A kitten acclimates to freedom after being trapped under a car for a 10-mile drive. Photo: Katie Bertsche

A kitten stuck in the wheel of a car last week hung onto all of its nine lives, surviving a ride across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to West Berkeley.

On June 23, Katie Bertsche was heading back to Berkeley around noon after spending the morning tide-pooling in Half Moon Bay. As she entered the on-ramp to the Bay Bridge, she was met with a massive traffic jam.

Anyone who commutes knows that backups getting on the bridge are hardly unusual, but Bertsche saw something curious. Drivers ahead of her were getting out of their cars, some running around between the lanes.

“Then I see this guy come running towards me, chasing this little gray cat,” Bertsche said. “I was like, ‘That’s gonna end well.’”

Next thing she knew, the man knocked on her window, shouting to her that the cat had run under her car. Panicking, Bertsche turned off her car and got out to search for the animal with two other motorists. When their effort proved unsuccessful, Bertsche pulled over to the shoulder, to get out of the way of the traffic that had begun to move again. They continued anxiously looking for the kitten “for what felt like forever, but was probably five or 10 minutes.”

Still no luck.

“We were totally baffled by this disappearing cat,” Bertsche said.

Eventually, worried for her and others’ safety, Bertsche, a science illustrator who lives and works in Berkeley, decided to get on the road again, guessing the cat had darted away when they were not looking.

Arriving back in Berkeley, she approached Makers WorkSpace on Sixth Street, where she works, but first pulled into the lot at her mechanic, Griffin Motorwerke, conveniently located next door. She planned to ask whether there was a likely place for a cat to be hiding in the frame of a car.

But as soon as she checked out the vehicle herself, “Darn if there’s not this fuzzy cat butt stuck under the wheel.” The kitten was trapped in the coil spring, and very much alive.

While Bertsche’s mechanic went to retrieve a car jack, a customer who had watched the discovery “decides he’s going to be hero,” as Bertsche put it. He threw on some gloves and “extracted” the cat.

The kitten had no visible injuries but it “was kinda freaked out in a major way.” Yowling and biting ensued. They put the kitten in a cardboard box and called Berkeley Animal Services.

The cat — whose name, suggested Bertsche, might be Bay or Fog — has been recuperating at the Berkeley Animal Shelter since. Because the kitten bit someone, state law required animal services to keep it in “bite quarantine” for 10 days, said manager Amelia Funghi.

The semi-feral kitten is about two months old and weighs under two pounds, so it will need to be socialized and grow a bit bigger before being spayed or neutered and put up for adoption. Funghi said that will likely happen in the next couple weeks, but noted that the shelter has dozens of other kittens available now. All cat and kitten adoptions are free during July, she said.

As for Bertsche, she returned to Griffin Motorwerke a few days after the incident to inquire about an odd noise her car has been making.

“I realized I’ll never be able to bring my car in without being asked if there’s a cat stuck under it,” she said.

This story has been updated with additional information from Berkeley Animal Services. 

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...