Delilah Snell* had just closed her Santa Ana store a couple of weeks ago when she noticed a man on a roof using a pole to shake a nearby tree. A crowd had gathered, pointing upward. It was dusk.
Snell walked toward the crowd when she heard a loud, plaintive meow. Every couple of seconds, the same cry pierced the evening. A cat had stranded itself near the top of the 60-foot pine tree, and it wouldn't come down.
"The homeowner was trying to scare the cat down, but the cat kept climbing the tree higher," said Snell, who runs an eco-friendly boutique. "We all thought the cat would eventually get off."
Three weeks later, it did—at maximum velocity.
By then, the homeowner had tried everything to bring the cat down safely. Sprayed it with water. Shook the tree. Laid food near the base in the hope that hunger would do for the cat what the cat would not do for itself.
Nothing worked. The cat only meowed.
"I talked to the homeowner, and they said the cat was driving them crazy with its constant meowing," said Snell.
About a week after the cat first climbed the tree, Snell called Orange County Animal Care Services. They told her to call the Santa Ana Police Department's animal control unit.
"We send someone out there, and if [the animal is] in distress, we send the proper authorities," an employee told the Weekly.
Snell then called Santa Ana's police animal control and got an answering machine that directs callers to leave a phone number and the address where the stray or stranded animal may be. Snell left her information.
The cat kept meowing.
Snell didn't hear from Santa Ana animal control for two days and called again. Nothing. Snell talked to a friend with the Santa Ana Police Department. He made a couple of calls. Almost a week after Snell placed her first call, a Santa Ana animal control officer left a message on Snell's answering machine. Snell returned the call and got an answering machine. Left a message again. Nothing.
The cat kept meowing.
Then Snell called the Santa Ana Fire Department and left a voice message; no one returned her call. Finally, she visited the closest fire station, about a mile away, near the corner of Flower and 17th streets. She met with the captain and told him about the cat.
Turns out firefighters don't rescue animals.
"He said it was an urban legend and not part of their responsibilities," Snell said. The captain told Snell to set a can of food near the tree.
Days passed. The homeowner kept trying to bring the cat down. The cat kept meowing. Snell got her friends involved. They called humane societies throughout the county; each claimed poverty.
Snell was ready to rent a cherry picker on Sept. 25 when the home-owner told her the bad news: the cat had fallen from the tree. It didn't land on its feet.
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"The cruelty of man is as wondrous as Peru," a Stephen Sondheim character once said. And, sure, Snell admits, people die needlessly every day, the innocent right along with the evil. "But the cat is a life," she said. "I'm not the biggest cat fan, but it probably belonged to someone. Hearing those meows were like needles in my heart. And you think about that—what would happen if something or someone I love had to depend on others?"
A call to the Santa Ana Fire Department's public information officer wasn't returned. A call to Santa Ana's animal control services was directed to an answering machine, which advised callers to call 911 in case of an emergency. It asked callers to leave a name, number and address. "Due to the high volume of calls we receive, you may experience a delay in your service," the answering machine told the Weekly. "Thank you for your patience and understanding."
*Full disclosure: Delilah is my girlfriend. And she's flippin' beautiful.