Mistakenly Tossed Out with the Trash, Autumn Survives a Harrowing Trip to the City Dump in Order to Live Another Day
"She (Autumn) was just looking all in shock. We were both in shock and just looked at each other, not knowing what was what."
-- Wilbert Davis
Just as cemeteries exist for the final disposition of human and animal remains, city dumps serve as repositories for all the inanimate objects that society discards. They are desolate places for the most part and, with the notable exception of whatever scavengers retrieve, not much that is deposited there ever makes its way back to the world of the living.
Into one of these wastelands, a two-year-old American Shorthair named Autumn was cast on February 20th. Trapped inside a box-spring that her guardians carelessly had discarded earlier on Valentine's Day, she was destined to die a slow and lonely death.
Deprived of both water and food, she already had worn her claws down to a frazzle in a futile attempt to fight her way out of what only days before had been a favorite hiding spot of hers and her mates, Zoey and Miss Patty, at Ann and Wayne Crews' residence in Richmond, Virginia. Now, the old familiar box-spring was looking more and more like her coffin.
All that stood between her and a premature date with the Grim Reaper was fifty-four-year-old Wilbert Davis of Haynes Home Furnishings. He and his partner, Norman Bleech, were in the process of dumping the box-spring and mattress at the city dump in Suffolk and returning to their warehouse in Williamsburg when Davis heard what he thought was a faint meow coming from inside the bundle. He and Bleech flipped it over, spied Autumn, and then freed her.
"She was just looking all in shock," Davis later recalled for Zootoo of Secaucus on March 1st. (See "Lost Cat Found Living in Mattress.") "We we're both in shock, and just looked at each other, not knowing what was what." (See photo above of him alongside the Crewses and Autumn.)
Autumn, whose fortunes quickly had gone from abysmally bad to fantastically good, was even luckier than she could have imagined in that her savior turned out to be an animal lover. "I'm an animal lover myself, and when I heard that this customer had been calling every day about her cat, crying and whatever else, I could understand why," he added in the interview with Zootoo. "It's like your child. Every day, I pray for my dog along with the rest of my family before I go to work."
It therefore is not surprising that his faith played a major role in his decision to rescue Autumn. "I do things from the heart. It was all through God," he told the Richmond News-Dispatch on February 25th. (See "Cat Rescued from Box-Spring After Being Lost for a Week.") "I can't take credit. God used me to do this."
If Autumn had been discovered by an ailurophobe, say a bird advocate or a wildlife biologist, she would not have had a chance. Even if she eventually had been able to claw her way to freedom she not only would have been unable to find her way back home but also subject to attacks from birds of prey and other scavengers that frequent city dumps.
Autumn's traumatic ordeal began when the Crewses accepted receipt of a new bedroom set from Haynes. Ordinarily that would not have created a problem if the Crewses had not in turn asked the deliverymen to cart away their old mattress and box-spring.
On the way out the door, Zoey had scampered out of the box-spring but even that flashing warning sign was insufficient to prompt the unthinking Crewses to either check it for Autumn or to search the house for her. As a result, she was forced to spend the next six days trapped inside the box-spring as it wended its way seventy-four kilometers from Richmond to Haynes' warehouse in Williamsburg and then another sixty-one kilometers to the dump in Suffolk.
Somewhere along the way the mattress and box-spring were fastened together with tape and this effectively closed off all escape routes. It is nonetheless odd that her presence was not detected during this process.
Eventually, the Crewses' faux pas began to dawn on them. "When the deliverymen were gone, we started looking for Autumn, and we just couldn't find her," sixty-one-year-old Ann told Zootoo. "We turned the house upside down."
It was at about that time that they belatedly put two and two together and solved the puzzle of the missing moggy. "I thought, oh my gosh, I bet Autumn was in the box-spring with Zoey," she told WAVY-TV of Portsmouth on March 12th. (See "Purr-fect Ending to a Wild Cat Nap.")
The Crewses then contacted Haynes in a futile effort to gain access to its warehouse in order to search for Autumn. They additionally touched bases with Chesterfield Animal Control, blanketed the neighborhood with "Lost Cat" posters, and even took out an ad in a local rag.
It was at this critical juncture that they committed their second grievous error in judgment by squandering precious time gassing on the blower with Haynes instead of taking the bull by the horns and driving to Williamsburg and demanding that the mattress and box-spring be promptly returned to them. If Haynes still had been uncooperative, they could have sought emergency relief from the courts.
After all, it is too easy for people to say no over the telephone and, more importantly, Autumn's life was hanging in the balance. Under such circumstances, cat owners should never take the cheap and lazy route; they would not behave in such a lackadaisical fashion if the life of one of their children was at stake and the same logic should be applied to missing cats.
In the meantime, Davis and Bleech immediately knew that Autumn was a domesticated cat as opposed to either a feral or a stray because of the purple rhinestone collar that she was wearing. They accordingly took her back to their warehouse and treated her to a saucer of milk and some table scraps.
The long-suffering cat was not out of the woods just yet, however. For although the Crewses had outfitted her with a collar, it contained neither a nameplate nor a tag. Consequently, Davis and Bleech were forced to consult their records in order to ascertain exactly where they had picked up the mattress and box-spring.
Besides contributing absolutely nothing toward reuniting lost cats with their distressed owners, decorative collars can be every bit as harmful to animals as their more conventional counterparts. (See Cat Defender post of May 28, 2008 entitled "Collars Turn into Death Traps for Trooper and Que but Both Are Rescued at the Eleventh Hour.")
Despite that impediment, Haynes and the Crewses eventually were able to piece together their respective narratives and Autumn was reunited with her guardians at around 5:30 p.m. on February 21st. "We were just ecstatic," Ann told Zootoo. "We hugged her and gave her lots of treats."
For rescuing and returning Autumn, the Crewses gave Davis a $50 reward which he generously has agreed to split with Bleech. Since most humane organizations charge an adoption fee of approximately $100, the Crewses' gratitude should have been at least equal to that amount.
Moreover, the paltry monetary value that they placed on Autumn's life is more in keeping with the ridiculously lenient fines that judges in Virginia mete out to cat killers. (See Cat Defender posts of January 17, 2007, October 23, 2007, and August 21, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Loony Virginia Judge Lets Career Criminal Go Free After He Stomps to Death a Fourteen-Year-Old Arthritic Cat," "Virginia Does It Again! Farmer Who Drowned at Least Five Cats Gets Off with a Slap-on-the-Wrists," and "Justice Denied: Exterminator Who Gassed Three Cats at the Behest of Fox-35 in Richmond Gets Off with a Minuscule Fine.")
Of course, it could be that cheapness flows as freely in the veins of Virginians as does moonshine and hominy. There can not be any disputing, however, that Davis deserved a few more bob in return for his good deed, especially in light of the fact that he is forced to work two jobs in order to make ends meet.
Haynes, likewise, is not completely blameless either. Although it deserves praise for its willingness to foot the bill for Autumn's trip to the vet, it could have saved itself that expenditure if it had been willing to thoroughly search the mattress and box-spring as soon as the Crewses telephoned with their fears and suspicions.
As for Autumn, her travails left her famished, dehydrated, and fatigued. At the veterinarian's office, electrolytes, fluids, steroids, and a jab of B12 were administered and as a consequence her physical health should have returned to normal by about this time.
Her mental health could be a different story, however. In addition to possibly having developed a fear of tight places, her pride may have been wounded as the result of being tossed out in the rubbish. After all, cats have long memories.
In Roughing It, Mark Twain recounts the story of Dick Baker's gray cat, Tom Quartz, who one day fell asleep inside a mine and was blown sky-high when the miners set off a charge. He miraculously survived the blast but as the result he, quite understandably, developed an fervent prejudice against quartz mining.
The celebrated storyteller vividly described Tom Quartz's indignation and wounded pride in the following memorable passage:
"Well sir, it warn't no use to try to apologize -- we couldn't say a word. He took a sort of a disgusted look at hisself, 'n' then he looked at us -- an' it was just exactly the same as if he had said -- 'Gents, maybe you think it's smart to take advantage of a cat that ain't had no experience of quartz minin', but I think different' -- an' then he turned on his heel 'n' marched off home without ever saying another word."
Along about the time that Autumn's misadventures were coming to a joyous conclusion, Callie's were just beginning and they, too, involved discarded furniture. The only differences were that Callie had become trapped inside a couch as opposed to a box-spring and she wound up in a new home as opposed to the city dump.
Her troubles began on February 19th when her owner, Spokane resident Bob Killion, donated a couch to the Value Village thrift store. On February 25th, Vicky Mendenhall purchased the couch for $27 and took it home to her house on North Madison Street.
She and other family members immediately heard meowing but were unable to locate the source and consequently mistakenly concluded that it was coming from underneath the house. Finally on March 10th, her boyfriend, Christ Mund, felt something stir against the back of his legs from inside the sofa and when he investigated he discovered Callie.
He next cut a hole in the upholstery and freed her. (See photo above.) That does not, however, explain how she got inside the couch in the first place.
Just as it was Autumn's good fortune to be rescued by an animal lover, it just so happened that Mendenhall is not only a cat-lover but also works for Spokanimal C.A.R.E. She accordingly took Callie to work with her where she prevailed upon a veterinarian to examine her.
Other than being famished and dehydrated as the result of going nineteen days without sustenance, the cat was in remarkably good shape. (See photo directly above of her with Mendenhall.)
Mendenhall then contacted Value Village but management promptly revealed itself to be every bit as out to lunch on this subject as Haynes was when queried about Autumn. The tunnel vision exhibited by both firms is most likely attributable to their being run by bean counters. At her wit's end, Mendenhall turned to the local media for help.
A local television station did a feature on Callie's plight which was seen by an acquaintance of Killion's who in turn relayed the good news to him. He thus was able to reclaim his cat on March 12th.
"It was one of the most joyous things ever to happen to me except for the birth of (my) children and marriage," he told the CBC's As It Happens on March 16th. (See "Couch Cat.") "It's a miracle. I can't describe the joy."
Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2001 and given only eighteen months in which to live, the former master sergeant with the United States Air Force is well-acquainted with miracles. Even more illuminating, he credits Callie along with his other resident feline, Tiger, and his Pomeranian, Lola, with helping to save his life.
Cats are legendary for cheating death and their narrow escapes are fodder for the tabloids. None of that substantially alters the sobering reality that for every lionized survivor hundreds more die in obscurity.
Much more importantly, cats such as Autumn and Callie need not have suffered if only their guardians had acted more responsibly. Because of their diminutiveness and penchant for hiding, the movement of all individuals, animals, and objects in and out of their environments must be treated as potential hazards.
Moving vans and even packages sent through the post can place cats in jeopardy. (See Cat Defender posts of November 6, 2007 and July 21, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Trapped in a Moving Van for Five Days, Texas Cat Named Neo Is Finally Freed in Colorado" and "Janosch Survives Being Sent Through the Post from Bayern to the Rhineland.")
Home repairs present their own set of dangers. (See Cat Defender posts of September 8, 2008 and August 4, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Bonny Is Rescued at the Last Minute after Spending Seven Weeks Entombed Underneath a Bathtub" and "Brooklyn Man Gets Locked Up in a Nuthouse and Then Loses Digs, Job, and Honey All for Attempting to Save His Friend's Cat, Rumi.")
Outdoor storage sheds easily can be transformed into tombs if owners get careless. (See Cat Defender post of January 23, 2008 entitled "Emmy Survives Being Locked in an Outdoor Storage Shed for Nine Weeks Without Either Food or Water.")
It is, however, conventional modes of transportation that take the heaviest toll on cats. For example, cats can wind up stranded hundreds of miles from home simply by getting trapped inside delivery trucks. (See Cat Defender posts of December 12, 2007 and August 18, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Bored with Conditions at Home, Carlsberg Stows Away on a Beer Lorry for the Adventure of a Lifetime" and "Ronaldo Escapes Death after Retailer Coughs Up the Exorbitant Bounty That Quarantine Officials Had Placed on His Head.")
Cats even have been known to climb aboard freight trains. (See Cat Defender post of June 7, 2007 entitled "Rascal Hops a Freight Train in South Bend and Unwittingly Winds Up in Chattanooga.")
Nevertheless, of all modern modes of conveyance it is cargo ships that, arguably, endanger and kill the most cats. (See Cat Defender posts of December 9, 2005 and July 16, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Adventurous Cat Named Emily Makes Unscheduled Trip to France in Hold of Cargo Ship" and "Accidentally Trapped in a Shipping Crate, Calico Cat Named Spice Survives Nineteen-Day Sea Voyage from Hawaii to San Bernardino.")
This is an especially egregious problem in the Orient. (See Cat Defender posts of August 11, 2008, April 25, 2008, and May 17, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Trapped Inside a Crate, Ginger Licks Up Condensation in Order to Survive a Nightmarish Sea Voyage from China to Nottinghamshire," "After Surviving a Lengthy and Hellish Confinement at Sea, Malli Dies Unexpectedly in Foster Care," and "North Carolina Shelter Plotting to Kill Cat That Survived Being Trapped for Thirty-Five Days in Cargo Hold of Ship from China.")
Finally, cat owners additionally need to be cognizant of the fact that it is not only furniture that moves around that can be harmful to their companions but stationary pieces as well. For instance, it recently was revealed that some types of furniture manufactured in China contain sachets of a fungicide known as dimethyl fumarate (DMF).
Concealed inside in order to retard the growth of mold during transport, DMF is normally inert but it can turn deadly whenever it is exposed to body heat. In particular, it has been blamed for the deaths of two individuals and a cat in Paris. (See Daily Telegraph, December 4, 2008, "Toxic Armchair Kills Father, Son, and Cat, Family Claims.")
That is just one more reason why consumers should be wary of anything that is not either grown or manufactured locally. Even bread baked a few hundred miles away and trucked in contains far too many preservatives to ever be entirely safe for consumption.
Photos: Ann Crews (Autumn, Davis, and the Crewses), KREM-TV of Spokane (Callie and couch), and Christopher Anderson of The Spokesman Review of Spokane (Callie and Mendenhall).