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A dash of trouble

Shelter worker pulls injured cat from minivan dashboard

From Animal Sheltering magazine March/April 2012

Tara Pahl, a customer care associate at the Capital Area Humane Society in Ohio, pulled Dasha the cat out of a minivan dashboard to greet a cheering crowd that included a local television camera.

At least she didn’t get all up in anyone’s grill.

But a cat in central Ohio last October did venture deep into the innards of a minivan dashboard, and her rescue required both a mechanic’s skill and a shelter worker’s slender arms.

The incident began when minivan driver Nehal Dhruve struck the tortoiseshell cat on a road not far from the Capital Area Humane Society (CAHS) in Hilliard. Dhruve retrieved the cat, put her in the minivan, and headed for the shelter to seek help. One problem: The cat, who was initially unconscious or stunned, revived and “freaked out” along the way, according to CAHS development and communications manager Mary Hiser. The cat crawled under the gas and brake pedals while Dhruve was driving and found an opening that allowed her to wriggle up into the dashboard console.

“We could not see the cat at all,” says Tara Pahl, a CAHS customer care associate who got to work around the same time the minivan driver arrived, about 11 a.m. “We couldn’t even hear [her] .” Staff tried to lure the cat out with canned food, but she didn’t budge.

Rachel Finney, CAHS’s chief operating officer, recalls the shelter’s customer care manager approaching her and saying, “Rachel, I got one for you.” The manager explained the situation, adding that the driver suggested removing part of the dashboard—which prompted Finney to cry, “Waaaiiittt a minute!” Her staff knows animals, not automobiles, so they contacted Boyd’s Goodyear, a local shop that services the shelter’s fleet.

Mechanic Daryl McKay says he’d never gotten a call quite like this one. “Every now and then we get things up in dashes, but generally it’s snakes or mice … never cats.”

He began removing parts of the dashboard, and Pahl was the natural choice to help because her hands and arms were small enough to reach into the gaps. “You could see [the cat] at different stages— sometimes its eyes, sometimes its little head looking at you,” Pahl says.

But most of the holes were too small to pull the cat through, she adds, and the rescue effort dragged on; McKay estimates he worked on the dashboard for two and a half to three hours. Meanwhile, the effort attracted a crowd that included Dhruve and members of her family, shelter staff, and TV news cameras.

“There were moments where it was fairly intense … because we had such limited information about the health and status of the cat,” Finney says, noting that Dhruve had simply said the cat was bleeding from her head. Whenever an animal is struck by a car, she explains, you worry about the possibility of shock or trauma. Staff didn’t want to falsely assure Dhruve and her family that everything would be just fine.

But there were fun elements as well, after it became clear that there was a live cat to be rescued. Finney recalls, “There was a lot of chanting: ‘Ta-ra! Ta-ra!’”

Eventually, McKay disassembled enough of the dashboard to allow Pahl to reach in and pull out the cat—prompting cheers and smiles from the crowd. “Tara does have thin arms, yes,” Finney says with a laugh, as well as “a calm personality and a nice, soothing voice, so I think that kitty was a little bit more ready to come out and meet her.”

Staff discovered the cat’s injuries were limited to a tiny bit of blood on the bridge of her nose. Nicknamed “Dasha” by Hiser, the cat initially showed signs of upper respiratory infection, which prevented her from being moved to the adoption floor. Dasha wasn’t microchipped, and no one came forward to claim her. Dhruve considered adopting Dasha but decided against it, according to Finney. Nearly a month after her adventure, the dashboard cat got adopted (along with 21 other kitties) on Nov. 11 during the shelter’s $11 adoption special.

Finney says the incident, reported on CNN’s home page as well as the local news, brought attention to CAHS’s mission and showed how far its staff will go to help animals and people in need. “It was an opportunity to highlight our caring people … [who] do good things every day for animals.”

About the Author

James Hettinger is the assistant editorial director for Animal Sheltering magazine at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He's responsible for editing copy and managing the production of the award-winning quarterly publication aimed at shelter and rescue personnel. Prior to joining The HSUS in 2008, James worked for several local newspapers and trade associations in the Washington, D.C., area. He shares his home with three cats: Edgar, Dana and Vinny.