Cats are funny creatures. Each one has their own personality and their own quirks. Some are super friendly and cuddly, while others are aloof and independent. Some are brave and outgoing, while others are very timid and shy.
Lady is a stunning female, Maine Coon. Although she has been with us since birth and has never been exposed to any danger or abuse, she has been extremely timid and shy all her life. She is very scared of people, gets easily spooked by loud noises, or sudden movement and is always looking for a small place to hide. In addition, she hardly ever meows, so when she is hiding, she is very hard to find, unless you know all her hiding places.
Several years ago we moved to a new home. Moves are usually traumatic to pets, so I decided that, instead of letting them run around the house and getting into all sorts of dangerous places, I would put them in one of the upstairs bedrooms while I pet-proofed my house. This seemed like a good idea, and for most of our pets it was. The room had four walls, laminated flooring, no places to crawl into and few pieces of furniture to sit on, or hide under, so all in all it seemed like a safe space for all.
This was a newer house, with the air/heating vents built into the floor and beautiful wooden covers on top of the vents to prevent anything from falling in. The covers were quite heavy… heavy enough for me to have to lift them with both hands… so I never for a second thought that they could be moved or opened by a cat.
I made several trips in and out of the room bringing things in, and everything seemed OK. All cats were settling in nicely. Lady found a spot under a chair and seemed content. We settled in for the night.
In the morning I opened the door to the room and came in carrying a package that made some noise. In a split second, right in front of my very eyes, Lady leaped into the air and ran across the room in a panic. As she ran over the air vent guard, her little nail got into a tiny crack and the cover went flying out of the vent, exposing an opening in the floor. I screamed as I dropped the package to the floor and leaped to catch Lady before she dove in, but I was not fast enough. In a matter of seconds Lady disappeared into a hole.
In a panic I called the fire department, who advised me to call the police, who advised me to call animal control, who advised me to call the ventilation/heating repair man. All said, there was nothing I could do except a) wait for her to make it down to a place I could open and reach in to get her or b) start breaking down walls… The bedroom was on the second floor of the house… She could be ANYWHERE in the house… This was a long weekend!
For three days I walked around the house knocking on walls, calling out her name and listening to hear if Lady would make any sound. Finally, when I was almost about to lose my mind, I heard some scratching sounds in the aluminum vent above the closet in the basement. She made it all the way from the second floor bedroom to the basement, wandering the vent shafts.
I cut a piece out of the bottom of the aluminum shaft, big enough for me to peak in, shine a flash light and grab her if necessary. When I looked in, I saw two glowing eyes staring back at me. However, no matter how much I called her, no matter what I tempted her with, Lady refused to budge. It seemed like she was actually happy being there. She finally found a perfect hiding place!
I left some food and water on the floor of the closet and shut the door, hoping that during the night the hunger would overcome her fear and she would jump down to eat. In the morning the food was gone and Lady was back in the vent shaft. I have no idea how she managed that! It took another two days and many different brainstorming ideas for my son, a friend and I, to lure her out of that space. We finally managed to do so by cutting out another hole located behind her and placing a nozzle of a vacuum cleaner in there to make a scary noise, while my friend stood with his hands stuck in the original opening I made earlier to catch her as she ran away from the noise. After several attempts we were able to coax her out. She was so scared that she was in shock and desperately fought back. Both my friend and I were covered in blood from her bites and scratches, but Lady seemed to be perfectly fine.
After falling down from the second floor of the house, all the way to the basement and wandering ventilation shafts for over five days, Lady seemed to be in perfect health and not any worse for the wear. I, on the other hand, did not sleep or eat, lost weight, cried my eyes out and was a nervous wreck for the five days she was in there. In addition I had bites and scratches all over my hands, arms and shoulders.
This was a very good lesson for me. From now on, each new house we enter, all the covers of ventilation vents get immediately fastened to the floor with screws. No more cat hunting in ventilation shafts for me!