N.H. Firefighter Watched For Rabies After Cat Rescue

A Manchester firefighter was bit by a cat as he pulled it out of a tree three weeks ago, penetrating his protective gloves and putting him on an 11-day rabies watch.


May 17--MANCHESTER -- Firefighters rescuing cats from trees evokes a certain Norman Rockwell charm. Yet the task can be fraught with danger.

A firefighter spent a nervous 11 days waiting to learn if the reluctant feline who bit him when he pulled it out of Laurel Street tree last month had rabies.

The cat clawed at the firefighter and bit through his protective glove during the rescue three weeks ago, District Fire Chief Robert W. Corbeil said Wednesday.

The firefighter went to Elliot Hospital emergency room to be treated for possible infection from the bite wound.

Police were called in and -- after contacting the cat's owner and veterinarian -- determined the cat had not been vaccinated against rabies.

Police quarantined the cat for 11 days to determine if it had the potentially-deadly viral disease. It did not, Corbeil said.

"I had a firefighter who had to worry for 11 days whether he had been exposed to rabies or not," Corbeil said.

"He was nervous," Corbeil added. The firefighter returned to work after being treated in the emergency room.

A cat in a tree on Page Street again brought firefighters face to face with a frightened feline that attacked his would-be rescuer, Corbeil said. This time, firefighters wore double layers of gloves, he said. The Saturday rescue didn't succeed. Firefighters with Engine 10, Truck 3 returned Monday and sent two firefighters up in a bucket where they snagged the cat with a fishing net handed them by neighbor Oliver Richards. No one was bit.

Firefighters face a tricky situation when a call comes in for a cat stuck in a tree.

"If we don't send someone, we will have a homeowner climbing a tree and they will fall out of the tree," Corbeil said.

"We will send a fire officer over to assess the situation. If we can get the cat safely, we will do it. If we can't get the cat, we would notify the homeowners to get a professional to climb the tree and get the cat," he added.

Corbeil said firefighters have done two to three cat rescues in the last three weeks. In his more than 35 years on the department, he said the force averages at least a half dozen rescues a year.

He cannot recall a homeowner falling out of a tree trying to rescue a pet.

"I'm sure it has, but I can't tell you the exact instance. But people have been hurt doing things like this," Corbeil said.

Corbeil said the cost of cat rescues are "minimal" and the rescue would be aborted if an emergency call came in.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com

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