Firefighters Are Clearly Sophie's Choice

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Sophie is a social cat.

She loves to greet the construction workers hammering at Vonise and Newton Friedman's Ventura home. She's usually unfazed by the mammoth remodeling project her owners launched seven years ago.

But last Sunday, the 10-pound, coal-black kitty was startled by a platoon of noisy plumbers and accidentally fell down the chimney of an old fireplace that had been sealed with plywood and drywall.

Shortly after midnight Monday, eight Ventura firefighters sledgehammered a cat-sized hole through the brick chimney in the back of the Friedman's house and rescued the frightened feline.

"There was no way for the cat to get out," Fire Capt. Rodney Smith said. "It would have died in there."

The Friedmans had searched their house on Brodiea Avenue all day looking for Sophie, who they adopted from the Camarillo animal shelter only a few months ago. The 2-year-old cat's cries initially led them to believe she was hiding underneath the house.

"I heard this very faint meowing in the corner of the living room and I thought, 'Oh my God, Sophie is trapped under the house,' " Vonise Friedman said.

But when she heard the meek meow coming from behind the recently plastered wall, she started to panic.

"I was getting this Edgar Allan Poe feeling," she said. "I knew this cat was in the wall."

Unsure how to extricate the pet, the Friedmans called the Fire Department, which in turn called in a special rescue squad with heavy equipment.

"They had two choices," Vonise Friedman said. "Cut the drywall or sledgehammer from the outside. They made a decision to sledgehammer."

She said the rescue was accomplished in about 10 minutes. But there were tense moments.

"When the actual hole was there, there was a moment of suspense," she said. "Then one of the guys yelled, 'I can see her eyes!' and she just kind of crawled out."

Smith said the rescue workers also were afraid the scared cat would not come out after all of the pounding. "But the owner got down on her hands and knees and started calling and the cat came," he said. "She was in real good shape."

Smith said the curious cat must have fallen about 20 feet down the chimney, and could have been trapped in the small dark space for up to 48 hours.

Vonise Friedman said she worried that the firefighters could not--or would not--rescue her cat, knowing that fire departments no longer pull cats from trees.

While cats can usually find their way down from a tree, Smith said, Sophie's dilemma was not unusual. The Fire Department has responded to similar pet rescues in the past.

"It is not something that happens everyday," he said. "But we do go out on a few every year.

"We are just very service-oriented," Smith said. "We try to do anything we can to help somebody who is in any need--including cats."

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