When Ariel the cat got trapped underneath a garage door last year, her San Rafael family had no idea her subsequent emergency hospital visit might earn her the title of "Most Unusual Pet Insurance Claim of the Year" and $10,000 for the veterinary hospital that treated her.

In August 2012, Ariel -- a now 2-year-old Himalayan feline -- attempted to make a break for the front yard through her home's garage after one of her owners came home, but her escape didn't go as planned.

"Our cat is small and shorter than the electric garage door's sensors, so when she ran out the garage door squashed her and she got stuck," said owner Dana Carter.

Carter's husband had arrived home after running some errands and didn't hear the cat meowing while he was inside the house. The couple's neighbor heard the cat's cries for help and called the Carters.

"He ran over and opened it and she laid there for a little while," Carter said. "She would walk, but every two feet she laid down and she was panting."

A visit to the Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin in San Rafael revealed Ariel, who is named after the Disney mermaid princess, had a perforated liver and needed some special care.

Nearly $1,200 later, Ariel was as good as new. Luckily, the Carters didn't have to pay for the full amount of her care -- half of it was covered.


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Carter said the family purchased pet insurance from the Brea-based Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. after spending $10,000 in an attempt to save their beloved dog Tucker, who died after likely ingesting poisonous mushrooms or a dead, poisoned rat.

They had no idea the insurance would come in handy within the first year of Ariel's life.

"We got it never thinking we'd be using it so soon. But it all worked out," Carter said.

Now Ariel is in the running for "Most Unusual Claim of the Year" through the insurance company's annual contest. If she wins the online vote-based contest, she'll receive a trophy and some treats, with the big award -- $10,000 check -- to Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin.

Adam Fell, VPI spokesman, said the money will go toward treating pets whose owners could not otherwise afford treatment. He said the insurance company receives 80,000 claims a month and from those claims, 11 pets were chosen for this year's contest.

"We choose the nominees, so they're not aware of the nomination until we notify them," Fell said, adding that this is the fifth year they've conducted the contest.

Carter said she hopes Ariel's story will win money for the San Rafael pet hospital.

"They are wonderful," Carter said. "They patched Ariel up and put her back together."

Carter's 6-year-old daughter Samantha is just happy her beloved companion is healthy.

"I love that she's really fluffy and named after a princess. She has golden eyes and she's so pretty," she said.

Contact Megan Hansen via email at mhansen@marinij.com or via Twitter at http://twitter.com/hansenmegan. Follow her blog at http://blogs.marinij.com/bureaucratsand baking.