Charleston-area fire departments still rescue animals - even Psycho the cat

Cindy Reed and her cat, Psycho, near the tree where the cat was stuck for four days until the North Charleston Fire Department rescued him.

On the second day of searching for Psycho, Cindy Reed spotted the 13-year-old in the high branches of a tall tree, afraid or unable to come down.

She doesn't know why he ran off, or climbed so high, but his predicament was going to pose a new set of problems.

"He's an old cat and has never climbed trees," said Reed, who lives in Dorchester County near Ladson Road. "We finally found him after we heard a faint meow."

This led to the question: Do fire departments really rescue cats stuck in trees, like they do in children's books?

"I called 911, and they said they don't do that," Reed said. "They told me to call animal control, and they also told me they don't do that."

Reed and her neighbor Joseph Bistromowitz tried the local fire department, Old Fort Fire & Rescue, without success, though the fire chief said it seems there was a miscommunication. Bistromowitz said they were told the department's insurance wouldn't cover rescuing a cat, which the chief said isn't correct.

What's certain is that area fire departments have seen soaring calls for services - mostly medical emergencies - as the area's population grows. Some, like the St. Andrews Public Service District, are considering charging new fees, and none are promoting free cat rescue services.

Bistromowitz, a former sheriff's deputy and fire inspector, found a solution by calling a buddy with the North Charleston Fire Department.

At that point it was day four. Reed's cat had been treed all that time without food or water, and efforts by Reed and her neighbor to reach it with an extension ladder had been unsuccessful.

"I'm not a cat lover, but I just didn't want to see the thing get hurt," Bistromowitz said. "It's an older cat, and she's widowed."

Reed's house is outside the North Charleston city limits, but not very far outside.

The city Fire Department showed up with a aerial truck - the kind with a big mounted ladder used for fighting blazes in tall buildings. And, yes, they rescued Reed's cat.

"It was kind of a 'hey, help me out here' kind of thing," said Bianca Bourbeau, spokeswoman for the city's Fire Department. "When I was a firefighter in Mount Pleasant, we also got cats out of trees."

The thing is, cats are oddly well-suited to climb up trees, but not down, with their curved claws.

Those claws can also pose a threat to would-be rescuers, said Edward Genthert, Old Fort Fire Chief.

"We have had guys going up trees, where cats have latched onto our guys," he said. "It can be really hard to get them off of you."

"It can be really dangerous," Genthert continued, describing one incident where a firefighter in full gear - heavy bunker pants, helmet, face shield - was 40 feet up a pine tree with a cat "clawing the heck out of his neck" and trying to get at his face.

Still, the Old Fort department will rescue animals, on a case-by-case basis, he said.

"We've gone in drainage ditches pulling puppies out, and all sorts of stuff," Genthert said. "We got called to rescue a parrot once that got out of a house."

Efforts to capture the parrot which, of course, could fly, were unsuccessful.

Reed said that despite being named Psycho, her cat was only "kind of crazy" when it was a kitten and is usually very nice. On Thursday Reed and Psycho were going to have their picture taken near the tree where he got stuck by The Post and Courier for this story.

Psycho didn't seem to like that plan, scratched at Reed, and ran off into the woods. Fortunately, he returned later on his own, with no need for a rescue crew.

"He doesn't want to go near that tree," Reed said Friday.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.