Rescue Team Rappels Into LA River to Save Kitten

SmART is a team of six Animal Control Officers and one Registered Veterinary Technician trained in rescuing small animals in extreme situations

A frightened kitten stuck in a storm drain was saved from drowning during a complex rescue operation Saturday by an animal rescue team.

A passer-by was watching a flood of water rushing down the cement-lined LA River behind L.A. Valley College around 9:50 p.m. when she saw a trapped kitten in a drainage pipe just inches from the water level.

"There was a cat right in front meowing and so scared and freaked out because it was stuck down there," said Sarah Strazi.

She called 911 and was put in touch with Los Angeles Animal Services, which sent their Small Animal Rescue Team to the scene.

SmART, as it's known, is a team of six Animal Control Officers and one Registered Veterinary Technician trained in rescuing small animals in extreme situations.

Armando Navarrete, one of the rescuers, said the kitten was in imminent danger.

"The pipes have debris and the kitten could only go a little ways into the pipe. There's no way out. With the rain coming tomorrow all that was needed was six inches of water to drown the kitten," he said.

The high water level and debris made reaching the stranded feline difficult so Navarrete decided to rappel down the side of the wash and into the water.


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"One of the biggest challenges is getting into the LA River because you can't drive a vehicle in there with the amount of water and moss there is. So we had to rappel in," Navarrete said. "Once we get the animal out, which is probably the toughest of the whole thing, now we have to get … everybody else out of the river."

Navarrete was able to capture the unnamed kitten and bring it safely to land around 9:50 p.m.

"It was really, really cool," Strazi said. "We had to keep our hopes up but we were really excited."

"We've actually been in the LA River several times for cats and squirrels that get stuck in there," Navarrete said.

Since coming together in 2004, the SmART team has had a 100 percent success rate, rescuing everything from cats in trees, to injured animals under houses, and even a deer in the ocean, according to the organization's website. They are a free service available 24 hours a day.

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