. Then, we would introduce him to other parts of the house. Hopefully, within a week he would feel comfortable enough to walk around like he had always been here.

We took Geddy into our downstairs bathroom, brought all his accessories along, and hung out with him for a while. He was nervous, but that was to be expected. We left him alone and went upstairs to have dinner.

After about an hour, I got up to get some ice cream, and my wife went downstairs to check on Geddy. But, I didn’t get a single scoop of that Tillamook Peanut Butter and Chocolate into my dish before our seven-year-old daughter came running up to me.

“DADDY! MOMMY NEEDS YOU!”

Now, I have heard my kids deliver statements with that level of drama a million times. And nearly every time, it’s been over something as life-altering as my wife needing me to make the voice-command on the TV remote work. So, I wasn’t too concerned about what was going on when I headed downstairs.

I saw my wife, and asked what was up. She didn’t say a word, and just pointed.

It took a few seconds for what I was looking at to register in my brain. Under my sink and cabinet, there was a vent cover that had been removed. Next to it was a rectangular opening about three inches high by a foot long. And there was no Geddy in sight.

The aftermath of Geddy’s curiosity...And the start of a night of drama no one expected.All at once, it hit me. While we were upstairs, Geddy had decided to explore the bathroom. And the heating vent cover must have looked enticing because he had grabbed hold of the thing pulled it loose and…Crawled right into the opening where, about six inches inside, there was a nice, round hole that led straight down into the heating duct.

Think about that for a second. In barely an hour in his new home, Geddy had gotten into what was, aside from the inside of one of the walls, the worst, scariest and most-difficult place for an animal to get out of in our entire house. Welcome home, Kitty!

Faced with this situation, there were a few ways I could have reacted. And one of those was to panic. Which is what I did….

“OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODGEDDY’SINTHEHEATINGDUCTSANDWE’RENEVERGOINGTOGETHIMOUTWHATAREWEGONNADO?”

My wife was upset, too. But she was at least clear-headed enough to get on the phone and call a contractor friend of ours for some advice. And that advice was that we were going to have to find Geddy and, somehow, pull him out of the ductwork. Well, even I knew what that meant.

I went down to our storage room/crawl space where the heater is located and stared dumbly at all the foil-covered ducts that extended like arteries to take heat all throughout our home. I opened up the access panel to the heater in the hopes that I would find Geddy sitting there like a rabbit waiting to be pulled out of a hat. Of course, he was nowhere to be found. And I knew what I found have to do next.

I climbed around the heater, crawled my way across the dirt floor past the very old corpse of a long-ago, very dead rat, and started feeling the duct tubes in the hopes that I could find something heavy that would indicate Geddy’s location. We have a lot of ducts, and I went for the one that I believed led to the bathroom, and where Geddy would most likely be.

To my surprise, it didn’t take too long for me to find a spot that felt heavier than others. As I “weighed” the section, I could feel something moving. I looked back along the duct and figured that after Geddy had fallen into the thing, he had run about 12 feet inside this dark tube before coming to a stop. I knew we couldn’t take a chance on him finding his way into the heater itself, and to where I could easily rescue him. So, with no good options, with one hand I tried to hold Geddy through the tubing, and with the other, I pulled out my Xacto knife and started cutting away.

Of course, it would have been too easy for me to make one simple cut, get ahold of the cat, and be done with the whole ridiculous matter. Almost as soon as I started cutting, I could feel Geddy moving forward and out of my reach. Not only did we have a cat stuck in a heating duct, but my knife work meant that the meter was running, so to speak, on the cost of repairing everything.

I crawled around some more and managed to locate Geddy a few feet down the line. I cut through the duct once more and reached my left hand inside. I couldn’t see where I was reaching, but I sure could feel my hand getting torn up as I ran into the screws, sheet metal and baffles that were inside the tube and holding up the ducts themselves. Somehow, I managed to get a hold of one of Geddy’s paws, which must have been both thrilling, and frightening, to him.

I tried to pull him through and out where I was reaching it, but it just wasn’t working. I realized that Geddy was actually spread between two different ducts due to the sheetmetal “Y” juncture piece that sent the heat down different highways, and into different rooms of our house. Geddy was going bonkers and my hand was screaming in pain, but somehow, I managed to hold on to him out of fear that if I let go, he would be off and running through ductwork darkness and we might never get him back.

There was only one thing left I could do, and it involved my knife.

While hanging on to Geddy with my left hand, I reached as far as I could down his backside with my right hand and started hacking away furiously at the duct. It took me a few tries, but I got through the tubing and pulled it away so that there was an opening behind Geddy. I managed to get my hand around the end of the sheet metal “Y”, reached in, and got just enough of a a grip on Geddy with my right hand to where I felt I could let go of his paw with my left.

I began pulling Geddy out. As quickly as I could, I got both hands on him and put Geddy into a vise grip to keep him from making a break for it. Megan coached me out from around the heater and once I was in the open, I handed Geddy over to her. Megan cradled Geddy like a baby, and boogied out of the room and up the stairs until she was back in the house. I sat in the dirt for a moment and pulled my psyche together before getting up, turning off the light and locking the door behind me.

Once we had Geddy upstairs, we all converged around him with a combination of relief and exhaustion. After some time trying to calm everyone down, including Geddy, Megan set him up in the upstairs bathroom where there was another vent, but its was set so tightly into the floor that cat would have needed a crowbar to pry it loose.

And that was the end of Geddy’s first day in his new home. But it wasn’t the end of what happened on his first day. Geddy, looking pretty good after his trip through our heating system.

While Geddy was safe upstairs, there were still three open heating ducts below our house that weren’t going to repair themselves. Winter was still a couple of months away, but there was no getting around the fact that the days were getting cooler and we would soon need to start running the heater. Also, a bunch of ripped open heating ducts acting like an highway into your home for any critter in the neighborhood to access is something no one wants. So, we called a local HVAC repair shop.

They sent someone out to assess the situation. And assess it, they did. To the tune of $1,850.

That was $1,850 that we, in no known universe, were planning on spending on a heating system that had been working just fine before Geddy decided to explore its inner workings. And it certainly was $1,850 that we never would have spent on buying a new cat.

But, since we did spend $1,850 to repair Geddy’s rescue efforts, that, in addition to the $150 we paid in initial Geddy costs, brought his price tag up to a cool $2K. Or, rather, it was a very warm $2K, and I’m reminded of it every time we turn our heater on.

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