When Bill Blackhall realized his cat did not come home last Sunday morning, he could never have dreamed that just a few days later his much-loved pet and companion would be making headlines around the world.
Kitty – the cat doesn’t have a formal name – was rescued Thursday by a special crew from BC Hydro, who travelled to Princeton from Salmon Arm to retrieve the animal from atop a 60 foot hydro pole.
In the past week Kitty’s saga has been featured by all major Canadian television networks, reported in newspapers across the country including The National Post, and even got a mention in the UK’s Daily Mail, and on an ABC morning talk show.
“We’re best pals,” said Blackhall. “She’s very important to me and I’ve been a cat lover all of my life.”
Blackhall said he was “disheartened” when he realized his cat had climbed the pole and seemed unable to find her way down. He believes she was chased up the pole by another cat in the neighborhood, noting that earlier Kitty spent a couple of nights stuck in a tree.
“I tried to coax her. I was calling her. I even tried to demonstrate with my hands how to do it [climb down the pole.] She didn’t clue in but it was worth a shot.”
Blackhall lives alone and is self-employed. He was initially unaware that Kitty’s story was making the news.
“The first I heard of it, I was at the bottom of the pole visiting the cat after a couple of days, and a lady rode by on a horse and asked if that was the cat that was all over the internet.”
A local woman had heard about Kitty’s plight and posted the information on Facebook. “Apparently that’s where the social media came in, plus all of the news media then catching onto the story.”
Blackhall believes the intense public interest in Kitty “really forced BC Hydro’s hand” to make an effort to rescue the animal, as he personally made no progress after repeated phone calls to the utility company.
According to Dag Sharman, BC Hydro communications officer, the rescue was simply a matter of mercy.
“It’s a person’s pet, a member of the family, and our crews can’t sit by and allow that to continue. We’re like everybody else. I’m a cat lover myself and you understand what a person is going through when a family pet is in a situation like that.”
While it’s not unusual for BC Hydro to get calls about stranded animals, the company only performs, on average, one rescue a year.
“We do deal with these situations from time to time and in general we give three days before we move to intervene and bring an animal down. These are wooden poles. They are essentially trees without branches and 99.9 per cent of the time the animal comes down on its own.”
Sharman said there was initially some confusion about who owns the pole, as BC Hydro doesn’t service customers in Princeton and only runs electricity through transmission lines.
Because of the height of the pole and the voltage of the transmission there are very few crews in the province that are qualified to work on them, he added.
“I was impressed with the work our crews did and they were more than happy to jump in and help out.”
Sharman could not estimate the cost of the rescue to BC Hydro, a crown corporation. He also stressed that in animal rescue situations there is always an element of risk.
“We had to figure out how we could rescue the cat safely, not just for the cat obviously but for the crew…These are experts at electricity and some of them at construction but they are not conservation officers.”
Blackhall also had fulsome praise for the workers who rescued Kitty.
She was safe and sound at about 8 p.m. Thursday, and her first meal consisted of sardines and lots of water.
While Kitty is still allowed to go outside she is now restrained with a leash and harness,
“She’ll live a lot longer,” he said.