It was a classic scenario: firefighters saving a cat stuck in a tree Ñ but this time there was a twist.

"In this case it was a little bit different in that the cat was actually stuck inside the tree," Grants Pass fire Battalion Chief Craig Henslee said.

Shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters responded to the 400 block of Northwest E Street, where a cat was trapped in an opening in a tree trunk.

Nine-year-old Khiara Nina Thomas, who lives on that street, was riding her bike around the block while waiting for the school bus when she heard meowing coming from inside the tree, her mother Daisy Thomas said. She looked through a slit in the tree trunk and saw a gray-and-white cat inside the hole staring back at her. Khiara rushed home and told her parents.

"She said, 'Mom, there's a cat there trapped, it's a life-or-death situation, we need to rescue it,'" Daisy Thomas said.

Daisy and her husband, Keith, called 911, and soon firefighters Vince Ownbey and Eli Cunningham arrived. Ownbey said there were several trees that had grown together, and that one had begun "peeling away from the other trees, creating a void in the middle." The cat was inside the void.

They climbed up a small ladder, dropped a strap down through a larger opening higher up in the tree, and reached through the slit to place the strap around the cat's body. They then hoisted the cat out.

"They did a real good job," Keith Thomas said.

Ownbey said the cat had been making no effort to get out of the tree on its own, possibly because of its large size. "It was either pregnant or very out of shape," he said.

The cat was docile and ran off as soon as they put it on the ground. Ownbey said a neighbor who was watching recognized it as a pet belonging to someone in the neighborhood.

He said it was the first time in his career he has seen a cat "literally" stuck in a tree.

Henslee pointed out that this was a special case; Grants Pass Fire/Rescue doesn't generally respond to calls for cats in trees, partly because of liability concerns related to firefighter safety.

"That is not something normal that we do," he said.

In this case, though, it made a 9-year-old's day, although Khiara had to leave for school before she knew the cat's fate. She is a third-grader at Highland Elementary.

Reach reporter Melissa McRobbie at 541-474-3721 or

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