The rescue of the whiskered hitchhiker

Susan Manzke
Dennis DeGrand wearing the cap, and Pete Renkas get ready to remove the mewing hitchhiker from Susan’s car wheel well.

My friend, Kathy, had finally talked her husband into letting her get five chicks. Everything was set for the new arrivals, except the need for newspapers to use on the bottom on the chicks’ box.

Instead of recycling my papers, I said I would bring them to help keep the chicks clean—in a way this was recycling the newspapers, too.

I hadn’t been on an outing for weeks. Dropping off this care package would be my first. As I drove to town, I listened to the radio. I thought I heard an odd noise on the broadcast. The person being interviewed must have had a noisy mewing cat at home.

Since I usually didn’t hear many cats on Wisconsin Public Radio, I was suspicious and turned off the car radio. The mewing continued. It was coming from somewhere in my car.

My destination was a block away, so I kept driving. When I got to where I would meet my friend, I donned my face mask and got out of the car. With great trepidation, I opened the car hood, praying not to find a cat in pieces.

No cat was in the engine, at least not where I could see. I looked for the mewing culprit and deduced it was in the wheel well.

Pete Renkas and rescued kitten.

Masked friends converged on my car. Everyone tried to reach into the depths of the wheel well to grasp the hitchhiking kitten.

We tried slipping a brush down the wheel well, hoping the kitten would grab hold in its effort to escape. That idea didn’t even come close to rescuing her.

As I looked at my car, I wondered if getting the kitten out would mean pulling the engine.

A friend suggested taking it to an auto shop to rescue the interloper. There was no other solution.

It didn’t seem that the kitten was going anywhere, so I drove to JJs Auto Clinic on the outskirts of Seymour, wondering how I would tell Dennis DeGrand of my current car need—this wasn’t one of my regular car problems.

Dennis said that I wasn’t the first person who needed to rescue an animal from the depths of a car.

Right away, he went to the shop to find mechanic Pete Renkas.

Pete took the mewing car and put it up on a lift. No, they wouldn’t have to pull the engine, thank goodness.

The passenger side wheel came off before the wheel well cover could be removed.

I stood back and watched, curious about what they would find inside. Little screws had to be taken off before the metal could be pulled back. As Pete worked, he said his brother also was rescuing a critter from a car, but it wasn’t a cat. His brother had to remove a snake from an engine.

Car-E in her home on Sunnybook Farm.

Dennis came out of the office with a box to put the kitten inside once it was rescued. He was looking over Pete’s shoulder when the metal was drawn back, making a small opening.

A tiny paw swiped out toward the men. Both jumped back as if a lion had reached toward them.

“It’s only a kitten,” I said, “A kitten abandoned by its mother inside of my car.”

A little tiger kitten was removed from the wheel well. Pete held her in his large hands and stroked her fur. She mewed loudly again.

The rescue was complete. One kitten would live to see another day—I had seen four hidden in a corner of the farm. I wondered what the mother had done with the other three.

I asked what the fee for the kitten extraction was. There wasn’t one. “Rescues are free,” Dennis told me.

The kitten is living in my house. It was a twice rescued feline, once at JJs and once by me. That’s one darn lucky kitten. (I named her Car-E.)

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54265;;