It was a purr-fect rescue. The grate escape. A cat-astrophe narrowly averted. One black cat is lucky to be alive this week, after it caught its head in a drainage grate on State Street last Thursday morning and was freed only after a monumental effort from volunteers in two towns.
Stuck on the side of the road, just inches from passing motorists, the cat survived an unknown amount of time with only its head poking through the 130-pound grate before it was spotted and rescued. Rescuers called to the scene Thursday couldn't believe what they saw when they arrived.
"When I pulled up ... I said 'Wow'," said Bristol Fire Department Battalion Chief Jim Viera.
"How this cat didn't get killed is just amazing," added Bristol Police Lt. Nick Guercia, who was also helped rescue the feline.
It all began around 8:15 a.m., when police received a call of a cat stuck in a drain cover across from Magnolia Street near the old town reservoir. When police, fire and department of public works crews arrived, all they saw was a tiny black head sticking out above the grate.
"The cat was just hanging under there," said Lt. Guercia.
Crews blocked off the area and immediately set to work trying to free the young female. They didn't get far. Though they used pry bars, they had no luck pulling open the heavy drainage grate to get to the cat — it was just too heavy, said Lt. Guercia.
Not giving up, rescuers asked DPW employees to bring in a backhoe. Meanwhile, Bristol Animal Control Officer Dyanne Gibree lubricated the cat's head with liquid soap in an effort to make it slippery enough to wriggle out of the bind. That didn't work either.
Though the animal was likely in shock, Officer Gibree said she was very cooperative with its rescuers.
"It took a lot of manipulating," she said.
When prybars, backhoes, liquid soap and coaxing all failed, rescuers opted for Plan B: Bring the cat, grate and all, to a veterinarian. They borrowed an old spare tire from nearby Watkinson's Automotive, used it as a shimmy to rest part of the grate on while they lifted the other part, and lifted the whole mess up in one piece. Once that was done, they transported the cat and its heavy new collar to the Sakonnet Animal Hospital in Tiverton. But taking it to the vet didn't assure the cat was out of the woods. When it arrived at the vet's office, said veterinarian William Condon, its temperature was about 94 degrees, well below the 102 degrees it should have been. Though he's seen similar cases, Dr. Condon said, he was still quite surprised to see the cat stuck in the grate.
"It was a pretty interesting scene," he said. "It's head was just peeking over the top."
Dr. Condon sedated the cat, lubricated its neck and head, shaved its neck, and commenced tugging and turning. After a bit of coaxing, he said, the cat finally slipped free.
"If it was able to get its head in there, it had to be able to get it out of there," he said.
The cat was kept at the hospital over the weekend, and despite its life-threatening ordeal Dr. Condon later said it was recovering well. Though it's a bit shy, he said, it should make a full recovery.
"Its vital signs are good."
Finding the owner
Doctors and rescuers are still trying to locate the cat's owner. Because it was wearing a collar at the time of its rescue, police believe it is domesticated. On Monday, the cat was brought to the Bristol Animal Shelter on Minturn Road, where it will stay until an owner comes forward. If one doesn't, it will be put up for adoption.
"I think she used five of her nine lives," joked Officer Gibree.
Martino, Stephan V. "Volunteers rescue kitty from tight spot." 2 March 2006. EastBayRI.com. 24 March 2007. http://www.eastbayri.com/story/285534572150806.php.