published: Friday, December 07, 2012
More than 'just a cat'
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Writer
"It's just a cat."
Donna Schott of Wildwood heard that repeatedly while frantically asking for help to get a family pet out of a tree in her yard. Nobody could understand that "Chester" was more than just a cat.
Donna calls Chester a "crate cat," saved from a life of abuse on the street and placed in an animal shelter to face an unknown future and possible euthanasia, before her daughter, Jamie Schott, rescued her and brought her home. Donna's other daughter, Amanda Jordan, hoped the cat would help her own children, Emaily Romer, 7, and D.J. Romer 5, cope with the loss of their dad, George Albert Romer III.
George, then 31, was riding his bicycle east along County Road 470, near County Road 400, when a van struck him one night about 14 months ago. He was flown to Orlando Regional Medical Center with critical injuries and died about three days later.
The van's driver, Ronald L. Wolford Jr., then 49, briefly stopped to help but ran away, authorities said. He was charged with DUI-manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. Donna said it was Wolford's third DUI charge.
Then came another event that would shake up the family: Jamie enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was transferred out of state. Before she left, Jamie put Emaily and D.J. in charge of Chester.
The cat was still trying toadjust to the outdoors when a dog chased her up the tree.
"Chester had never been in a tree and she was so scared she climbed to the top of the tree," Donna said.
Grandmother and mother tried everything to get Chester to come down, but Donna said the cat just sat there clinging to a branch, crying.
"We had the whole neighborhood out there for days," Donna said. "A lot of people tried to help and couldn't, but a lot of others also said, "It's just a cat, it'll come down when it gets hungry enough. The problem we realized is that (Chester) couldn't come down. This cat was an abused cat that came from a shelter and it rarely goes outside. She was too high up in the tree, we could see with binoculars that she had a gash on her head, she was crying and crying and she didn't know how to come down.
"I kept telling everyone, "I know it's just a cat to you, but it's dying."
Amanda said her children would sit in the yard under the tree for hours at a time, calling Chester's name and trying to entice her with food and water, but to no avail.
Donna contacted the Wildwood Fire Department but it didn't have a ladder long enough. Firefighters suggested she contact tree trimmers. The family doesn't have a lot of money and couldn't find any Good Samaritans willing to volunteer and rescue Chester.
"All we got was, 'It's just a cat,'" Donna said, "And it will come down on it's own -- after all, it's a cat and cats can't get stuck in a tree. But it's not just a cat to this 7-year-old little girl. Chester is her friend and the only thing that put a smile on Emaily's face since she lost her daddy."
For four days, including some of the coldest of the year to date, Chester sat perched in the tree without any food or water.
"I have never been so upset." Donna said. "Is Emaily going to watch her cat die of starvation? This was terrible."
Neighbor Dwayne Wolfe of Wolfe Towing said he was willing to help, but didn't have the equipment to get up into the tree.
"I'd say it was about 60 feet up, maybe more," Wolfe said.
That's when Amanda heard the nearby sound of a chain saw.
"I walked down the road and sure enough there was R & W Tree Services," she said. "I told the owner about Chester and how we needed help. This man (Randy Fletcher) stopped what he was doing and walked to our house."
Fletcher said he would try to rescue the cat but couldn't get close enough to the tree because there some trailers in the way. That's when Wolfe got involved.
"We got a plan together and got to work," Wolfe said. "I was able to move the trailers out of the way with my tow truck, and Randy had the bucket truck and volunteered to go up in it and get the cat down. I was just tickled that we could help. It's what neighbors should do."
Wolfe said when Fletcher retrieved the cat, he was relieved and legitimately touched by how scared Chester looked and how happy the children were.
The cat still isn't over her ordeal and spends most days hiding in Emaily's closet, forcing her to start all over again to help Chester feel comfortable being outdoors.
Donna calls Wolfe and Fletcher "heros."
"I can never repay these two men for what they did," she said. "I am just sorry for all the other people who said, 'It's just a cat,' because they will never know how much this cat means to a 7-year-old old little girl and her little brother. Randy Fletcher and Dwayne Wolfe are heroes to our family."
"They took equipment worth over $250,000, gave their time and hearts to save a cat, and never asked for anything in return. They just wanted to help and they never said "It's just a cat.'"