Sunday, May 1, 2011
Safe And Sound
Bella the cat is back home, safe and sound, after a three-day ordeal atop a 30-foot utility pole in Rodeo.
Bella, a 10-year-old tortoise shell, was spotted on April 15 by Ivy Ludwig
"The pole is in front of my home," she said. "Every time I walked out my front door, this poor cat was looking down at me with an expression that said, 'Please help me!"
Ludwig called the fire department and was told, "It'll probably come down by itself." But the next morning, the cat was still there. Not even a plate of tuna fish could tempt it to come down.
"That's not unusual," commented Gail Churchill of Island Cat Resources and Adoption, a feline rescue group in Alameda. "Most people don't realize that it's much easier for a cat to go up a tree or pole than to come down again because of the way its claws are curved."
Next, Ludwig called PG&E and was told the same thing: Wait for it to come down by itself.
The dispatcher told her it was too risky to attempt a rescue unless the power was shut off, which PG&E was reluctant to do.
"Had we de-energized our line, it would have caused a temporary outage in the neighborhood, and we always prefer not to disturb our customers," PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkisian explained later. "We're not going to leave an animal up there, of course, but we do want to give it a chance to come down on its own."
Another day and night went by, and the cat was still there. That's when another neighbor, Jerry Johnson, got involved. He called the sheriff's office, who referred him to Contra Costa Animal Control.
"I had to do something," he said. "That cat had been up there for three days, and rain was in the forecast for that evening. I was getting really concerned."
Animal Control Officer Kelly Molino arrived and quickly sized up the situation.
"The cat was very tired, trying to lay down and find a place to rest her head. But she couldn't because of all the wires. It must have been very scary holding onto the top of that pole for three days."
Molino called PG&E, who told her they couldn't do anything without a request from the fire department. So she contacted Capt. Rick Perez of the Rodeo-Hercules Fire Department, who quickly arrived with Battalion Chief Bryan Craig, Engineer Skye Johnson and Paramedic John Bischoff.
Soon afterward, PG&E troubleshooter Anthony Miles arrived and huddled with Molino and the firefighters. They decided the best course would be to send Miles up in a bucket lift.
Ironically, they didn't turn the power off. "It turned out to be a secondary line, which wasn't as dangerous," Sarkisian explained.
Meanwhile, around the corner, Patricia Murray had been frantically trying to find her cat, Bella, who had been missing for three days.
"I was worried sick. She always comes home at dinnertime. I knew something was horribly wrong, but I had no idea where she was."
Back at the power pole, a small crowd of about a dozen people had gathered to watch the rescue. Tim Cagle, who just happened to be walking by, looked up and said, "Hey, I think that's my girlfriend's cat!" And he went home to fetch Murray.
Sure enough, it was Bella.
Miles tried to lasso Bella with a loop attached to a stick - the kind they use to capture stray dogs - but that didn't work. So he simply reached out and grabbed her, to cheers from the crowd.
"It was all over in five minutes," said Johnson. "You couldn't write a movie script better than that."
Miles descended and handed Bella to Molino, who promptly turned her over to Murray.
"She was purring like crazy," says Murray. "I wrapped her in a towel and took her home, and she did nothing but eat and sleep for the next 24 hours. But she's fine - not cuts, no broken bones, and no sign of being traumatized."
But it could have turned out very differently if Ludwig and Johnson hadn't called the authorities.
"The callers are the true heroes," said Molino. "We can't be everywhere, so they are our eyes and ears. That one phone call can save an animal's life; and the faster they make that call, the better. Time is precious."