By Nathalie Friedman
Last Wednesday morning, June 24, Montauk resident Vicky Mendelson discovered a kitten trapped in a storm drain near West Lake Drive.
She immediately contacted Dell Cullum, the owner of Hampton Wildlife, and the founder of Wildlife Rescue East Hampton. She explained that the kitten was mewing loudly and desperate for help.
“I could hear the cat crying on the telephone,” Mr. Cullum said of the 9 a.m. call. “It was just heartbreaking.”
Mr. Cullum quickly got a hold of Valinda Valcich, the CEO of Mickey’s Carting for help in the mission. Mr. Cullum and Ms. Valcich often collaborate.
He described Ms. Valcich as a local “godsend in Montauk, and an animal lover.”
“I consider her part of my team,” he said, “because we’d be super proud to have her call us a part of her team.”
Since Mr. Cullum specializes in wildlife rescue, he typically does not work with domestic animals. The two sectors of animal rescue are usually separate.
“We make an effort not to get involved with domestic animals, because we really can’t cross-contaminate things,” he said. “A wild animal won’t go in a wildlife trap if a domestic animal has been there. Animal control takes care of dogs and cats, and wildlife takes care of wildlife. But how can you turn down a rescue like this?”
Mr. Cullum continued to describe his interest in the task: “Wildlife, domestic life — we’re getting this kitten out. As much as we tend to leave domestic animals for people that are more expert in this field, we had to help. It was kind of unique for us. Me, specifically, I don’t know anything much about rescuing cats.”
Ms. Valcich was in East Hampton when she received Mr. Cullum’s phone call, and she could not head over immediately, but she recruited friends to check on the kitten in the meantime. When they found the kitten described in the phone call, and Ms. Valcich arrived, she could nearly reach it with her arms, but needed a tool from Mr. Cullum in order to open the storm drain.
“I laid on my stomach at the edge of Westlake Drive trying to get to the kitten,” she explained, “but I could only touch the nose. But all of the sudden, a male bicyclist stopped and asked if he could help. It turned out to be George Watson,” a familiar face to Ms. Valcich, “from the Dock restaurant.”
Ms. Valcich informed Mr. Watson that she needed a hand rescuing the kitten, and suggested that he try because of his longer arms. Thankfully, Mr. Watson succeeded and lifted the kitten to safety.
Once rescued, Ms. Valcich reached out to nearby houses to try and find the kitten’s owner. She also searched nearby to see whether there were other members of a litter. Since no one has claimed the kitten, and no litter was found, the 3-to-4-week-old American long hair is currently staying in Ms. Valcich’s home, and he will soon move in with her sister.
It remains speculative whether the kitten was domestic or stray. Ms. Valcich considered that the kitten had an owner, because it is receptive to her care, although it was very hungry and timid during the rescue.
“It seemed like somebody could have owned him, but then it’s unclear how he could’ve fallen,” she said. “People say some stray cats can be very friendly” like this one.
Ms. Valcich recalls the experience of rescuing the kitten fondly, and she is grateful that it is safe. “It’s absolutely amazing that a person walking by could even hear this kitten. It’s three feet down, on a major road, and I had to wait for cars to stop driving by in order to hear it.”
She has since fallen in love with her new fluffy gray friend, and named him Watson in honor of his rescuer.
Watson is being kept company by her Charlotte, Ms. Valcich’s 10-year-old dog, who loves baby kittens.
“Charlotte is amazing with any newborn kitten that comes in,” she said. “She cleans them all, regardless, and is very protective of Watson.”