(US MD) Local cat survives 15-story fall July 31, 2005 8:23 AM
High-rise syndrome claims the lives of less fortunate felines
By Robin Tierney
Special to The Examiner
Published: Friday, July 29, 2005 10:10 PM EDT
E-mail this story | Print this page
Jessica Vides holds her 2-month-old cat, Rajah on Friday, who recently fell 15 stories from their home in Alexandria. Jeff Mankie/Examiner
Rajah may have used up eight lives in one fell swoop last weekend. The 2-month-old kitten plummeted off the 15th-floor balcony of an Alexandria high-rise. Sunday morning, when Jessica Vides went to feed her two cats, only Linx showed up. "I asked my fiancé, 'Have you seen Rajah?' " said Vides. "He has a habit of falling into the drawers and hiding." After scouring the apartment, they continued their search outside on the off-chance the kitten had snuck out the door. Eventually, her fiance found the kitty in the bushes by the foundation of their building, a full 15 stories below their balcony. "Rajah was moving and, amazingly, seemed fine," Vides said.
What happened? "We kept the litter box on the balcony," explained Vides. The cats had seemed to know not to go near the edge - where access was blocked by clusters of plants, bicycles and odds and ends stored against the railings. Apparently, after a potty break, Rajah's curiosity literally sent him over the edge.
Vides attributed their luck to good landscaping: "There are a lot of bushes and trees, which must have broken his fall." Perhaps Rajah's young, flexible kitten physique also worked in his favor.
A Virginia cat rescue acquaintance came right over to examine the fallen feline. "We found no bruises, no injuries," said Vides. Rajah slept more than usual that day, but ate, drank and soon resumed his normal kitty antics. "He was playing with toys, playing with Linx, playing with his tail." He also climbed atop the bookcase, indicating that he hadn't developed a fear of heights.
"It is very dangerous to have cats and dogs out on balconies," cautions Judy McClain of the Society for the Prince George's County Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/Humane Society, where it's illegal to have a dog on a balcony if unaccompanied by an adult person. A dog could jump over or squeeze though rails; a tethered dog could jump off and be strangled to death.
Left: Daysha Pi, 3, holds Rajah.Jeff Mankie/Examiner
Cat falls are more frequent in warm weather when people open windows. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issues annual summer warnings about preventing such falls, sometimes referred to as "high-rise syndrome."
The popular myth that "cats always land on their feet" results in a false sense of security among many pet owners. According to the ASPCA, cats do possess self-righting ability; a fast-working nervous system and flexible spine enable felines to orient into a feet-first position. But that's assuming a "flying squirrel" stance can slightly slow velocity and enable some cats to survive plunges from great heights. But for many cats, such falls lead to severe trauma and death.
"While cats are generally smart about making foolhardy leaps, accidents do happen," explains Jacque Schultz, ASPCA's Companion Animal Programs adviser in New York. "Sometimes it's because they've fallen asleep on window sills or fire escapes. Sometimes it's because they find an unexpected opening to explore like the empty shell where an in-wall air conditioner used to be. As pint-sized predators, there are times they are so engaged in the chase - be it after a toy, bird or bit of floating paper - that they don't stop to look before they leap."
Lynx, left, with his pal Rajah. Jeff Mankie/Examiner
Vides will take no more chances: "We have moved the litter box inside."
- Animals can accidentally fall from windows, balconies, decks and fire escapes.
- Cats can sink claws into tree bark, but can't cling to brick, concrete and other building surfaces.
- Even if cats aren't visibly injured after falling, they may be hurt, so go to an animal hospital without delay. Gently pick the cat up by the scruff of the neck from behind (the cat may claw out of fright), and cradle the hindquarters to avoid aggravating any internal injuries. If the cat is lying on its side, lift carefully with one hand beneath the chest and the other hand supporting the hips. Place the animal on a towel in a carrier or a cardboard box, cover it with a blanket and keep it still during transport.
More information can be found at www.aspca.org
Do you have something to say about this? Send us a letter!
[ send green star]