Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Great cat rescue

I try to lead a dull and uneventful existence, but real life keeps finding me. Last month I stepped on a manhole cover, as I’d done a thousand times before -- but this time it gave way beneath me. I snatched my foot back just in time to watch the cover pivot on its axis and plunge down the shaft in front of me. I was unhurt but considerably startled.

Last week, I drove my sister back to her house after a morning playing croquet followed by lunch at my place. When we walked up to her front door, we were surprised to find a map of the world rolled up and sitting on the porch. “Isn’t this the map off my library wall?” said Julie. I had a look and replied “It certainly is. Look, you can see the x where as a child I marked the spot the Titanic sank.”

We entered the house cautiously and decided that although she had obviously had intruders, nothing obvious seemed to have been stolen. Things were moved about, drawers opened and a book on dogs sat on the couch where the burglar had apparently been reading it. We discovered later that the visitor had used a spade from the garden to prise open a side window out of view of the public.

That was unsettling but Julie was worried about something else. “Where’s my cat??”

The other animals around the property all seemed safe and well, but the senior cat Kes (aged 15 and known for her nervous disposition) was nowhere to be seen.

We did all the usual things. Walked around the house calling her. Consulted the pet-loving neighbour across the street. Waited to see if she came back for food. Called some more.

It was possible that she’d been scared out of the house by the burglar, but it seemed more likely that she was hiding somewhere inside. We called and listened, hoping for some response.

The only witness was Julie’s dog, chained up at the back door, but unfortunately she couldn’t tell us what had happened.

That was on Thursday afternoon. On Friday we continued searching on and off. No results.

Saturday afternoon, Julie planned to do some work on the front garden while I was at the supermarket. My phone buzzed and I read a text message telling me “I can hear her, but I can’t find her.”

When I reached the house, Julie was going up and down the stairs trying to work out where the distant meowing was coming from. Eventually she settled on the right-hand wall of the attic. We could peep through an opening and see into the space under the roof.

The meowing was louder whenever we called Kes, but we couldn’t see any sign of her even when we shone a light into the cavity. The sounds seemed to come from in front of us, though there was nothing to be seen. It was very Lewis Carroll. I even went across the street and looked back at the house from a distance, just to make sure the cat wasn’t up on the roof.

Not one to leave things hanging, Julie fetched a hammer and began working on enlarging the hole in the attic wall. After a few minutes work, there was a hole large enough for us to put our heads through and peer around. No sign of Kes though.

We took it in turns calling and looking. Our attention soon focussed on an opening in the floor next to the chimney which seemed to have no reason for being there. (We eventually decided it was the top of a blocked-up airshaft.) After a few minutes, I said to Julie “Lean in as far as you can and shine the light downwards. Can you see anything at the bottom of the brick wall?”

She looked and then gave a cry. “Oh Kes! I can see her. Puss, puss, puss!”

Kes looked up and gave a meow. She was alive and responded to our calls. That was good. What was more of an unknown quantity was how to get her out of there.

She was apparently unharmed, but surrounded on all sides by solid brickwork, and eight or ten feet down from us. “I wish we had a trained monkey that could climb down and put her in a sack for us,” I sighed, vague memories of a Poe story in my mind.

While Julie fetched a saw and worked on enlarging the hole in the wall, I went to a local store and bought some makeshift rescue equipment. Ropes, nets and something called a sea anchor which just looked as though it might be handy.
By the time I got back, Julie was sawing through one of the vertical beams in the wall, having first checked that it wasn’t holding anything up. With that out of the way, there was room for her to scramble through into the space beneath the roof.

“Careful where you put your feet,” I cautioned, having visions of her crashing through the ceiling of the kitchen.

There followed a protracted sequence with us putting cat food into various things and lowering them down the shaft to try and tempt Kes into climbing aboard. The sea anchor was the right size for hoisting her up, but she didn’t seem to want to get into it.

We lowered down a net but she sat on it instead of in it.

“She knows we’re trying to help her,” said Julie, peering down the shaft while I looked on warily. “If only we could explain it to her!”

What finally did the job for a hair-raising trick in which Julie attached the rope to the net and then lowered it under the cat before slowly raising it up. It took a couple of minutes, but finally she was able to slowly pull the unresisting cat up the shaft and grab hold of her.

There followed a couple of minutes of hugging and celebration before she let go of the cat. Kes promptly shot out of the room and down the stairs, as though she wanted to get away from her prison as far as possible.

Julie looked at the large rectangular hole we’d made in the attic wall. “I’ll block that up,” she said. “But not tonight.”

I looked at my watch. From locating Kes to the successful rescue had taken four hours.


Kes appears to be unharmed, though hungry and thirsty. Her ordeal doesn’t seem to have left any lasting problems.

The burglars haven’t been identified.

Plans are underway to cap the top of the airshaft to prevent any more such incidents.