Stubby the cat may have started out with nine lives, but if the feline keeps up her hitchhiking high jinks, her days may be numbered.
Stubby is the cat that took a wild 40-minute ride beneath owner Duane Welle's truck on a recent bitterly cold day. On Dec. 20, the cat rode beneath the truck from Fort Ripley to Belle Prairie, then to Baxter and went through a car wash and dryer before being discovered sitting atop the gas tank of Welle's truck when he took it in for an oil change at Mills Ford that day.
Duane and Char Welle of Fort Ripley said it wasn't the first time Stubby has hitched a ride. They said Stubby is so laid-back and quiet that she sneaks into other people's vehicles all the time. They named her Stubby because she was born with a bobbed tail. They got her from Char's brother's farm three and a half years ago.
The Welles said Stubby scared a man last summer who was in their garden picking carrots. When he was done, he got into his truck and turned to find Stubby staring back at him.
"Stubby was sitting right next to him," said Duane with a laugh. "Scared the hell out of him."
Stubby disappeared for four days last summer. They believe he may have gotten into someone's car and took four days to find his way back home.
A heating contractor who did work at the Welle home last summer got back to Brainerd when he noticed Stubby was in the truck.
Welle said he watched him drive back into the yard, pull into the circle driveway and open his door. Out jumped Stubby, said Welle. The contractor then shut the door and drove off.
Welle said he has to check his truck for Stubby every time he leaves their Fort Ripley home.
"I've caught her underneath the truck twice since then," said Welle, referring to Stubby's trip to Mills Ford. "It hasn't cured her. If you know her, she just sits backs and waits. She just has confidence that someone will rescue her."
On Dec. 20, Welle had driven to Belle Prairie to check the boilers at his church. The truck was parked there about 20 minutes. Apparently Stubby just stayed beneath the truck, he said. Then he drove to Target in Baxter, where Char works part time, and picked up her car to get the oil changed at Mills Ford. When he learned that Mills Ford had time to change the oil on his truck, too, he got a ride back to Target to pick up his truck. The truck went through the touchless car wash and dryer before it was pulled into a bay to change the oil.
A service employee was down in the bay performing the under-truck check when he spotted Stubby on top of the gas tank, hissing at him.
Welle had been reading a magazine in the waiting area when a service employee approached him, asking if he had a cat. When he told her that he did, she took him to his truck and he went down into the bay to see the cat. He still wasn't quite sure if the cat they found was alive or not and worried that it was Stubby, because she's Char's cat.
"As soon as I saw the eyes, I knew that it was Stubby," said Welle. "She was sitting back by the spare tire."
Welle pulled Stubby out from beneath his truck. She clawed onto his jacket as if she were holding on for dear life, he said. Once he got her out of the bay, she was fine.
"I expected the worst," said Welle.
People waiting for their own cars to be repaired or serviced petted Stubby as the cat and Welle waited for the oil change to be completed on the truck. He drove over to Target to tell his wife about Stubby's big adventure.
Char said Stubby and their other cat, Lily, are her babies.
"Our kids are grown and gone and we don't have grandkids, but we've got two cats," she said.
Stubby is such a relaxed and good-mannered kitty that Char has taken her several times into an area nursing home so the elderly residents could pet her. Stubby and Lily, however, don't get along. The Welles believe Stubby often hides in Duane's truck to spend quiet time away from Lily when the cats are outdoors. They sleep indoors at night but spend most days outside.
Stubby was the talk around their Christmas table this year, they said.
"She's such a sweetheart," said Duane. "Just a low-key cat."
The Welles moved to Fort Ripley from Ramsey in 2001 after Duane retired after working for Medtronic for more than 30 years. Char has worked for Target Corp. for more than 30 years, although she worked at the corporate headquarters in Minneapolis before taking a part-time job at the Baxter store.
JODIE TWEED, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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