Trapped cat drives man to psych ward

Chris Muth gets some quality time with Rumi. It was only Muth’s dogged determination that saved the cat from his imprisonment in a building wall for 15 days.
The Brooklyn Paper / Ben Muessig

It took animal rescuers, neighbors and a concerned pet owner 15 days — and one trip to the psych ward — to save a 7-year-old kitty that was trapped in a narrow shaft in a Carroll Gardens apartment building.

The part-Persian, part-American short-haired cat — named Rumi in honor of the famed Middle Eastern poet — owes it all to Chris Muth, the man who actually ended up in a mental hospital during the ordeal.

He has the “bizarre delusion [that he] was trying to ‘save’ a cat of his friend,” medical records show.

This story was bizarre, but the “delusion” was actually quite real.

Rumi fell nearly 30 feet after his owner, Yanusz Gilewicz, brought him to Muth’s Court Street sublet on July 7. Though known for his calm demeanor, Rumi became a scaredy-cat and dashed away from the pet-sitter.

Cats will be cats, so Muth wasn’t alarmed. But after two days without seeing the puss, Muth, a 49-year-old contractor, searched his apartment and made a horrific discovery: A clump of Rumi’s black hair sat on the lip of a small hole beneath his bathroom sink that plummets from the third-floor to the ground level.

Muth immediately ripped a larger hole in his bathroom wall and made catcalls to the confined kitty, who meowed back from the bottom of the shoebox-sized duct.

But Muth couldn’t reach Rumi through his own bathroom, nor could he rescue the cat after ripping holes in a neighbor’s apartment (with permission, of course).

Muth claims he called 311, the fire department and police to help him save the cat, but couldn’t get through the bureaucracy.

That’s when this feline Baby Jessica story took a crazy turn.

After 21 straight hours of trying to rescue Rumi, Muth determined that the only way to save the cat was to break into a third apartment. But this time, the owner of that unit wasn’t home to give Muth the OK.

So in a decision that was certainly heroic but possibly criminal, Muth broke into the unit and barricaded himself inside as he attempted to rescue Rumi.

“After 60 hours stuck down there, I thought the cat was going to die — otherwise, I wouldn’t have panicked like I did,” Muth said.

But before he could reach that cat, authorities talked Muth out of the apartment — and into the psych ward at Long Island College Hospital.

It proved easier for Muth to earn his freedom than Rumi, who was still trapped in the duct when Muth was released six days later.

According to animal rescue experts, Rumi’s confinement proved to be one of the field’s greatest riddles.

“This was a very difficult cat rescue because there was no way to maneuver,” said Mike Pastore, director of field operations for the Center for Animal Care and Control. “There was no way to reach the cat and because of the length of time, I was getting worried that the cat would pass away.”

Well-meaning amateurs like Gilewicz and Muth — who continued to try to save Rumi after getting out of the psych ward — shared the same fears, Pastore said.

Concerned building residents thought they were keeping the imprisoned kitty alive by dropping food down the hole, but they were actually making it harder for experts to save Rumi.

“Because he wasn’t too hungry, it wasn’t really enticing for him to go into the devices we had lowered down there,” Pastore said.

So rescuers stopped feeding Rumi, who after 15 days in solitary confinement in the bowels of the former church, wandered into a lasso dangled by an Animal Care and Control expert on July 21.

Rumi emerged from the shaft filthy, antsy, and ill with a minor respiratory infection, but the tough kitty wasn’t much worse for the wear.

“I knew he’d survive, Gilewicz said. “This cat is a fighter.”

Depite the consequences of his actions, Muth says he’d do it all over again.

“Was going into the apartment and making holes a bad idea? I don’t think so,” he said. “I can fix holes, but I can’t bring a cat back to life.”

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