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Cloverdale firefighter rescues kitten ― twice in one day

Kitten updates

For more information on the kittens’ recovery and adoption go to northbayanimalservices.org or www.facebook.com/NorthBayAnimalServices.

Cloverdale Fire Battalion Chief Rick Blackmon almost had the perfect save. Almost.

On Saturday afternoon, firefighters were mopping up a small brush fire northeast of town when they discovered a slightly burned, very scared kitten. With work still to do to clean up after the fire, they handed the kitty over to their boss, Blackmon.

Earlier in the day, Blackmon had seen a pet fair of sorts — adoption information, shelter contacts, evacuation advice, store sale — at Clover Dog Pet Supply and Wash. He agreed to take the tiny kitten there to see if they could help.

“We were having an adoption event and the fire chief showed up with the kitten in his truck,” Melissa Shreeve, owner of Clover Dog, remembered.

After Blackmon pulled into the parking lot, he was oh-so-close to a successful hand-off, when away the kitten darted, behind the brake and gas pedals of his work truck, finding the tiniest of gaps in the firewall between the floorboards and the engine.

Blackmon managed to get hold of the kitten, but it was an awkward grip and he was worried he was hurting the already traumatized kitty. He let go.

“He was mellow, sitting in my lap the whole way over,” he said. “I thought, if I get aggressive I’m going to hurt it, I don’t want to do that. So I let it go. It’s already got a little trauma, it’s scared.”

It was also, at that point, hiding. Deep in the bowels of Blackmon’s truck — essentially his office — the kitten could not be seen and could barely be heard.

“It was up into the dashboard, way up in there,” Shreeve said. “I don’t even know how to explain it. It was all the way past the steering wheel.”

And so began the day’s second great kitten rescue.

‘I have its tail...’

It was immediately clear to all the cat could not be saved without some serious structural intervention, i.e. — they started to dismantle the truck to gain access to the escaped kitty.

“I started taking it apart, but I’m not an auto body guy,” Blackmon said.

He called a friend. Runs were made to a nearby NAPA Auto Parts store for tools. Brandon Parker, who is married to Shreeve, also pitched in.

As all of this was unfolding, Blackmon was making contingency plans in his head in case a call came in or he needed to respond to an emergency. Plus, his crews were still mopping up the brush fire.

Breaking his truck down was not an ideal situation.

“I’ve got emergency going on and I’m worrying about being on call. That’s my office, I have all this stuff,” he said. “It worked out fine, but …”

In hindsight, it reminded Blackmon of the time four decades ago when he took apart a truck in search of a rattlesnake that a very nervous someone had reported was nested there. He got the truck down to the bolts, but never did find that snake.

Saturday, however, was a success story.

“It was fine, it just took time. Like putting a puzzle together and taking it apart,” he said.

Sometime during the rescue, Mark Scott returned with a second kitten found at the brush fire. It was the sister to the runaway causing all the problems.

Scott, executive director of North Bay Animal Services, which operates the Petaluma Animal Shelter, had spent his morning at the county-run wildfire evacuation drill in Healdsburg before heading north to Shreeve’s event in Cloverdale.

His task all morning had been essentially educating the public about pet-related emergency go-bags and evacuation plans.

This was an emergency of a different sort.

All the while they were working on the truck, the rescuers could occasionally hear the kitten. When they got close enough to possibly reach it, Shreeve volunteered to try.

“I said, ’Hey I can try. My hands are a lot smaller,’” she said.

Scott, who has overseen an animal rescue or two, gave instructions to Shreeve as she contorted to reach the kitten. She, like Blackmon, felt nervous she might hurt him.

“I put my hand up there and I was like, ’I have its tail,’ and (Scott) was like ’Pull it, pull it all of the way out,’“ she said.

Bingo.

“He was panting like a little tiger,” she said. “I just put it on my chest.”

‘They are in pretty good spirits’

When the cat (I’ve unofficially named him Houdini. We’ll call his sister, Carrie, after Harry’s kid sister), emerged, he showed signs of trauma.

He was out of breath, his fur was singed and he was not in a great mood.

That’s when Scott took over.

“I took them to Rohnert Park, to VCA Emergency Pet Care and then to Brandner Vet Hospital (in Petaluma),” he said.

That’s where the two sibling kittens are now.

Houdini suffered burns on two paws, Carrie on four. Both suffered some respiratory issues related to smoke inhalation, some fur singes, but they are recovering well, said Erin Chmielewski, treatment manager at Brandner’s.

“We soaked their feet again (Monday) when we changed the bandages. Things are healing up really nicely,” Chmielewski said. “Everything else checks out just fine.”

“So far, they have good energy, lungs are clear,” she said. “They are good eaters, which is great.”

The kittens are likely to be in a vet’s care for about a week, after which they will be put into a medical foster home, Scott said. That stay will be approximately a month during which both cats will be neutered so that they can be adopted.

“It depends on how fast they heal,” he said of the adoption timeline. “They seem to be doing pretty good, they are in pretty good spirits.”

Scott said he’s already received inquiries from people interested in adopting the kittens.

As a parting gift Saturday, Scott gave Blackmon a collapsible pet carrier — no more carrying critters in his lap. It’s now in Blackmon’s truck.

And even after all of the headaches, Blackmon said it was the right thing to do and he’s glad it ended well. It won’t go down as a perfect save, but it was still a pretty darned good one.

Reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Kitten updates

For more information on the kittens’ recovery and adoption go to northbayanimalservices.org or www.facebook.com/NorthBayAnimalServices.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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