This week, the Herald looks at Kiwis who are dedicated to helping our animals. Today, Tess Nichol investigates the fire service’s role

The fire service has rescued nearly 1000 cats in the last five and a half years, with feline friends making up more than half of all animal rescues.

Since July 2011, at least 1870 animals including birds, dogs, possums, cows and a whale or two getting stuck in predicaments which saw them need rescuing by the fire service.

In the last year to June, 237 cats needed rescuing, 24 more than the year before. This follows a trend since 2011 where the number of cats getting stuck up trees, in hedges, ceilings and other hidey holes has increased.

Last year 66 dogs, 13 cows, 59 birds 43 horses, two possums, four sheep and two whales were rescued by the fire service, data released to the Herald under the Official Information Act.


A further 18 unknown animals were also rescued.

As well as getting trapped in expected places, like up trees or in a roof, 19 cats and a bird also managed to find themselves stuck in a hot water cylinder during the past five years.

In December, firefighters were called out three times to try and corral the same kitten down from a tree in Panmure.

On the third attempt the naughty feline made a "leap of faith" from the towering palm to the ground, but was eventually captured in a fishing net and taken in by a rescue centre.

Months earlier, in October, a firefighter had to be winched to safety after a cat rescue from a macrocarpa tree in Porirua went awry.

The cat, Morty, took exception to being rescued, lashing out and causing the firefighter sent to get him to fall 40m from the tree down steep terrain.

Fireman Len Blake said cats were curious creatures who often found themselves stuck where they shouldn't.

Blake works with crews to rescue animals, and said while his job was mainly to free larger animals his team was also called out for smaller animal rescues.

He recalled an elderly lady in Mairangi Bay who rang 111 to get help with an "intruder" who turned out to be a possum.

"This big old possum had climbed on to her second level balcony, entered the lounge and was in no hurry to go anytime soon.

"We went up for a look and here is this feisty possum that had made himself at home on the sofa. We looked at him and he hissed back at us."

One of the crew donned his coat and gloves and grabbed a nearby mop.

"He approached the possum and poked it with the business end of the mop."

The possum grabbed on and the firefighter hurled him over the balcony, mop and all.

"Job done."

Only six possums were recorded as being rescued in the last five years, according to the fire service data.

Blake said while the SPCA was the lead agency for animal rescues, some jobs called for skills outside what the organisation was capable of.

"Large animal rescues seem to have become part of our core business in the last decade or so," he said.

"This reflects the increase of lifestyle blocks and recreational horse owners. Some owners are not always experienced in the handling of stock and horses and certainly not experienced in their extrication whenever the animals get in a predicament."

Freeing large animals could be challenging and dangerous and occasionally owners unwittingly placed themselves in danger when trying to help their animals, Blake said.