On Monday, May 31, in Schenectady, New York, a cat named Bae was finally rescued after spending a week or longer stuck in a park tree. According to Newsweek, part of the reason it took so long to organize a rescue mission after Bae was first spotted on May 24 was because the Schenectady Fire Department declined to do it. Instead, the job fell to Allmark Tree & Crane Service.
The debacle no doubt prompted some people to wonder whether firefighters ever actually rescue cats from trees, or if that’s just another age-old misconception propagated by charming children’s books and TV shows.
The short answer is this: It depends on the fire department and also the tree.
Since fire departments famously have long, sturdy ladders in their possession, it makes sense that you’d give them a call if your beloved pet was stranded on a high branch. And this course of action does sometimes get results. Firefighters have rescued cats from trees in California, Florida, and Pennsylvania all in the past few months. It’s not just trees, either—in 2019, Georgia’s Roswell Fire Department shared on Facebook that although most of its members had responded to a cat-stuck-in-a-tree call at least once, “more often we are rescuing cute and curious kittens stuck in walls.” (The post was accompanied by some pictures of a cute and curious kitten they had just rescued from inside a wall.)
That said, other fire departments have told callers that they can’t fetch felines from trees. Some will at least go assess the situation to see if it’s a quick, easy rescue. But if it isn’t, they might decline.
“It's not something we’re equipped to do,” Fire Chief Dean Kochanowski of Dudley, Massachusetts, explained in 2018. “Our equipment is specifically for fighting fires in dwellings and things of that nature.” Trying to navigate a ladder through leaf-filled, gnarled branches could damage the ladder (and/or the firefighter).
In the same article, Mark W. DiFronzo, fire chief in Southbridge, Massachusetts, told the Telegram & Gazette that they’ll decline if they’re understaffed. “If they take the ladder truck to free a cat, then get a call for a heart attack, how do we explain that to the victim?” he said. A third fire official said his fire department keeps it simple by having a blanket no-saving-cats-from-trees policy. That way, firefighters are never faced with making potentially ill-fated judgment calls.
In short, firefighters have definitely been known to save cats from trees. But if one tells you to call a tree and crane service instead, it’s not because they don’t care about cats.
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