FORT POLK, La. — Anger, uncertainty and fear often dominate the news narrative on a daily basis — a reflection of not only the emotions people are feeling, but also the realities that must be faced. The stress can be so overwhelming that folks lose sight of the good things happening all around them.
One of those good things is an extraordinary animal rescue that took place at Fort Polk recently. It all started with Pfc. Anton Majewski, 32nd Hospital Center. Majewski said he loves animals, so when he heard a pitiful “meow” as he was walking from his barracks on the afternoon of July 15, the noise made him stop.
“I didn’t see a cat, I just heard it. I followed the cries to a sewer lid and realized the kitten had probably gotten into the sewer tunnels and couldn’t get back out. I could tell it was young by the way it was crying for help. I couldn’t just walk away and leave a little kitten in trouble,” he said.
That’s when Majewski began his efforts to get the kitten some help. He called several numbers over the next couple of hours trying to get someone to get the kitten out of the sewer. He said he hit roadblocks at every turn.
“I must have stayed on the phone for a couple of hours. I would call one number and they would pass me on to another number to call. I talked to six or seven people and they all said basically the same thing — ‘we don’t do things like that,’” he said.
Majewski was running out of options when a fellow Soldier, Spc. Newton Vang, 32nd Hospital Center, suggested calling the vet clinic.
Vang came to help because he said he overheard coworkers talk about the kitten and couldn’t stand the thought of it dying down there.
“That just didn’t sit well with me,” he said.
Majewski called the Fort Polk Veterinary Treatment Facility and ended up talking to Capt. Gina Cipolla, VTF officer in charge.
“By the time I called the vet’s office, the kitten had been meowing almost constantly for the last hour and I was afraid nobody would help it. I explained everything to the vet clinic and they also said they didn’t normally do that kind of thing, but they didn’t want the animal to suffer or die. They said they would come out to see what they could do,” said Majewski. “I felt so relieved that someone was finally going to help this kitten.”
Cipolla and her team, consisting of Sgt. Angela Noble, Spc. Diana Velez, Spc. Ashleigh Lyons, Pfc. John Flores, Spc. Evelyn Batalla and Sgt. Krista Ramirez, got to the kitten’s location and immediately began trying to figure out how to best help the little one.
“It was toward the end of the day when we got the call. It was so hot that day, I knew if we couldn’t help him soon, he (the kitten) probably wouldn’t make it,” said Cipolla
With no additional aid on the way, the VTF staff and some Soldiers from the nearby barracks, who had stopped to see if they could help, put their heads together to figure out the best way to move forward.
“It was amazing the support we had from the Soldiers. Saving this kitten had become this wonderful team-building activity and impromptu problem solving mission,” she said. It was rewarding to see these Soldiers come together and show they care.”
Vang said he remembered he had a crowbar in his toolbox.
That was the eureka moment that got everyone moving, said Cipolla.
“Once we removed the sewer lids with the crowbar, Velez and Ramirez jumped down to see if they could find the kitten,” she said. “We could hear him, but we couldn’t pinpoint where he was. We were down there a couple of hours before we found him, but we still couldn’t reach him.”
Velez, a Fort Polk VTF vet tech, said she took part in the rescue because she wanted to make sure the kitten would be OK.
Velez said she offered to go down in the sewer to look for the cat and that it lived up to everything you would think a sewer tunnel would be like.
“The smell was terrible. There was gross sewer water and muck. It was disgusting. There were spiders and roaches everywhere,” she said.
That didn’t seem to deter this Soldier intent on finding the little feline and getting him to safety.
“Hearing him continue to meow in distress kept us going,” she said.
They finally discovered the kitten in the middle of a long and narrow tunnel. Velez said she and Sgt. Krista Ramirez, a food inspector who has been cross training at the vet clinic, felt like they wouldn’t be able to get to the little guy without getting stuck.
“We were on each side of the tunnel and the kitten was in the middle, but it was scared and wouldn’t come to us when we called,” she said.
Velez said that’s when another Soldier came into the picture.
Spc. Aaron Pan, 317th Engineer Battalion, who lives in the nearby barracks, was headed to dinner when he saw several people surrounding the sewer tunnels and wondered what was going on. A friend called him over and clued him into the rescue in process. Pan is tall and slim and he said he seemed to be the perfect size to traverse the small tunnel.
“To be honest, once I found out what was going on, I didn’t even think about it. I just acted. I knew there was a cat down there in distress and if I could help resolve the issue and save it, I would,” he said.
Pan said he likes animals and has done much worse than crawl through a sewer to save a cat. He crept through the tunnel, gently maneuvering the kitten safely toward the hands of Ramirez.
“I’m just glad I was able to help,” said Pan.
Once they had the feline in their hands, the veterinary staff assessed his condition. Cipolla said the kitten was extremely dehydrated, dirty and had an eye infection.
“He was in pretty rough shape,” she said. “We took him back to the clinic, gave him a bath, ran a line for fluids, fed him and treated his eye.”
Over the next 10 days, the VTF staff monitored the kitten as he made progress.
“The kitten has made an amazing recovery. I thought he might lose the eye, but he continued to get better every day,” said Cipolla.
Once the kitten was completely healed, the real happy ending occurred when Vang adopted him and took him to his forever home.
“Even before we left the rescue site, Vang said he wanted to adopt him,” said Cipolla.
Vang said the kitten is cute and he wants to continue to help it. He named the kitten Ronin.