Cars aren't supposed to "meow." At best, when the engine is running properly, some mechanics will say it purrs like a kitten, but that's not what Cranford resident Lisa Ford heard when she started up her Honda Odyssey minivan and set out to run some errands with her young daughter recently.
Ford only made it a few blocks from her home in northern New Jersey's Union County, when she heard a "strange sound" emanating from her car. She hadn't heard the soft, muffled noise when she first started the minivan, but as she continued to drive, the noise grew louder.
"Initially, I dismissed the sound as either the radio, some children at play that I had recently passed by, or even the sound that the crosswalks make," Ford said in a letter to the Cranford Chamber of Commerce. "But after turning off the radio, pulling over twice and checking under my van, it was evident that there must be an animal stuck somewhere in my vehicle that I could not see."
Ford said that as soon as she realized there was an animal trapped inside the car, "dread and fear" came over her and she began to worry about the creature's well-being. By this point, she was just a few blocks from the , so she decided to pull in and have the mechanics take a look inside the minivan. As she neared the Centennial Avenue service station, the animal began screaming loudly. When she arrived, Sunoco owner Kurt Petschow saw that Ford was upset as she explained that she believed there was a kitten or some other type of animal trapped inside.
"Kurt, much to my relief, immediately agreed to take my vehicle for an evaluation," Ford said.
Petschow explained that he test drove the vehicle, but at first, he didn't hear anything. A few blocks later, however, the noise started up again. He pulled over and - having children himself - began inspecting all of the toys in the car, squeezing each one to see if it made a noise similar to what both he and Ford were hearing. No success. It had to be an animal, Petschow determined. So he carefully headed back to the station, parking the minivan in the back of the facility so that if there was an injured animal inside, Ford's young daughter wouldn't have to see it. It was turning out to be an extremely busy day at the Sunoco station.
"While we were waiting in the office it was apparent that this was another very busy morning at Cranford Sunoco," said Ford, explaining that she felt bad for pulling Petschow and his crew away from their regular work to tend to her unusual problem. "Not once did he suggest that I was inconveniencing him or his staff. While I was distressed about the situation, Kurt was kind and reassuring."
While Petschow continued to give Ford updates on the status of the elusive animal, Joanne, a member of Sunoco's office staff, tried to determine the kitten's location in the minivan. She even tried to coax the animal out by opening a can of cat food. Her efforts paid off as the crew pinpointed the area where the kitten was hiding.
"After more than two hours since I had arrived - and the removal of several pieces of my vehicle - the mechanics at Sunoco were able to extricate a kitten from the front passenger wheel well," Ford explained.
The small, furry passenger was a healthy, uninjured gray female kitten. Joanne took the kitten to a veterinarian in Westfield for shots and a checkup. The vet determined that the kitten was about 8 weeks old. At that point, Ford and Joanne decided they would have to give their furry friend a name.
"I suggested Odyssey, as it was found in my car. I thought it also an appropriate name given this little kitten's adventurous beginning," said Ford.
Joanne initially took the kitten home and began caring for it but within a few days, a mechanic at the Sunoco station made the decision to give the animal a permanent home.
After the ordeal, Ford said she was waiting for a bill. She asked Petschow what she owed for the time and effort his staff dedicated to rescuing the kitten from the minivan.
"For this," Petschow said incredulously, "no charge. We were more than happy to do this."
Ford said establishments like Cranford Sunoco make her and her family proud to live in Cranford.
"We were all so very Thankful that this story had a happy ending," Ford said.