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Wineka column: Firemen go underground to dig up Wells

If you are going to get your pants in a wad about the Salisbury Fire Department’s spending precious taxpayer money to save a cat, stop reading now.
It will help your blood pressure.
If you’re a dog person, or simply can’t stand cats, skip the rest of this column, take the next 5 minutes to water your petunias, then return to your favorite newspaper.
But if you want to hear a little story about two cats, as told to me by Neal Wilkinson, then settle in.
Wilkinson calls it the story of Wells and Fargo, but I’ve decided it’s mostly about Wells. These two cats — kittens, really — showed up one day last week at the Wells Fargo branch bank off Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Bank employees, including Neil’s wife, Sandra, immediately tried to find a home for the abandoned kittens. Stephanie Collins, who lives off Faith Road, eventually agreed to take them in.
The bank employees were able to secure Fargo, but Wells was a runner, and he remained elusive.
Last Thursday, Neal and Sandra traveled back to the bank after it was closed in hopes they could capture Wells and transport him to Collins’ house.
“He continued to scamper away and stay out of reach,” Neal says.
Members of the adopting family came by and also tried to help the Wilkinsons. Then things got complicated.
The frightened cat dove into a storm drain at the edge of the bank parking lot.
Wilkinson says they could hear the kitten through the heavy grate and made repeated attempts to lure him back to the bottom of the hole, which was pretty deep.
“We’re all thinking the same thing — that cat can’t get out of there,” Wilkinson says. “He’s going to stay there and starve to death.”
The Wilkinsons are enthusiastic supporters of the Faithful Friends Animal Sanctuary, and Neal called someone he knew with the organization. That person called the Salisbury Fire Department, which had a representative call Wilkinson.
It wasn’t a 911 call, nor an emergency response, but soon the Fire Department sent out a truck and four men from Station 2 on South Main Street.
The firefighters first pulled drainage grates out of the parking lot in their search for Wells. The searchers determined he had to be in one of three fairly large drainage pipes.
They could hear the cat, but confined-space regulations prohibited the firemen from going in there, Wilkinson says. What happened next was “a true McGyver move,” he adds.
The firemen fashioned a net of sorts out of an old T-shirt, duct tape and two poles with hooks that came from the fire truck.
The crew also ran some water into one end of the drainage network, in hopes it would drive the gray tiger kitten toward the waiting contraption.
“It was unbelievable to watch those guys work,” Wilkinson says. “It was an incredible idea.”
And it worked. But remember, Wells is a runner. As a fireman successfully pulled him out of the hole, Wells jumped from the rescue team again, dashed across the lawn and climbed into the framework of a truck parked nearby.
So it took one more rescue before Wells was ensconced in a cat carrier and headed for a reunion with Fargo.
“It was like they were talking to each other and he was saying, ‘You won’t believe what happened to me,’” Wilkinson says.
The whole rescue ordeal took a couple of hours.
Wilkinson can’t say enough good things about the Fire Department, their dedication, professionalism, resourcefulness and the more dangerous aspects of the job firefighters take on daily.
“Somebody’s going to be upset that the Fire Department spent money to save a cat,” Wilkinson says, “but if it had been their cat, it wouldn’t have bothered them in the least.”
It was the Wilkinsons who started calling the kittens Wells and Fargo, and Neal says it makes sense that “Wells” would be the one stuck underground and require water for his rescue.
One last note to this story: I traveled out Faith Road Tuesday so I could get a photograph of Wells, and while I was snapping his picture, the freed kitten took off for the wood pile at the top of the hill.
He hid himself in the neatly stacked wood until a family dog flushed him out for recapture.
I tell you, that boy is a runner.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.

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