WEST RIDGE — In a twist of fate, the same shelter that previously helped rescue a cat from the engine of a car was called to do the same thing exactly four years later.
The Veterans Day rescue inspired Felines & Canines Director of Development Kelly Thompson to name the cat "Sarge."
"There's nothing worse than seeing an animal in pain, and he's looking at me like he knows he's stuck, and I know he's stuck, and neither of us knows how he's gonna get out," Thompson told DNAinfo Chicago. "I felt like if he could talk to me he'd be like, 'Don't leave me here.'"
The ordeal began when Thompson answered the phone around 4:30 p.m. at the Edgewater shelter, 6379 N. Paulina St., to hear a distressed employee of a nearby school begging for help.
The woman said a cat had been found in the engine of the school van, and after would-be rescuers unsuccessfully tried to stir it out from under the car by spraying it with water, they began calling for help.
After trying local agencies like the police department and animal control, she said they tried other local shelters, all who refused or were unable to help.
The caller said she was referred to Felines & Canines, a story Thompson said she and Executive Director Abby Smith hear often.
Though unsure how to help, Thompson said she and Smith headed over to the school in the 6200 block of North California Avenue in West Ridge.
School employees had tried to rescue the cat by pulling him up through the engine but inadvertently further lodged his small body, hips and rib cage between pipes. In some places, bolts and sharp pieces of metal were digging into the trapped cat.
Eventually, a passer-by, who Thompson said identified himself only as Nate (who happened to be a vet tech) stopped by to help.
By now, the sun was fading and a "dramatic" scene of chaos was beginning to swell around the car with spectators and children eager for the kitty to be saved, Thompson said.
At one point, Smith pulled out her phone and began filming the ordeal, resulting in a 1-minute 18-second video of distressed meowing with a happy ending.
About one minute into the video, Sarge emerges from the engine and is swaddled into Thompson's arms. Thompson and Nate cling hands for a moment in an emotional point of the rescue as onlookers cheer. Thompson leans down and presses a heartfelt kiss into Sarge's small, wet head.
"It was extremely emotional," she said. "It's that moment where you just kind of want to sob. I felt kind of in a really, really weird way that I had like, given birth or something like that. They're stuck, they're terrified, they're looking at you pleading for help."
Sarge was given a quick look-over by Nate, who cleared him of any obvious external injuries. The cat was brought back to the shelter where he was scanned for a microchip and was found to have come from another local shelter.
For now, he's staying warm, getting fed and relaxing after a stressful day.
Thompson said she did not catch Nate's last name, but would like to recognize his kind actions and thank him.
Thompson said the bond she formed with Sarge was one she'll never forget, saying she's even considered adopting the cat herself.
It was the second happy ending the shelter had seen after neighborhood cats got stuck in car engines.
The timing could not have been more surreal, Thompson said. Exactly four years ago, another cat, Pretzel, was found in a car engine after first being hit. Pretzel suffered severe injuries, but was freed, recovered and rescued into a loving home, Thompson said.
Though the shelter work can be tough, days like Wednesday are a reminder of why Thompson and Smith, and other Felines & Canines workers, do what they do, she said.
She added, "In the midst of tons of awfulness in our city, it's just one of those moments where good decent people together. I think we really needed it."
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