Just a little story, a day in the life, as they say....
You'll remember, when last we gathered, I mentioned that a number of feral cats
and kittens had settled onto the property. (And I think I've found a group
that can help with them.)
Anyway...on Thursday morning, about 9:45 a.m., I heard a caterwauling from
behind the house. I went back to see what the heck was going on, and the cats
scattered from where they'd gathered. As soon as they were gone, I found out
what they were going on about...a mewling was coming from one of the
Understand: around the house are a series of vertical 4" landscaping drains,
which usually have covers on them. Designed to carry away water, they go
vertically down about 2 to 2 and a half feet, where they T into a series of
smaller (maybe 3") PVC tubes that evacuate the water out into the street.
When I looked down the vertical tube, which had somehow lost its cap, I saw a
kitten, maybe 4 weeks old, two-thirds of the way down the tube, where it had
fallen. I reacted instantly and reached in to grab the kitten, shoving my arm
into the tube as far as I could reach...and I could just barely touch fur. I
tried to pull my arm back for another try...and found that I was stuck. Badly.
It's worth mentioning that, at this particular moment, I was alone in the
house. I fought, twisted, turned, and after several minutes finally got my arm
When I looked back into the drain tube...the kitten was gone, somewhere in the
T that went off in different directions. I could hear him mewing down there.
I called animal control, and they sent someone over...unfortunately, it was
just one person with a stick and loop, which wouldn't do any good because he
was at very least a few inches around the corner of the T. And the animal
control people don't dig for liability reasons. By the time she'd arrived, the
kitten had stopped mewing. She suggested that perhaps he had made his way out
the street-side drain already, but in any event, there was nothing that could
be done until they knew a) if he was still in there, and b) where in that maze
of pipes he was.
At this point I had to leave to take care of some appointments that couldn't
wait or be postponed, though I continued to worry. I kept hoping he'd made it
I got back to the house around 6:00 p.m. or so, went back...no sound. I leaned
into the long tube, and...well, mewed. Over and over. I'd just about given
up, and was ready to assume he had indeed gotten out safely, when I mewed one
last time...and from deep underground, he mewed back.
He was still in there. I think he must have gone to sleep or been too scared
to respond earlier. Now he was calling back in a big way. And the sound was
coming from between that tube and the one nearby which was a sheer drop to a
second maze of tubes beneath.
Frantic, I put blocks at the other tubes in an attempt to keep him from going
any further, then called every plumber in the phone book. Nobody got back to
me; it was, remember, the night before the 4th, and they wanted to start their
vacations. Finally, desperate, I called the Fire Department, and after several
who couldn't help, I found one that would.
So around 8:00, the bigass fire truck pulled up in front of the house, and out
came the fire captain and three of his guys. They went to the drain area, and
the captain said, "Sir, do you confirm there's a cat in there?" I confirmed,
and they went to work. They dug out the original vertical tube, pulling out a
small cypress in the process, taking turns, breaking two shovels but still
going Even the captain got in there to do his share of the digging.
Finally, having cleared away the dirt around the tube, we're talking about a
hole nearly three feet deep and as wide around, they removed the vertical tube
and put in a mirror to check the lower tube (which was, again, only about 3"
No kitten. He'd either gotten past the blocks, or -- my worst suspicion -- had
fallen down the intersecting tubes that would have taken him even deeper
underground. And he'd gone silent again.
Since there was nothing else that could be done at that point, they headed out.
Figuring that the kitten must still be mobile if he was able to get out of
there, I stayed at the hole from 8:30 until 11:30 p.m., never taking my eyes
off the hole, putting out cat food and lights to try and attract him if he came
this way again.
Around midnight, the mewing came back again, weaker than before. He'd now been
in these underground tubes, meant to carry away water, for nearly 15 hours. It
was dark above and no doubt pitch black beneath.
I went back to the phone book. Called everybody I didn't call the first time.
Finally, a 24 hour plumbing service sent out a guy at nearly 1 a.m. When I
explained the situation, he said he might have to tear up the pipes, uproot
another tree, and it was gonna cost a lot. I said do whatever you have to.
Seeing how determined I was, and that it was a kitten, he knocked some of the
price down, and started digging.
After half an hour, he had the idea to call his brother who had a snake-camera,
the kind you fish in to look at obstacles. Didn't know if he was home, but
tried. Got the brother, he came out, joined the effort. Kept putting the
snake in and looking around. The video carmera showed nothing, though we could
still hear him. It had now been sixteen hours.
Finally, they shouted and I ran to the display. I could see the outline of the
kitten, on its side, half in water. It had to raise its mouth above water to
mew. The kitten totally filled the pipe, meaning there was no way it could
turn around, it could only go forward. And that's what it had been doing for
sixteen hours, going forward in the pitch blackness and the water, crawlilng
blind. It was now deeper into the maze, but at a point where if it backed up,
it would eventually get to the opening dug by the fire department. But that
was nearly 20 feet back. If we tried to dig, he might scoot forward and get
clear...and if he went further, he'd be under concrete, and the end was blocked
by roots. If we lost him this time, he'd be gone for good.
So we started bonking him in the nose with the snake camera. He put up a heck
of a howling at this, but he backed up. Inch by inch, bonk by bonk, we backed
him up for twenty feet.
Finally, he was getting near enough to the opening for me to see the red light
of the camera lighting the tube. I dived into the freshly-dug hole face first,
shoving my hand into the pipe in hopes of snaring him when he came this way. I
knew I was only going to get one shot at this, and if he squirmed past me, we'd
be screwed. It was now 2 in the morning, and there I was upside-down in the
mud, hand shoved into the drain, with every imaginable mosquito and insect
crawling over me, biting, stinging...I'm pretty sure I saw a black widow spider
crawl over the back of my hand. But there was no power on earth that was going
to get me to pull my arm out of that drain; I missed him once, I wasn't going
to miss him again. The water was also backing up around the kitten, and I
could hear him gurgling, choking.
Suddenly I felt his back feet brush my hand. I grabbed hold for all I was
worth, resolved not to let go, and began pulling. To give you some idea how
tightly he was jammed in there, as I pulled his fur dragged the pipe on all
sides, making a shuuuuuuppppp sound as I pulled him out, worried that I might
injure him by the angle I had to use.
With a final pop he came loose and up into my arms, covered in mud, soaking
wet, shivering, but he was OUT goddamnit. The guys were so moved that they
agreed to come back the next day for almost nothing to fix all the pipes and
even replant the trees.
We bundled him up in a towel and got him to an all night emergency vet's
office, where he was diagnosed with extreme hypothermia. Another couple of
hours and he wouldn't have made it. He would've lost too much body heat.
He stayed at the vet's for 48 hours, getting warmed up, checked out, getting
his blood work and vaccinations done, they checked his fluids and rotated his
tires...and he's fine. His name is Buddy, for what I said when I got him out,
over and over, "you're okay, buddy, you're okay now."
As I type this, covered in little bites, with the garden more or less back as
it was, he is in one of the guest bathrooms, sleeping soundly on a warm towel,
surrounded by small toys and big bowls of food and kitten milk. The one thing
I've found I can't do is turn the lights off. He's scared of the dark, and
probably will be for a while. He's the sweetest tempered kitten you've ever
seen, with gray-blue eyes, long black and white fur, and he's just happy to be
I haven't yet decided if I'm going to keep him or let him go for adoption when
the other cats and kittens are taken, but the main thing is he's okay. The
little buddy's okay.
A day in the life, as they say....
(all message content (c) 2003 by synthetic worlds, ltd.,
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine
and don't send me story ideas)