Television cop shows have documented the heart-touching scene for years: A wayward kitten finds itself up a tree and out on a limb with no way home.
In the dramatic scenario, our hero in firefighter garb grabs the kitten and carries it down to safety, usually reuniting it with a grateful owner.
So when Rick Finkler, owner of the Cabins on Strawberry Hill, found his beloved cat Salsa stranded 40 feet up a ponderosa pine tree Monday night, he did what he thought anyone would do. He called the closest place with the longest ladder — the fire department.
He got a surprising response.
No way. No how. We are not sending a firefighter out to risk their neck for a cat, Finkler said an engineer with the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department told him.
Frustrated, he asked what he should do.
The engineer reportedly told Finkler they could “blast” the cat out of the tree by shooting it with a stream of water.
This option sounded hard on Salsa. So on Tuesday morning, Finkler drove to Home Depot and bought the longest ladder he could find.
“It took me all of five minutes to set it up, climb up the tree and come back down again with my cat,” he said. “He’s lost about a third of his body weight, I am guessing, but is still alive. Tough little guy, apparently.”
The incident raises the question as to how far fire departments are expected to go to help.
Pine-Strawberry Fire Chief David Staub, who was not on duty at the time, said the department does not have a policy that deals with rescuing pets, but notes that the department won’t risk a firefighter’s life without good cause.
In addition, fire ladders are not designed for such use against a tree. “If something happens, the department has a big liability,” he said. “We look at it from a risk management model.”
Asked if the fire department has ever “blasted” an animal out of a tree with water, Staub said he knew of no such incident.
Finkler believes the cat went up the tree to get away from a coyote. That is because two weeks ago when the cat went missing, Finkler found coyote droppings on the property.
“(Salsa) just disappeared,” he said. “We looked and looked and called and called and we thought a coyote got him.”
Finkler’s son reportedly heard the cat’s distant meows from the forest Monday night and Finkler found the cat in a tree on a neighbor’s property.
“I just about fell over. I couldn’t believe he was alive after two weeks,” he said.
Finkler said he understands the liability issue, but did not appreciate the engineer’s comments about blasting the cat out the tree.
The Payson Fire Department does not have pet rescuing policy either, but would typically not take the risk, said Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi. Besides the danger to firefighters, deMasi said most cats only climb further up a tree when approached.