January 30, 2024

How a little girl, her mom, police officers, firefighters, an animal-removal service, and quite a few passers-by pulled off Operation Kitten Rescue

Cat on a cold wet roof

After the rescue the newly named Flower snuggles into a blanket at her new home. Photo by Brian Hallett.

This is a story about kindness and teamwork, how sometimes it pays to get involved, and how maybe you’re meant to be exactly where you are.

On Thursday, Jan. 25, 6-year-old Khloe Ray was in the South Parking Garage adjacent to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with her mom, Kassandra Ray, when she looked out a window and said, “Mama, there’s a kitten!”

“I thought she was talking about a stuffed animal, but sure enough there was a live kitten stranded on the (skybridge) roof,” said Ray, of Cookeville, Tennessee.

It was a gray, miserable winter day, the second full day of hard, cold rain after four days of snow and below-freezing temperatures, and the black-and-white kitten was soaked.

The kitten huddled in the rain on the roof of the South Garage skybridge caught the attention of 6-year-old Khloe Ray.

After a couple of attempts to get help for the kitten, Ray happened to see a patrol car from the Vanderbilt University Police Department (VUPD) driving by.

“I thought, ‘that’s it, that’s who I need to call,’” she said. Within 10 minutes Capt. Kristen Clark, Sgt. La’Kosha Goodloe-Laidlaw, and Community Service Officer Charles Hoffman were on the scene.

The VUPD officers tried to coax the frightened kitten down to no avail, then called the Nashville Fire Department Engine Company 8 who responded to the call but couldn’t get the cat down with their cat-in-a-tree extractor – a metal pole with a hook on the end. Finally, a hospital administrator suggested calling a service that specializes in catching animals — the kind of service that usually deals with squirrels in attics or raccoons in basements. Could they also help with a kitten on a roof?

While the group waited, they attempted to hold large umbrellas out over the kitten to keep it from getting further soaked.

“We were pretty sure it wasn’t going to run while we waited. It was wet and cold,” said Clark, who was supervising the rescue.

So, to sum up the scene at this point, a little girl, her mom, police officers, firefighters, an animal-removal service, and quite a few passers-by were engaged in Operation Kitten Rescue.

It paid off.

“Finally, we were able to reach over onto the roof to scoop up the kitten,” Clark said. “It hung on to the net for dear life,” she said.

A call home: “It’s a cat emergency”

One of the passers-by was Brian Hallett, a senior communications specialist and videographer in the Office of Strategic Marketing and Engagement. He was walking to his car in the South Garage and saw the officers and the animal-removal professional taking a trembling, wet, bewildered kitten out of the rescue net and putting it into a box.

“It was scared, shivering, meowing and hissing,” Hallett said. “It was soaked. It looked like it had been up there for a while.”

Well, that was a big success, but then everyone looked at the kitten in the box, and the thought came: what now?

After the rescue, the kitten was safe. But the question came up: what now?

Hallett asked where the kitten was going to go, and one of the officers told him they thought an employee might take the kitten. Hallett started to walk away.

He did not get far.

“I took about 20 steps, then went back and told them if [the employee] didn’t take it, my wife and I are connected with the cat community in Mt. Juliet, that we have a vet that specializes in cats, and we have cats. I told them if she didn’t take it, we know people,” Hallett said.

It was about this time that somebody figured out that the kitten was a girl, so she went from being “it” to “she.”

The employee decided not to take the kitten, so Hallett asked Clark if he could take her, nurse her back to health and find her a home.

“I went to my car on the seventh floor of the garage with this box and this soaking wet kitten and got in the car,” Hallett said. “I called my wife and said, ‘I have a little bit of an emergency. A cat emergency.”

At home, he and his wife, Angela Disrud, and 6-year-old daughter, Avedon, fixed a temporary home for the kitten in their master bathroom to keep her away from their other three cats while she acclimated to its new surroundings.

“We dried her, put her in there and gave her some food. She was very weak, and very wet and very scared,” Hallett said. Putting his videographer skills to work, he rigged a camera in the bathroom so the family could keep watch. It took about a day before she ate anything.

Her name is Flower

And then, the inevitable happened – Hallett, Angela and Avedon went from being a three-feline household fostering a kitten to a four-feline household.

Avedon named her Flower.

“You can tell she’s still a little bewildered, but she’s super cozy and purrs with a really loud purr,” Hallett said. “She loves to be held and to be petted. Her energy is coming back.”

There is a mystery at the heart of this story: How did Flower end up on the roof in the first place?

That will almost certainly remain a mystery; nobody knows.

But the humans who stopped to help, to make sure the scared little kitten was rescued and dried off and fed and given a home, are grateful for the confluence of care that came together that day.

“How many times do you ignore something?” Hallett said. “You could hear a cat meowing and just move on with your day. It’s what we all do, right? We drive by an accident or see someone stuck, and we don’t do anything about it because it’s an inconvenience. As a journalist…you stop. Sometimes just the act of viewing can teach you something, and then you’re engaged. You’re involved. Maybe we need a little bit more of that.”

Ray said she used the stranded kitten escapade to teach her daughter a good life lesson. When they arrived at Monroe Carell that day, they found out they had booked an appointment six months earlier with the wrong specialist. They were frustrated but were able to get the correct appointment scheduled very quickly.

Khloe discovering the kitten on the skybridge roof changed their attitudes, Ray said.

“I looked at Khloe and said, ‘This just goes to show you that there is a plan, whether we see it or not. You were meant to be in this place at this time because you were the one who looked out that window,’” she said. “I’m so glad this had a happy ending. It goes to everybody’s credit that they would do as much as they did to save something as small as a kitten.”