Last Tuesday, two Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT) workers were cleaning a pedestrian walkway on the Richard Ira Bong Memorial Bridge, which connects Duluth, Minn., with Superior, Wis., when they got quite a surprise.
DOT employee Christopher Smith was just doing his job, sweeping debris out of the path, when he heard meowing.
Smith looked over the edge of the bridge and found an orange cat trapped on a pier cap — a concrete ledge that tops one of the footings of the giant structure.
The pier cap, 80 or 90 feet above the water and 20 feet below the bridge decking and made of un-climbable concrete and steel, left the cat with no way to escape his predicament.
Unable to contact his co-worker, Gary Wright, who was operating a sweeper on the bridge, he called the police.
Superior, Wisc., police officer Bradley Esler answered the call.
“A couple of DOT workers had reported that there was an abandoned cat that was on a pier abutment about twenty feet below the bridge decking that appeared to be abandoned and cold and was meowing,” he said.
When Wright finally saw the police car parked near Smith, he went to check on his colleague and found Esler and Smith trying to figure out how to help the agitated feline.
Their first attempt involved dangling a nylon strap down to the cat to see if it would use the device to climb back to the roadway.
Our thought was we could hopefully put the strap down there and the cat could self-rescue, Wright said.
The cat had other plans, though. The feline seemed to calm down after he rubbed against the strap a few times. But it soon became clear that the cat had no intention of climbing a nylon strap, so they quickly came up with another plan.
Wright remembered a safety harness bag he had inside his truck. They decided to run the strap through the handles of the bag and prop it open with a piece of wood.
They baited the rescue trap with Smith’s lunch, a venison burger, in hopes that the cat would be hungry enough to succumb to temptation and facilitate his rescue.
Honestly, as soon as the bag touched down on that pier cap, the cat jumped in it and I pulled as hard as I could to close the bag and pulled it up, Smith said.
The cat was eating so hungrily that he didnt even seem to notice what was happening. Im thinking the cat had been down there for some time, he said.
When Esler and Smith released the cat from the bag, he instantly started purring, and the two fell in love with him. Both of them talked about keeping him.
The Animal Rescue Federation in Superior took the cat into its care. They gave the lucky feline, a Manx or Manx cross about 1-1/2 years old, a special name to commemorate his rescue.
“Ira was named Ira after being found on the Ira Bong Bridge. We named him Ira Bridger. He is a manx. He has a stubbed tail with a little kink in it. He has large feet for walking on snow,” said Jessica Grant from the ARF.
And the story continues: Esler is serious about adopting him.
I am interested in keeping the cat, Esler said. I went to visit [him] and hes just a happy camper, jumping from person to person. I think he knows it was almost lights out.
Esler also said hed like to find the person who he thinks pitched it over the side of the bridge.
It would really tick you off if you would have seen it down there, he said.
Wright agrees with Esler’s suspicions. We found it hard to believe the cat got down there on its own, he said.
Ira will remain at the ARF shelter for seven days in case the owner comes back to claim him, Esler said.
I was hoping this cat was a girl so I could name her Bridge-ette,” Esler said. “But this cats lucky for many reasons, so maybe Lucky.
See the Northlands News Center story on Ira’s rescue: