We don’t know how many lives “Tunnel Cat” used dodging oncoming cars when he was trapped in the Fort McHenry Tunnel earlier this summer. We do know that he’s now in a warm and loving home.
A cat that a witness saw thrown from a moving vehicle window onto I-95 at the end of June has now found a lifelong friend in Stephanie Shetz. The 38-year-old Canton resident adopted Tunnel Cat, as many concerned animal lovers called him, on July 1. He arrived at a dark period in Shetz’s life, as she was mourning the loss of her previous cat, Nixon, and her stepmother, Lynn Watkins, who died of cancer around the same time.
“One after the other, it was a lot of big blows,” Shetz said. “I’m discrediting her by calling her my stepmom. She was my mom. I’m lucky to have had two.”
Shetz’s family held a memorial service for Watkins, who died after an 8-year battle with clear-cell carcinoma, on June 24. In March, Shetz was informed that her cat of eight and a half years would need to be put down due to lung cancer. He was euthanized in April.
“That was unbeknownst to me,” Shetz said. “He had been to the vet and everything and it was completely overlooked. The rug was just pulled out from under me.”
For her, connections with animals are as strong as those with people. Her family gave her compassion for both losses.
“They didn’t want it to seem like one was more important than the other because they knew how important he was to me,” she said.
Meanwhile, another cat in Baltimore was in need of love and attention after finding himself trapped on one of the city’s highways.
Around 5:40 p.m. on June 25, Maryland Transportation Authority closed down part of the Fort McHenry Tunnel for about 15 minutes to allow responders to rescue the cat safely.
“The MDTA is pleased this incident had a safe outcome for everyone, human and feline,” said Nicole Monroe, manager of media at the department.
Tunnel Cat arrived at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter with abrasions on his face and paw pads. The shelter shared the cat’s story on Instagram, writing that he was terrified among zooming cars, horns honking and drivers swerving to avoid hitting him.
Shetz learned about the cat, which the shelter named Hilton, after a friend shared the post with her. She said she was enthralled by his photo and visited BARCS with her brother to see him.
“The interaction with him was just this immediate connection,” she said. “He’s just so sweet and forgiving for no reason. You think, a human being would hold onto this resentment, anger and would have trust issues, but he just let those walls down immediately.”
The cat, who Shetz named Lord Hendrix of Baltimore — known to his friends as Henry, after the tunnel he was found in — is as quirky as most felines. He has pale blue eyes that could have inspired the Lou Reed song of the same name. His white face is marked with ash and brown-colored spots. He’s also on instagram, @lord_hendrix_of_baltimore, for those who want a glimpse of his world.
He is a little guy, just about 8 pounds, and has a whole room to store his magenta crinkle balls and silver vine sticks. He tucks himself into one of his favorite spots, the shoe cubby, and peers out as his bright eyes follow each movement Shetz makes.
Shetz said he’s acclimating well, and that it’s clear to her that he used to be a stray since he is so curious about the things that come with a house — lying on a bed, playing with toys and getting treats.
He makes her laugh, as he behaves differently from her previous cat. “The second the first bit of kibble hits his bowl, he’s already diving into it because he wants to ward anybody else off,” Shetz said. “It’s just me and you, buddy. Trust me, I have a more sophisticated palate than that.”
Henry already cuddles with Shetz’s roommate’s Yorkie, Bailey, on the couch, and her roommate is head-over-heels for the new kitty.
Shetz said she wants to honor the way Henry has come out from the trauma and neglect he experienced. She doesn’t understand the fear he must have felt, but believes his story can give even humans hope.
“He didn’t know what the next day was going to look like for him,” she said. “And now he doesn’t realize that the rest of his life is going to be spoiled rotten by two crazy cat ladies and a dog.”