Laura Coughanour’s avocation met her vocation last month, and she’s grateful for that as the calendar nears Thanksgiving.
Coughanour is the acting deputy director of the Public Works Department in Manassas Park, and she’s also a believer in animal rescue.
So it seems appropriate that she was the one who got the call Oct. 17 that a kitten was trapped in a sewer pipe on Mosby Court.
It was about 6 p.m., and a resident at the Mosby Ridge condominium development called the police, saying she heard what she thought was a kitten crying from inside an exterior pipe by her home.
Police responded and contacted Coughanour when they realized it was a public works issue. It’s possible someone flushed the kitten down a toilet, but city employees found a clue that suggested something else.
A sewer clean-out pipe next to the caller’s building had its cap removed, indicating it was more likely that someone dropped the kitten in the pipe. The four-inch pipe is used to reach and unclog the sewer line when it’s blocked. Public works, for example, might be called when a blockage develops after grease poured down a kitchen sink solidifies.
“But never because of a kitten blockage,” Coughanour said. “And, hopefully, we’ll never have another one.”
Coughanour and her colleagues could hear the cat crying in the pipe, but they didn’t know how far away it was. She had a tackle box in her car, so she tied a lure to some fishing line and tried to coax the cat back up.
That didn’t work, so Wayne Martin, the sewer department supervisor, called over one of his crewmen, who brought a video camera they put into the pipe to see where the kitten was.
When they found it, they saw it was farther away than they thought. So they tried to use the camera cord to push the feline toward a nearby manhole.
That didn’t work, either. Luckily, members of another public works crew were scheduled for a job that night anyway, so they were routed instead to Mosby Court to help.
The idea was to use a high-pressure line from a “flush truck” to push the kitten toward the manhole with a stream of water. A crewman with a fishing net would be lowered into the manhole, and he would try to catch the feline as it washed toward him.
Everything had to work just right: If the fishing net didn’t catch the kitten, the cat would end up in the sewer main. If too much pressure was used in the flush, the water could drown the animal.
“You’re lucky I didn’t ask you to tear up the street,” Coughanour joked to public works superintendent Chris Simmons last week while recalling the rigmarole.
The flushing took a half-hour, but it worked. Crewman Mike Simmons caught the kitten in the net amid lots of other debris. It turned out the little one was a gray tabby, although it initially appeared black from all of the grime in the pipe.
The whole ordeal was witnessed by not only much of the Public Works Department, but also a crowd of onlookers who gathered as the rescue took place.
The kitten, which Coughanour figures was probably feral, was less than a week old, and the public works crew said it’s possible it was dropped down the pipe not with malicious intent, but by someone who didn’t realize what they were doing.
“My guess is that it was kids,” Chris Simmons said.
The kitten was wrapped in a towel, and Coughanour rushed it to an emergency veterinarian, who cared for it until she could take it home, where she already had two other rescued cats.
Its eyes seemed too big for its head, so someone said it looked like the character Smeagol from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
So that’s the name Coughanour uses when the cat is quiet. When he’s mischievous, she uses Gollum, Smeagol’s better-known — but far meaner — alter ego.
“I ought to call him Miracle,” she said, “because he, in every respect, is a miracle.”