OAKLAND -- Last December, Daryl Humdy's roommate opened the washing machine in between cycles in their East Oakland home and got a shocker.
Curled in a ball on top of freshly washed clothes was Humdy's soaked and shaken 6-month-old kitten Natasha, who had jumped unnoticed into the machine between loads.
For 40 minutes, the kitten twirled inside the machine, swam to stay afloat and spun in circles. The Siberian Forest cat suffered shock and hypothermia, but survived the catastrophe and this week earned second-place in a nationwide competition honoring the most unusual pet insurance claims of the year.
Natasha, up for the Veterinary Pet Insurance Hambone Award, was one of 11 nominees selected out of a million claims that the Orange County-based company received over the past year.
The annual award, in its fifth year, was named for a dog that ate an entire Thanksgiving ham while stuck in a refrigerator, said VPI spokesman Adam Fell. The award was created to educate the public about unexpected mishaps that befall household pets.
Past winners of the award include Ellie, a Labrador who ate an entire beehive; Lulu, a bulldog who swallowed 15 baby pacifiers, a bottle cap and a piece of a basketball; Harley, a pug that ate, and subsequently passed, more than 100 rocks; and Peanut, a dachshund-terrier mix who survived a fierce squabble with a skunk.
First place this year went to Winnie, a mixed-breed dog from Massachusetts, who wolfed down¿ a two-pound bag of frozen onion rings and survived onion poisoning. As a prize, the pooch's vet in Yarmouth, Mass., received $10,000 through the Veterinary Care Foundation to treat pets whose owners could not otherwise afford treatment.
Back in California's East Bay on Thursday, Natasha's owner recalled the day his cat lost one of her nine lives.
"She had always been very nosy about the washing machine," Humdy said. "She would always peek inside it, but I never thought she would hop in."
He said his roomie was loading laundry and left the lid to the machine open while he went to the next room to grab more clothes. He came back, threw his clothes in and shut the lid without knowing the cat had hopped in. When his roommate went to pull out his laundry and noticed Natasha inside, the kitten was in shock.
"So was my roommate," Humdy recalled. "I'd say she spun around in the cold cycle for about 40 minutes. She was shaking and moaning. I thought she was dying. Her limbs were stiff and I didn't know if anything was broken. I was frightened."
He said his roommate took the cat to a veterinary clinic, where it was diagnosed with severe hypothermia and shock. The kitten was fortunate to escape the ordeal without suffering any other injuries, he said.
"They had a joke going on that because she survived the whole cycle that she was the most pleasant-smelling pet they had ever treated," Humdy said.
The bill totaled more than $1,000 but Humdy had insurance, filed a claim and VPI reimbursed him about 90 percent of the total cost.
Humdy has since moved to a home in Hayward with his girlfriend and his 8-year-old daughter, for whom he bought Natasha. He now keeps a closer eye on the cat.
"I've been much more cautious around the house now," he said. "I'd would hate for her to have to go through something like that again," he said.
But, he said, there is one area of the house he doesn't have to watch closely: the garage.
"That's where the washing machine is," he said. "She won't have anything to do with it."
Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund.