Bernard A. Drew: Cats with nine lives, or maybe just eight

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> Great Barrington hardware store owner John A. Brewer, who lived on South Main Street, had a large porch added to his home. "What might have proved a catastrophe occurred while masons were at work on the foundation of the house," The Berkshire News reported in April 1893. "The household cat had, it seems, crawled into the masonry and became imprisoned. Her mewing attracted attention and a part of the wall had to be removed to release her."

Isn't that just like a cat? Blessed with nine lives, they invariably gamble away a few.

Netting a cat

The usual story is of firemen rescuing cats from trees, as is the case with three of North Adams' best who responded to a North Street call to retrieve a pet "from the branch of a tree on North Street where the feline had been perched for several days, unable to make its own way down. Under the leadership of Captain Fay H. Viall, Firemen William Murphy and W.E. Dalmaso went after the animal, the latter climbing hand over hand up a rope to the branch on which the cat was marooned 40 feet above the street and dropping the animal down to the other two firemen who caught it in an improvised net," the Transcript said in March 1929.

In a variation, Mary Kubica's cat stuck its head through a heavy wire mesh fence at GCA Manufacturing on Wahconah Street in Pittsfield and couldn't get out. "The police were called and Officer Leo Sullivan, using a big pair of bolt cutters, brought the cat out of the mesh without a scratch," the Berkshire Eagle said in October 1944. "The operation resulted in a good-sized hole in the fence."

Another cat required the services of Adams police patrolmen Fred Major and his brother Henry Major, who rolled in response to a call to Friend Street. "They found a half dozen women near the catch basin lamenting the fate of the cat. The heavy iron cover was raised and the cat was soon free," the Transcript told readers in December 1951.

A cat was stranded for two days on a high-voltage utility pole on Ashland Street in North Adams. She took frequent naps but couldn't, or wouldn't, come down. Firemen said it wasn't their responsibility. So a Northern Berkshire Gas worker climbed the pole and "found the cat asleep on the crossarm. The animal's slumbers were interrupted while it was carried to safer territory," The Transcript said in June 1951.

Dolores was a cat of a different stripe. She was the pet tabby cat of the North Adams Fire Department. "And she acted in a manner that convinced the firemen of the State Street station that they made no mistake in adopting her as their official mascot a couple of weeks ago," the Transcript said in December 1926.

Dolores, as cats will, caught naps where she could. She was asleep on the rear platform of one of the trucks the day a call came in for a fire at the James R. Harrington home on State Street. The firemen jumped on their trucks and raced to the scene.

"As the truck on which Dolores was sleeping crossed the State Street bridge three husky firemen who were on the rear platform heard a shrill "Meow." Looking up at them was Dolores, not frightened but apparently wondering what all the hurry was about. One of the firemen reached down and picked up Dolores, placed her on top of the fire hose in the body of the truck. And there she remained until the scene of the fire was reached."

Monitored fire

Dolores was then put on the driver's seat and wrapped in a coat to stay warm as the firefighters did their work. She "appeared content and remained in the truck for two hours when she was placed in the chief's car and taken back to the fire station. She then ate a hearty supper, stretched and promptly found a warm corner in which she curled up for another nap."

Cats at times are braver than they should be. When a frightened doe ran through several back yards on Highland Avenue in North Adams, John Plumb's huge black cat "made a spring at it and the doe leaped high in the air and ran up through the gravel pit and out of site," the Transcript said in May 1929.

Cats as we know are fastidious. But a cat in the home of Tax Collector and Mrs. Lemuel G. Lloyd of Bradford Street, Pittsfield, took cleanliness to the extreme. The cat came up from its basement quarters each morning, the Lloyds said in March 1938, "goes direct to the bathroom, pries open the door which is generally left partly ajar, hops up on one of the fixtures where a bristle bowl brush is hanging and chews busily on the stiff bristles for a time until it is satisfied with the condition of its dentition. Then it goes down formally to greet the family, get its breakfast and go out for a little 'catty' chat with the other feline gossips of the neighborhood."

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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