Jacob Bacaner began his day the way he usually does. He checked Nextdoor.com on his phone. It’s an app that lets people know what’s going on in their neighborhood. It lets you “keep in touch with people, post videos of ‘a break-in last night’, ‘Be on the lookout for a lost dog,’ ‘I need a carpenter,’” Bacaner says.
Bacaner, owner of Diamond Landscaping Memphis and Diamond Cleaning Memphis, uses the app for his businesses. “The early bird catches the worm,” he says.
This particular day he was scrolling down when a post caught his eye. A woman named Debbie commented about a kitten trapped in a car engine.
Bacaner identified. “I’m claustrophobic and I love cats.”
He posted a comment: “Put a can of tuna opened under the car. Confident advice from Zach Moss HVAC.”
Bacaner’s comment was among the earlier ones on the string of some 100-plus comments on the post.
So, who is Debbie and how did all this begin?
She’s Debbie Dodson, a Central High School librarian. She and her husband, Ralph Watts, first heard the kitten the night before. “My husband and I were sitting on the front porch and heard a cat meowing, but it was muffled and we thought it was coming from a wooded area across the street,” Dodson says. “We thought a cat got up in one of the trees and couldn’t come down.”
The next day her husband got in his Nissan 370Z and “realized the meowing was coming from inside the car.”
He didn't start the car.
Dodson also heard the kitten. “When the sun started beating down on the car I panicked that the cat was in danger. That's when I sounded the alarm on Nextdoor."
She wrote, “I hear a cat crying and rustling around inside my car. I have opened the hood, trunk, and doors, but I don’t see it.”
A woman named Maria commented how the same thing happened to her. Some two-week-old kittens were trapped in the car engine. Her husband had to remove the plastic panel from under the engine compartment to rescue the kittens.
Dodson asked if anyone could help her. She wrote, “It’s a sports car that sits very low to the ground so it would have to be jacked up to remove the engine panel.”
A woman named Faith commented, “Just don’t turn the car on whatever you do.”
Dodson then got Bacaner’s suggestion about the tuna. She tried it, but it didn’t work.
Jeffrey Seidman then joined the string. He asked Dodson if she still needed help. He said he could come over after he got off work. He wrote, “I’m willing to try to get this guy out.”
Seidman showed up with a scissor jack, but he realized it wouldn’t work. His son, Jake, 9, tried to see if he could reach in and get the kitten.“He’s got very skinny arms so he could see where the cat was.”
But he wasn’t able to pull out the kitten. “He couldn’t get in there far enough.”
Seidman then called his next-door neighbor, Mike Davis, and asked him if he could bring a large jack. Davis showed up, but, “unfortunately, his jack would not work.”
Davis “actually went to AutoZone and bought a jack stand and some wheel stands,” Dodson says. “We tried to get him to take money for it and he wouldn’t do it.”
Those didn't work, either.
“Then it was Mike, myself, and my son for an hour,” Seidman says. “And Mike had to leave. That’s when I put out the call.”
Seideman commented: “We’ve found the cat. It’s hard to get to. My jack won’t do it. We need a large jack that will let us get under there. She’s tiny and running out of time.”
He then added: “We need a pneumatic jack and a jack stand. The kitten is in rough shape, but alive. We can’t get to her though without getting the car up or disassembling the engine. Any mechanic want to come and help us out? I can’t take apart someone else’s car. Especially when I have no idea how to put it back together. Honestly don’t know how much time we have. She’s been in the car over 24 hours now and seems to be running out of steam.”
Paul Butler commented: “Be there with a jack stand in about 10 minutes.”
“He just swooped in like a knight in shining armor with a large jack to lift the car substantially higher than I could,” Seidman says.
Dodson then got a comment from Adanna Quinn, who thought her husband, Ian, could help. She wrote, “Ian Quinn is headed your way with tools to see what he can do.”
The car already was jacked up when Ian showed up. “The cat was there moving around, but we couldn’t get to it,” Dodson says. “We could just kind of see her there.”
“Ian says ‘Let me give it a shot.’ He’s able to reach his hand up there. He says, “I think I’ve got it.’ He was the one who was able to pull the cat out.’”
And, Ian says, “It looks OK. It doesn’t look hurt. You know, I’ll take it if nobody wants it.’ So, he took it home with him.”
They named the kitten “Lila,” Adanna says. “It was a lot of negotiation with a three year old and a five year old,” she says.
Suggestions included “‘Sweetie Cat,’ ‘Sweetie Pie,’ all different versions of ‘Sweetie.’ The son wanted to name her ‘Ruby’ or ‘Rudy’. One of the two. And everybody agreed with ‘Lila.’”
Lila is “really sweet. She’s pretty chill. She thinks I’m her mother.”
She’s only nine weeks old, Adanna says. She weighed one pound six ounces when they found her. “She doesn’t know how to eat from a bowl, so she must have been wild or something.”
Looking back at that day, Dodson says, “It was like a saga. People were rooting for the kitty. Rooting for the guys.”
And, she says, “We needed something like this during this time to show how people come together. We forget when somebody is in need, people still do come help.”
Bacaner, who kept up with the string, described the survivor as “a savage kitty warrior. What kind of kitten survives that for 24 hours? She faced death. She looked death in the eye and decided to keep onward toward more catnip and a life full of pets and belly rubs.”