CALIFORNIA — It appears that a Hanford police officer made a new friend Saturday after he rescued a kitten from the inside of a car’s engine compartment.
Traffic Officer Kevin Wheat explained that he responded to a call around 10 a.m. Saturday. He said a county employee working at the Recovery Fest event at Lacey Park had just arrived when they noticed something strange.
“As soon as they got out of their car, they heard a cat crying,” Wheat stated.
Wheat went on to explain that the cat apparently crawled into the Dodge Caravan through the bottom of the vehicle and got stuck between the fender and the engine compartment.
Retrieving the animal required a bit of improvisation, Wheat mentioned, as traffic officers are not equipped or trained for disassembling vehicles. He used the jack stand and tire iron included with the vehicle to remove the tire, and then removed part of the fender with a small screwdriver and a pair of pliers from his patrol motorcycle.
The entire operation took the better part of an hour. Wheat admitted this was his first cat rescue in six years as a police officer.
“They don’t train us at the academy in how to get a cat out of an engine compartment,” Wheat stated.
Wheat immediately took the gray-and-white domestic shorthair to the Kings Coy unty Animal Services shelter. Shelter staff gave him first dibs at adopting the animal, which is believed to be about 3 months old.
Kings County Animal Services Manager Cassie Heffington stated that the shelter has checked the cat for injuries or illness, but legally has to keep it for a three-day “stray hold” to ensure that it doesn’t have an owner searching for it.
Heffington went on to explain that about 98 percent of cats brought to the shelter are never reclaimed.
As of Monday, the shelter’s website showed nearly 100 cats who are currently available for adoption, about half of which are being held in the county shelter. The others are either in foster care or are available from the pet adoption center, which is located at the Hanford Mall.
Heffington explained that the Kings County animal shelter is currently charging $25 for cat adoptions in hopes of reducing the shelter population. The fee includes spaying or neutering the animal, plus a microchip and also vaccines.
“We’re not having an overpopulation situation in the shelter,” Heffington stated. “We’re having kittens who are growing up in the shelter.”
Heffington said cats do occasionally crawl into engine compartments, particularly when the weather gets cold and the animals seek warmer shelter. Heffington went on to say that she recommends that drivers bang the hood of their vehicles before starting the engine in cold weather. This certainly helps ensure that any cats or other critters that have set up camp will leave.
“It does happen,” Heffington stated. “It’s not very common at all in the summertime.”
According to the National Weather Service in Hanford, local temperatures reached 51 degrees this past Friday night. Temperatures during Saturday’s incident ranged from the mid-70s to low 80s.
Wheat also noted that he has never owned a cat and considers himself to be a dog person. He and his family had two dogs until one of them died just a few short months ago. He said he and his wife talked Monday morning about possibly adopting the rescued cat.
By noon, they had made their decision and visited the shelter to make the whole deal official. He said the cat will be ready for pickup this coming Thursday.
“It has a good story,” Wheat stated. “I don’t want someone else to tell the story who’s not me.”
Heffington stated that it’s not unusual for someone who finds a stray animal to eventually foster or adopt it. She added that local law enforcement officers often adopt pets, particularly German shepherd dogs, from the shelter.
An officer adopting an animal they rescued is a “pretty rare instance,” she stated.
Wheat admitted that he hopes to make his new pet an indoor cat to avoid having to dismantle another car. He said he and his wife will have to buy a litter box, food and various other items before they pick up their new cat on Thursday.
“We’ll try the indoor thing first since it likes cars,” Wheat concluded. “I don’t want to do that again.”