Brian O'Connor, Animal Rescue League of Boston's rescue services manager, holds 'Bunny' who was found tied to a bench in the South End. Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
From the ground Danielle Genter could hear the cries of a cat about 30 feet high above her in an old tree.
Genter, an Animal Rescue League of Boston rescue team member, bent down, carefully aiming and stretching her specialized slingshot in an attempt to send a weighted rope into the tree that she might have to climb to reach the cat.
Genter let go. The weight attached to the rope shot up with such force that it snapped the weak tree branches and eventually became tangled. It also apparently startled the cat, which climbed even higher.
The tree branches, Genter determined, wouldn't be able to support her and she would have to find another way to reach the animal, which had been there about four days.
Whether it's climbing scores of feet up a tree to reach a frightened cat, kayaking through a pond to an injured seagull or wading through inches of animal feces to rescue hoarded pets, the Animal Rescue League does it. Last year the rescue team, a group of five ARL employees who respond to calls for animals in need of help or surrender, assisted more than 3,400 animals.
Brian O'Connor, the manager of the ARL's rescue services, said everyday is different and that team members don't know what the calls will be or where they will take place. The team last year responded to calls in 181 different cities and towns in Massachusetts.
"Sometimes we come in and we're dealing with hoarding cases, other times we're trying to chase around injured animals," O'Connor said. "We never really know which way the day is going to go when we start, but we're always ready for anything."
The non-profit's dedicated rescue team is called in when local animal control officers need an extra set of hands, for the specialized tools the ARL has, for the team's experience with wildlife and technical animal rescues or for various other reasons.
The organization also has a Center for Animal Protection led by Lt. Alan Borgal, who has worked with the ARL for about four decades investigating cases of animal abuse and neglect. Last year, the ARL law enforcement team led or assisted in 567 animal cruelty-related investigations including the infamous case of Puppy Doe, the dog found tortured in Quincy. The case pushed animal cruelty and rescue efforts further into the spotlight.
O'Connor said many of the investigations are a trade-off.
"Sometimes we help the animal, but we don't find out what the root cause was," he said. "It was the opposite in Puppy Doe case. We couldn't help the animal, but law enforcement did catch the person who was [allegedly] responsible for it. Ideally we'd like to have both."
Earlier this week in North Attleboro, Genter wasn't immediately thinking about the root cause. Instead, she was focused on getting the cat down from its perch in the tree.
After about three hours of effort that included the help of a neighbor with a boom lift, a short rope climb and the reach of a catch pole, Genter was able to get the cat down. The apparently stray cat appeared to be healthy and was taken to the local animal shelter to see if it had an owner or if it could be adopted out, Genter said.
"We haven't left one behind yet," she said.
See something, say something
April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month and earlier this month, members of the ARL as well as the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed support for a new bill dubbed the "PAWS Act," which would increase the penalties for animal cruelty including hit-and-run accidents on animals, allow law enforcement to enter a home to protect an animal and would create a statewide registry of animal abuse offenders.
For ARL rescue members, it's also about relying on the public to help when they see an animal in need.
"Somebody … hearing something or seeing something and then making the call, that's what we want people to do," O'Connor said.