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Firefighters rescue kitten for philanthropist Willson

Jane Willson, center, cuddles the kitten that was rescued from a storm drain by Albany firefighters, from left, Capt. Bobby Spargo Jr., Marquis White and John Anderson at her Northwest Albany home.

Jane Willson, center, cuddles the kitten that was rescued from a storm drain by Albany firefighters, from left, Capt. Bobby Spargo Jr., Marquis White and John Anderson at her Northwest Albany home.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Businesswoman Jane Willson has dedicated a large portion of her adult life to philanthropic pursuits. Perhaps it was karma, then, that brought Willson a return on her good deeds recently.

Late at night earlier this month, Willson heard the unmistakable mewing of a kitten in distress at her West Albany home. Unable to locate the animal, Willson called 911. A few minutes later, a three-man crew from the Albany Fire Department -- Capt. Bobby Spargo, Relief Apparatus Operator John Anderson and Firefighter Marquis White -- responded.

The firefighters located the kitten, which had fallen into a 4-inch PVC drain pipe that was part of Willson's home's elaborate drainage system, but quickly discovered there would be no easy rescue.

"About two feet in, the pipe elbowed and went about 15 feet, straight down," Spargo recalled. "I figure he chased something -- maybe a bug -- into the drainage pipe and then fell."

An animal lover who's beloved pet dog had recently died, Willson told the firefighters to do whatever it took to free the kitten.

"That's how we were eventually able to rescue the kitten," White said. "Mrs. Willson told us she wanted us to do whatever we had to do to get him."

The firefighters' efforts would be more than the typical cat-up-a-tree rescue.

"Mrs. Willson had told us to contact a plumber, but it was close to midnight, and the only one we could find willing to come out that late was in Columbus," Spargo said. "We told him to stay on standby while we tried to see if we could get the kitten out."

The firefighters poured water into the drainage pipe to gauge the kittens' reaction.

"We wanted to see if that would chase him out," Anderson said. "It definitely got his attention. He had been crying out, but when the water came down you could tell he got angry."

The firefighters then came up with what the crew's captain called a "last-ditch idea." They asked Willson if she had some string, and she quickly supplied them with a sufficent length to reach the bottom of the 15-foot fall in the drainage system.

"We'd pull on the string, and we felt the kitten latch onto it," Spargo said. "He made it to the 90-degree turn in the pipe, and we could see his paw. He tried to climb up the string, and eventually, he latched onto it. John eased him up, and I was able to get ahold of one of his paws and pull him out."

Thus rescued, the frightened off-white kitten suddenly found himself with a new home and a new owner ready and willing to shower him with attention and affection.

"I found out from the vet he was a boy -- you know how all dogs are supposed to be boys and all cats girls -- but instead of naming him Sam or Fred or any other boy name, I just named him Kitty Cat," Willson said. "That was the name he came to."

While the three firefighters were elevated to hero status in the eyes of one of Albany's most prominent citizens, they deflected her praise.

"In a scenario like that, you rely mostly on common sense," Spargo said. "Mrs. Willson made it clear she wanted to get the kitten out of the drainage pipe, and we were looking at calling in a backhoe to dig. But things just worked out well in the end."

Added White: "You never know what kind of calls you'll get when you're on duty. You just have to be prepared; it's the nature of the business."

Willson, though, said the crew from Station 6, B Shift is too modest.

"These gentlemen really worked to save Kitty Cat," she said. "They were so caring, so wonderful. They were very resourceful in rescuing the kitten, and I believe I've thanked them at least 20 times. They deserve it."