“Are you looking for a cat?” my neighbour called out.
I was standing on the front porch in the twilight, calling Eva’s name and shaking a box of cat food. “Um, yeah,” I replied.
“Black and white.”
“Oh. I think she’s there in the drain,” he said, pointing to the gutter beside the road.
My heart fell through my guts like a stone. “Shit!” I dropped the box of cat food and half-ran, half-floated down to the roadside. I wanted to be there instantly yet at the same time didn’t want to move too fast. I didn’t want to see her dead in the gutter. Not another cat killed on the road. Not our sweet, flirty, mega-smoochy Eva. She’s always been an absolute heartbreaker.
When I reached the gutter, I scanned helplessly for her body but couldn’t see anything. Then I realised the neighbour was pointing to a stormwater grate.
“My dog spotted him down there,” he muttered. “Had a bit of a go trying to get to him, but he’s tucked right back in the pipe.”
She. She is tucked right back in the pipe.
I kneeled down and peered into the grate – surprisingly happy to be met by the growl of a frightened cat. I could see a pair of big eyes and some white whiskers. Then as she moved, the tip of a paw, the little white smudge on her nose.
“Yep, that’s her,” I said.
“Just wait a sec and I’ll go get a crowbar,” the neighbour added helpfully.
“Nah, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I replied. “She’s really scared of people she doesn’t know, and if you try to get the cover off she’ll probably just go further back into the pipe. If she’s just had a fright then it’s probably best to just let her calm down and find her own way out.”
“Ok,” he shrugged, turning to head back home.
I checked what I could see down in the drainpipe. There was no blood apparent, she was clearly conscious, and she was moving (although very little). Hopefully she just got scared by the dog but not actually bitten. As much as I didn’t want to leave her there, the fact she was growling at me meant she was in full feral mode and there probably wasn’t much I could do until she regained her senses. I went back into the house and waited.
20 minutes later, when she still hadn’t appeared, I went back to the stormwater grate to find her exactly where I’d left her.
She growled at me again. I tried to squeeze my hand down through the grate so she could sniff my fingertips. I spoke to her in a soothing coo. I mimicked her “brrrrrauw” of greeting. She seemed to perk up a little and meowed back at me. She still didn’t move out of the pipe though. I went back inside to give her a bit more time.
Another 30 minutes passed – Rob and I ate dinner in a cloud of silent worry. The fact that she wouldn’t move out of the pipe was certainly concerning. She could be injured. She might have met another dog, or been clipped by a car. She was certainly not her usual self.
Rob and I returned to the grate to find her still in the pipe, staring back at us. She wasn’t growling anymore. By this time it was very dark, and we could only see her with the help of a flashlight. We tried to coax her out with treats, which she completely ignored. However, when I wiggled my hand down through the grate again, she did rise up and smooch my fingers. She’d clearly calmed down enough to remember that we were friends, but she still wasn’t coming out.
We were now really concerned that she was injured, so we returned to the house to get a spade and a large metal fencepost to use as a lever. I tried to clear the dirt and asphalt from around the edge of the grate as quietly as possible. When we pried up the grate, Eva just squeezed back further into the pipe and stared at us. Again, we tried soft voices and treats to coax her out.
And the next thing we knew, she sprang up out of the pipe and ran off down the road – perfectly healthy.
I called her and called her, and she followed me back to the house and trotted in the back door like nothing was amiss. She helped herself to dinner, and then came and gave us lots of purry cuddles on the couch before going to play in her water bucket (above). It was crazy – like outdoor Eva and indoor Eva were completely different cats.
Bloody heartbreaker. Had us so worried.