The question was not a new one, to any firefighter. “So, have you ever rescued a cat from a tree?”
In my case the answer is yes, one and one only and it is not something I would do again.
In 1977, Langley City had just hired its first full-time fire chief and the City was pulling the protection boundaries back into the city limits. Up until then, the southern half of the City up to Grade Crescent was protected by Brookswood Hall 5. The people in that area were not happy about the change, so when a lady from that neighbourhood phoned the chief to report her Persian cat, Muldoon, had got out and climbed up a fir tree, he saw a great PR potential.
He called my brother and me and, after protests, we brought the 100-foot aerial ladder truck up to the Uplands area. The cat was about halfway up an 80-foot fir tree. We discussed the plan and suddenly my brother became a policy expert and stated that as he was the driver, he had to operate the ladder, so I was climbing.
I took a burlap sack and went up the ladder that had been positioned against the tree. As I got close, the cat scampered up higher, not convinced I was there to rescue it. Soon we were both at the top of the tree, 80 feet up, and Muldoon hanging on to the last little wispy branch at the top. I clamped my safety line onto the rail of the ladder and leaned out; holding the sack underneath, it was now or never.
I’m sure it look like a well-practiced move, but with more good luck than good management my grab missed and I knocked the hissing feline off the branch and plop, right into the sack.
Much to my surprise, a cheer went up from down below and when I looked down, the PR gambit had been a success, as most of the neighbourhood had gathered there to watch.
The trip down the ladder was exciting and when I reached the bottom and handed the mewing, thrashing sack to the lady I warned her not to open it until she got inside. Literally, don’t let the cat out of the bag.
I like animals but I have always had an issue with tying up expensive equipment and manpower when it is not necessary. We have rescued trapped animals, retrieved animals from smoke-filled buildings or fires, and I was always aware that in most cases animals are family members too. The loss or injury of a pet at a fire or accident is traumatic and often preventable.
We have seen many pets who should be treated more like family members. Dogs in the backs of open pickup trucks seldom survive accidents. Animals in the cargo bay of an SUV or a van are frequently injured in rear end collisions. Little dogs that travel in a driver’s lap suffer severe air bag injuries or are easily crushed by the driver in head-on collisions.
Cats are the ultimate survivors. They don’t stick around to rescue people, but they come back home, sometimes days after a fire. If your cat goes up a tree, put out some milk and food and the cat will always come down.
No one has ever found a cat skeleton in a tree. At least that’s what McGregor says.