A seemingly impossible accident resulted in a multiple-day effort to rescue a four-legged family member from a hotel ceiling in Lebanon during a cross-country trip.
Matt and Tracy Flanigan, along with their 10-year-old cat, Spade, visited the La Quinta Inn behind O’Charley’s as they made their way from their home in Charleston, S.C., to their principal home in Carthage, Mo.
The couple frequently stops at the La Quinta in Lebanon, which is nearly halfway between their two homes, during their trips because the hotel is cat-friendly, and, according to their daughter Anna, the cat is anxious around people and doesn’t like to fly.
The couple stopped in Lebanon on a Wednesday night there recently and planned to continue their trip the next day.
“Thursday morning, we were getting out toiletries together, and all of a sudden we said, ‘Where’s Spade?’ We did everything. We searched the room,” Tracy said.
The couple searched under the second-floor room’s platform bed before they noticed a possible reason for Spade’s disappearance.
“We looked and we noticed that a piece of the plastic baseboard under the air conditioning vent looked loose,” Matt said.
“Spade is a big cat and that hole looked about the size that you could put three fingers through. It was almost like an impossibility, but that was the only place it could’ve been,” Tracy said.
The couple said they immediately notified La Quinta general manager Sara Mehaffey about where they believed Spade had disappeared.
“Within seconds they called the maintenance man, Carlos (Arevalo), and he got on it immediately,” Tracy said.
“I’m an animal person. I just knew we had to — at all costs — get this cat. Whatever it took to get him back to his owners, that’s what we needed to do,” Mehaffey said.
The group’s initial plan involved cutting a 2-foot by 2-foot hole in the front of the hotel near the area they believed Spade was located, then simply reach in and retrieve him. However, Spade retreated to another part of the building.
Carlos then decided to make a similar hole on the opposite end of the front of the hotel with the hopes of driving Spade to the initial hole.
“That, ultimately, did not happen,” Matt said. “When Carlos did that and started making some noise … (Spade) took one look at me, looked at Carlos in the other corner and disappeared and jumped into the belly of the hotel. There’s no way anyone could fit in there. It’s a crisscrossing of beams. Only a cat could crawl their way in there and he disappeared.”
The Flanigans and Arevalo spent the rest of the day standing on ladders to reach the holes in the ceiling to rescue Spade, including setting traps and placing large amounts of cat food within the ceiling of the hotel.
“They were problem solvers. They were not giving up,” Matt said of the La Quinta staff. “We lost hope, ultimately. We thought it was going to be a very sad outcome. Sara never lost hope. She told us when this was all over, we’re going to look back and laugh and think about this time. Sure enough, that turned out to be.”
The group made one last effort to rescue Spade on Saturday morning after an employee said she believed she heard faint cat noises in the middle of the night.
“We checked the trap we set in the ceiling near the TV in the lobby. We pulled down the ceiling tile and there he was,” Matt said.
Matt was able to free Spade from the raccoon trap that he had purchased at Home Depot. The cat fell from the ceiling to the floor, noticed the crowd of people surrounding him, and darted away. Spade was eventually captured in a pantry.
Mehaffey said the hotel refused to charge the Flanigans for the extra nights’ stay or damage to the hotel, and praised Arevalo’s work.
“He was the one who did all of the grit. He got filthy and up in the rafters with the insulation. He really went the extra thousand miles,” she said. “They went through so much. They didn’t know if their cat was going to come back OK or not, and we didn’t either. We just didn’t feel it was right for us to charge them anything. Obviously, we didn’t know the hole was there. If we did, it wouldn’t have happened.”
The Flanigans said although the ordeal was emotional, they were glad it occurred at the La Quinta in Lebanon.
“We made the comment that we were glad it happened at the LaQuinta in Lebanon. We’re convinced no other hotel would have done all of that,” Tracy said.