Animal service officers in Los Angeles, California, recently pulled off a high-flying rescue: saving a black cat that had gotten trapped on a steep cliffside.
Zion, an indoor cat, escaped from nearby while its family was hosting a house party. The feline ended up trapped about 100 feet off the ground. On October 29, Los Angeles Animal Services got the call to rescue Zion—and SMART, the city’s Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team, quickly arrived on the scene.
SMART team members Gaby Lera and Annette Ramirez soon rappelled down the steep pitch, filming the rescue effort with helmet-mounted cameras. The harrowing rescue had a happy ending: Zion was safely captured and returned to its owners.
The effort is par for the course for SMART, which boasts a 100-percent save rate. Recently, the 11-member group rappelled down a five-story building to recover a lost pet chameleon; caught a wild Egyptian goose to disentangle it from fishing line; and rescued a kitten from an abandoned, underground dryer shaft.
“We’re the last line—if we can’t do it, no one can,” said Ramirez in a 2016 documentary about the team. “We haven’t walked away from a rescue yet.”
Founded by Los Angeles animal services officer Armando Navarrete in 2004, the search-and-rescue group is the first of its kind devoted entirely to animals. It took years of work to get the group off the ground: SMART started with a one-time budget of a thousand dollars, and members had to take their first rappelling classes at a local sporting goods store.
The group was officially recognized by the City of Los Angeles in 2009 and reorganized into its current form in 2012. In the years since, SMART has garnered national acclaim, including a 2012 commendation from the Higgins and Langley Awards, which honor excellence in swiftwater and flood rescue. They were the first group honored that focuses exclusively on animals.