HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL — In his 14 years with Hillsborough County Fleet Management, Louis Perea has been tasked with making many vehicles purr like a kitten.
However, this was the first time he had been asked to purr a vehicle.
Perea happened to be on call one Sunday afternoon, manning the emergency fleet management line, when he received a frantic call from a county employee who had encountered a “disaster.”
David Ramirez, sports manager at Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation, thought he heard a meow as he got out of the county-owned Ford Escape he had just driven from Ruskin to the Skyway Sports Complex near the International Airport in Tampa.
“I’m looking at the radio, my phone, wondering where this meowing is coming from,” Ramirez said.
He understood it the next time he heard the plaintive sound.
Somewhere in the body of the Ford Escape was a stowaway kitten.
Ramirez guesses the kitten crawled inside the SUV’s chassis when it pulled up to a convenience store in Ruskin. When Ramirez arrived at the Skyway Sports Complex, nearly 30 miles away, he could hear the kitten, but couldn’t find it.
He wasn’t going to drive the SUV and risk hurting the kitten. But Ramirez had no idea how to find the feline.
Wondering if this was a real emergency, he finally dialed the Fleet Management emergency line.
Luckily, Perea, an established animal lover with two dogs and two cats at home, was on duty. And, as far as Perea was concerned, it wasn’t just an emergency, it was a matter of life and death or, in this case, one of nine lives.
When he told Ramirez he was heading to the sports complex, he had no idea the scale of the challenge he had just accepted.
When Perea arrived at the Skyway Sports Complex, he could also hear the meow and traced the sound to the area under the engine bay. But, like Ramirez, Perea saw no sign of a cat.
He removed the headlights. Then he removed the bumper. Finally, he got to work removing the fender, essentially dismantling the front of the SUV.
“Luckily I saw a glimpse of the color looking at me – from the eyes,” he said.
But he still couldn’t reach the kitten. He continued the hot, sweaty task of removing the parts from the SUV.
He was determined to take the whole Ford Escape apart, if necessary. Fortunately, this extreme was not necessary. With assorted car parts strewn across the parking lot around him, the kitten was finally within reach.
He put on a work glove and, with the help of another employee, Perea fished the kitten out from under the engine.
Despite the ordeal he had just endured, the kitten did not seem to be in worse shape.
“He looked fine, very small and scared,” Perea said.
So what to do with a kitten that still has eight lives?
As far as Perea was concerned, there was only one option. He took the kitten home.
A vet gave the kitten, around 6 weeks old, a clean bill of health, and now the resilient furball is part of the Perea menagerie.
“This guy is a little survivor,” Perea said.