Delilah the cat is using up a few of her nine lives a little faster than her owners anticipated.

The feisty calico traveled 240 miles at interstate speeds in an SUV engine compartment from Ohio to Indiana in subzero temperatures over the holidays, hitching a ride unbeknownst to a Columbus family who had spent some time with relatives and was traveling home.

“It’s a miracle; it truly is,” said Delilah’s owner, Kathy Braidich, who lives with her husband Mike in Frazeysburg, Ohio, about an hour east of Columbus, Ohio.

Their son, Chuck Braidich and wife Katie, along with their children Declan, 5 and Fletcher, 2, had traveled to Frazeysburg after Christmas for a holiday visit with his parents and decided to head back to Columbus, Indiana, on Dec. 29 to beat the bad weather that was moving in.

Sometime before that departure from Ohio, Delilah, an indoor/outdoor cat who is about 8 years old, decided to check out Chuck and Katie’s SUV, crawling into the engine compartment.

Although Delilah is a loving pet with Mike and Kathy, they admit the cat isn’t as friendly with everyone else, something that’s puzzling since the couple adopted her from a rescue organization in Kentucky when she was a kitten.

“She is a very anti-social cat,” said Katie Braidich, who allowed that family visits tend to overwhelm Delilah and she generally goes into hiding mode during the holidays.

So no one was surprised when the cat didn’t seem to be around when the family departed to head back home to Indiana.

However, Kathy Braidich began to worry when there was no sighting of the cat for several days and posted on social media Jan. 2 that Delilah was missing.

What’s that smell?

In the meantime, Chuck and Katie Braidich were noticing a burning smell coming from the SUV when they drove it, and saw some odd pawprints on Chuck’s Miata in the family’s garage, along with some fluffy white hair on top of the vehicle.

While Delilah has a white underbelly, it had not yet dawned on the Columbia family that it could be evidence of the wayward Ohio cat.

Their first instincts were that the fur might be from a raccoon or a squirrel, and they set up a trap and a baby monitor to try to figure out what the animal was and where it was hiding.

On Jan. 6, Chuck and Katie Braidich decided to take the kids to breakfast at The Hangar restaurant at the Columbus Municipal Airport. As they pulled into the airport parking space, the burning smell was noticeable again, Katie said.

“I asked my husband to pop the hood and he asked me, ‘Are you serious?’ “ she said.

“For my own piece of mind,” she replied.

In a social media posting about the moment, Katie Braidich added the words: “Brace yourself to imagine the worst.”

As the hood popped open, “the cat was on top of the motor staring at me,” Katie Braidich said.

However, the cat’s anti-social habits immediately kicked into gear at the sight of the couple.

Delilah went into survival mode, Katie Braidich said, mainly because she had been without food and had little water for eight days.

She went deeper into the engine, crawling through it to get to the rear suspension of the SUV, she said.

Time to get help

At that point, the couple didn’t want to scare the cat further, which could result in Delilah making a run for it in the nearby fields around the airport, she said. So they called Columbus Animal Control, which sent John Weddle to the rescue.

Temperatures were at about 3 degrees with a subzero windchill when Weddle arrived and scoped out the situation. Weddle has dogs at home and admits this was his first angry-cat rescue from inside a vehicle’s undercarriage.

After scooting himself under the SUV, his first attempt to sweet-talk Delilah didn’t work, Weddle said.

“I finally got her moved into a position so I could use a catch pole to get her,” he said. “I can say she didn’t go willingly.”

Weddle was able to get Delilah into a carrier, and the family took her to the Hope Veterinary Clinic on State Road 9 to be checked.

Good prognosis

For a cat that had gone without much nutrition for eight days, she was in remarkably good condition, Katie Braidich said.

By the time she got to the clinic, Delilah had decided to cooperate and was sweet and quiet for the staff there, the family said.

“There was not one peep from her,” Katie Braidich said.

Delilah received some antibiotics for a minor fever, some fluids and medication to stimulate her appetite.

Her fur had been singed from the engine compartment, probably causing the smell in the car, but Delilah didn’t have burns or other injuries.

Sharing the news

The family called relatives Mike and Kathy Braidich in Ohio to tell them the good news.

“When I found out, they sent me a picture. I broke down crying,” Kathy Braidich said. “It was just such joy and a relief. I had thought this was it, that she had died somewhere outside. I was beyond joyous.”

The Braidich family later met up halfway to Frazeysburg to return Delilah, who is now back home and staying a bit closer to her owners than has been the case in the past.

Since Delilah prefers to go outside rather than use the indoor litter box, the cat has been returning to the house within minutes since her adventure to Indiana.

“I think she’s used about eight of her nine lives,” Kathy Braidich said.

The family said it is grateful to Weddle, Animal Care Services and the Hope Veterinary Clinic for their help, she said.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.