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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Keep cool for cat rescues

One bright Virginia Saturday in 1988, while on call for the City of Falls Church Water Department, Steve and I drove my utility van over to a nearby neighborhood for an enjoyable summer afternoon of volleyball. After we completed several games, my pager suddenly began beeping.

I called in and heard over the radio from Lawrence Goff that somebody’s pet kitten was stuck down a storm drain. Since I was younger and more agile, Mr. Goff kindly offered that I could take the call if I pleased, so Steve and I packed up and headed over to South Oak. When we pulled up with the work van, there were already a dozen people milling about the spectacle. Two boys had fashioned a long board, with one end stuck down the drain, trying to convince the cat to climb up their “catwalk” for an open can of tuna fish they dangled. Others were calling into the sewer basin, but this cacophony seemed only to frighten the kitty.

We pried the weighty lid off with a pickaxe and saw that this wasn’t one of those modest six-foot drains. This was a main flood drain and almost fourteen feet deep. It was in good shape though, clean with intact metal climbing rungs. I grabbed a floodlight, climbed down on the soft oak leaves and while kneeling in, saw that this kitten wasn’t intending to go anywhere. She was frightened stiff. I scrambled back out and noticed that we had a fire hydrant directly above the drain from where the cat had clambered down. My drain opening was downstream from that, so I grabbed a fire hydrant wrench from the van. Then, with a larger crowd gathering, I directed Steve to turn the hydrant on slowly, until he reached half pressure; once I descended into Falls Church’s cool underground. He did so, but the water stream wasn’t quite enough to force the kitty afloat and down to my waiting arms. I shouted at the kids peering down my opening, to relay to Steve, that he should up the pressure a squinch. He did exactly that and the cat started reacting with mews that echoed ever closer. Finally, she hit dry cement in my drainage and tried sprinting through my legs. With a backhand maneuver, I grabbed her and slowly rose up the now slippery metal tiers. By this time, we had been on location for thirty minutes and half-expected to see a television crew, when I popped my smiling head out.

Approximately sixty people had now gathered. Credulous passersby probably imagined that a kid had been caught in a well. Meanwhile, the boys who owned the cat thanked us profusely and renamed their pet “Lucky” on the spot.

Four years later Steve and I moved to Idaho. Twelve years after moving, nostalgic for the town where I worked seven years, I perused through the News-Press and noticed that a parallel cat incident had occurred, only this time no rescue crew came down, and the poor cat died. At least the City apologized and claimed that they changed their policy about imperative animal rescues. However, I will never forget Steve remarking, “It’s too bad that the City couldn’t have searched their work-report archives and found the simple solution we used to save Lucky’s life.”

Now that another four years have leaped by, I wonder if it would benefit the City to again review what their animal rescue policy is, to avoid further unlucky incidents, and not disregard innovative flushing rescue methods, which their paid employees have already used.

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