WACONIA (WCCO) — There are people who love cats, then there are those willing to crawl into a sewer all to save one they’ve never even met.
“I got covered in sewage, I didn’t really care, I love cats,” said 21-year-old Jackie Gallea just minutes after crawling out of a drainage sewer to help rescue a kitten that had been trapped in a pipe for nearly a week.
She grabbed the timid feline, now affectionately named “Piper.”
“I feel relieved that this cat has been found,” said Melody Zunker.
She works at a business in a strip mall in Waconia and first heard Piper’s cries six days earlier.
“It was nerve-wracking, trying to figure out how to get this cat out,” she said
Calling 911 didn’t work so she leaned on social media.
“Somebody shared a post that Melody from Great Clips had posted and it just kind of got around,” said Char Gruber, another cat enthusiast.
Gruber showed up to the scene a few days later and started reaching out to her animal rescue friends, which led to Liz Gigler.
“I’ve been doing this since 2004, and you get cats down in drain pipes, sewers all the time but you lift the manhole cover up and he’s there,” said Gigler, director at Rescue Pets Are Wonderful in Blaine.
Unfortunately simply reaching into the pipe just wide enough to fit an arm wasn’t enough to free the kitten. Gigler said she would rub cat food on her hand and was able to feed it, but figuring out how to free the animal was getting difficult by the day.
All the while a Facebook Group named “Piper the Kitty Trapped in the Drain Information Page” was created. A network of more than 300 people joined the group, hoping for updates as well as sharing ideas on how to save Piper.
A GoFundMe page was also created, receiving more than $2500 in donations to help the cause.
With the story gaining steam on the internet, local company Sewer Services caught wind of it and donated its manpower and expertise to the mission.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this complicated honestly but figured we could help with the layout of the sewer and how everything was connected and go from there,” said owner Josh Swedlund.
Using a push camera to find Piper, they devised a plan to flush the pipes with water and herd the kitten toward more rescuers waiting at the end of a larger pipe in a sewer about 6 feet deep. Gallea jumped in without hesitation, using her voice to lure kitten toward her.
“I can’t believe it was me that got him and not all these people who are you know, they’re actually here to rescue animals, like that’s their job,” Gallea said. “I just came from a town over like, ‘I’m going to go get a cat out of a sewer.’”
Over the six day span, several different volunteers ranging from fire fighters to cat lovers tried to rescue the Piper. Gigler was the one who took it away for an evaluation. She said the cat would have survived a little bit longer thanks to food people were dropping in the pipe, as well as heating coils installed in it. However she feared it would have eventually grown too big for its surroundings, and the cold of winter was coming. She said giving up was not an option.
“If I were to go home, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night thinking that ok we just left him to starve to death,” she said.
Those who created the GoFundMe page said people can have their donations refunded if they want, otherwise the money will be given to local animal shelters.