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Published July 03 2011

Swift: Cat goes on an epic ad-vent-ure

I was sitting at Perkins with my friend “Thelma,” gazing out the window at a downpour so heavy that we agreed to wait it out.

Suddenly, my phone vibrated in my pocket.

I held it up to read the following text from my husband, Irwin, at home: “OMG. Cat in vent.”

I couldn’t believe this. Our cat, Sebastian, is almost completely inanimate. He commandeered a green chair in our bedroom about six months ago and has rarely left it since.

Sebastian is 17 years old.

I recently found an online human-age-to-cat-age calculator, which estimated that a 17-year-old feline is the equivalent to an 85-year-old man. And Sebastian’s years of honky-tonk living – which included a wonky thyroid, a love of ice cream and the traumatic Kitty-Head-Stuck-in-the-Dining-Room-Chair-Debacle of 1997 – may have shortened his life expectancy considerably.

I called Irwin, who answered after five rings.

He sounded rattled, much like he did when we had to change the diapers on his 2-year-old nephew after the kid ate what must have been 12 bananas and an economy-sized can of kidney beans.

“What happened?” I asked.

Irwin explained that he had removed a filter from our cooling and heating system to clean it. While doing so, Sebastian apparently found a tiny opening in the furnace.

He somehow squeezed his rotund, 17-pound body through it. Irwin wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t heard a hollow, metallic meowing in the bathroom vent.

Sebastian was somewhere in the duct work. It was like learning your great-grandfather – the one with cataracts and a bum hip – was driving a unicycle on the Autobahn.

We didn’t know where he was in the vent system. We didn’t even know if his Orwellian physique could squeeze through some of the bends and corners (for some reason, I kept thinking of “The Simpsons” episode in which Homer got stuck in the waterslide at Mount Splashmore).

“Can he turn around?” I asked. “Is a cat able to walk backwards?”

“I don’t think so,” Irwin says. “He’s like a Zamboni. Hey, I gotta go … .”


Thelma was unsuccessfully trying to hide paroxysms of laughter behind a coffee cup, a napkin and her purse. I could see the humor in it but was also worried. Was the poor old guy OK? What if he had a heart attack? Would we have to tear out the whole vent system to find him? Is this what I got for nagging Irwin that we needed to get the vents cleaned?

My phone rang again. It was Irwin again, sounding even more desperate. “Are you coming home?” he asked.”I still haven’t gotten him out, and I need some help here.” I heard loud, worrisome clunking sounds in the background.

We raced home, brainstorming over what to do. Could we coax the cat out with cat treats? Or maybe we could yell into the furnace that we’d brought home a shapely Persian.

We reached our house and rushed to the door. Irwin was in the kitchen, shaking his head. “I finally got him out,” he said. “It sounded like he was trapped under the bathroom floor, so I just climbed into the crawlspace and took a section of ductwork out in that area. Then I just reached in and pulled him out.”

Sebastian looked miffed – and very dirty. Wow. He worked waaay better than a Swiffer.

But for the rest of the day, our old cat walked with a little extra pep in his step. Maybe his grand adventure had reignited his confidence – like an old man who decides to run a marathon or climb a mountain.

He vent, he saw, he conquered.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525