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We Chat With the Man Who Rescued an Injured Cat on an Arizona Freeway

Richard Christianson didn't wait for authorities to help before taking on the rescue himself.

Dusty Rainbolt  |  Apr 20th 2015


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Last week, fate offered Richard Christianson of Phoenix the opportunity to save a life, and unlike thousands of passersby, he risked his life and jumped into action by rescuing a cat who was injured and trapped on a freeway median. As Richard exited Interstate 17, he passed a chain link fence mounted atop cement barriers.

“Is that a cat?” he thought.

To his shock, he found an orange and white American Curl cat clutching the cyclone fence.

“I thought someone hit him so hard he flew into the fence cuz he had blood all over,” Christianson said.

As you can see in the video below, the American Curl’s mouth and legs were bloody and a paw reached through the wire, a frantic, but fruitless attempt to escape. His jaw was injured by his attempt to chew through the fence.

As cars passed, Richard called 911, which instructed him to call the Arizona Humane Society. The humane society told him to contact the Department of Public Safety. That department said it had already received several calls over the last two or three hours about a cat. A representative said the department would send out a unit. But when? Every minute that went by, Richard grew hotter. He knew that the cat must be sweltering. By the time DPS finally made to the scene, the cat could be dead.

“He was crying for me. He was reaching for me,” Christianson said.

He knew someone had to do something.

Christianson, who works as a stagehand for conventions, concerts, and plays, tried to jump the fence but couldn’t without impaling himself on the spikes at the top. He ran to his car. Like Gen. Douglas MacArthur said about his retreat from the Philippines, “I shall return.”

He circled around, once again heading northbound on the expressway. He pulled 20 feet past the cat.

Freeway sleeps after being rescued. (Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)

Freeway sleeps after being rescued. (Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)

“Nobody’s doing their job,” he said.

Angry that all official channels hadn’t yet responded to the cat, Christianson recorded the rescue with his smartphone.

“Never did I think anyone would consider me a hero,” he said. “I thought he’d been hit because he had blood all over him. He was crying for me. He was pressed up so hard against the wire, he was reaching up through the fence.”

When Richard saw his bloody jaw and paws, he cried, “Oh my God!” He approached the cat slowly, speaking calmly. When Richard stood next to the cat, the kitty continued crying but released his death-grip on the fence and faced his rescuer.

“When he pulled his paw away from the fence, it was like he was saying, ‘Okay, just take me,'” Christianson said.

Christianson made the not-so-hard decision to sacrifice a beloved T-shirt, signed by M.C. Magic. “I wrapped my shirt around him,” he said. “He just went limp and started purring.”

(Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)

(Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)

While the stray — who Christianson named Freeway — was out of harm’s way, he wasn’t out of danger. Richard still feared he might die before they could get help. He took Freeway to the Arizona Humane Society, and the shelter came through. Its staff members rushed the two-year-old kitty into surgery.

Humane Society spokeswoman Bretta Nelson said Freeway had severe trauma: broken teeth, necrotic mouth tissue, and burns to the pads of his feet. While it was touch and go, Freeway has been stabilized. He is on pain medication and antibiotics. He’s on soft food, but now “he’s eating like a little piggy, according to his foster mom.” After a meal he likes to cuddle.

“It’s not about me,” Christianson reminds the public. “It’s about Freeway.”

Christianson remains saddened that the cat clung to the fence for more than six hours before someone helped him. “I was so pissed off at DPS,” he said. “That’s why I shared the video.”

(Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)

(Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)


Christianson believes “everything happens for a reason. I could have taken a different exit, but I didn’t. This is a blessing in disguise [for Freeway]. He was hurt, but his life is going to be way different now. He’s going to be okay.”

And yes, Christianson plans on adopting Freeway. He already has three dogs and four cats.

Christianson wants people to get involved. “People should be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “When you see an animal who needs help, don’t assume someone else is going to help. You help.”

Christianson has been surprised by all of the attention he’s received. A week ago, he had 300 Facebook friends; since Freeway’s rescue he has more than 1,500.

(Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)

(Photo courtesy Richard Christianson)

More than $1,800 in donations have been given on Freeway’s behalf on this YouCaring campaign.

“God bless you all,” he says to the people who donated to Freeway’s care. ”Please keep in mind that the Arizona Welfare League and Arizona Humane Society open their doors for animals such as Freeway, and they are run and operated [by way of] the public’s donations.”

Now that Freeway is in safe hands, Christianson said he worries about other animals who need help. He’s considering starting the Freeway Foundation to help stray animals with medical needs.

Freeway is just one of 31,000 animals taken in annually by the Arizona Humane Society. Nelson says people can make donations to help with Freeway’s mounting medical bills at the group’s website. Keep up with Freeway on the cat’s Facebook page.

When something extraordinary occurs in your life, ask yourself: Will you choose the part of the hero or will you simply be a faceless extra lost in the apathetic crowd?

Read more about cat rescue and adoption on Catster:

About the author: Dusty Rainbolt, ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.