When crime reporter Paula Horton asked me if I was free to go along on a potential kitten rescue operation, I had to feign hesitation. Granted, I hadn't had a lunch break yet and was right in the middle of working on a photo gallery for the Salmon Summit, so it was easy to act disinterested.
Why the charade? Well, contrary to my generally laid-back manner and penchant for silliness, I do take my job as a photojournalist seriously. Dropping everything to excitedly skip off to cover a relatively trivial, albeit heartwarming, story might give people the wrong idea — that my work is inspired by kittens. And though I do have more serious professional ambitions, in the interest of full disclosure, my photo skills were roughly shaped by practicing on cats.
Paula and I raced over like the Duke boys and found a couple people gathered around an oak tree with a city of Pasco worker pruning a few small branches 15 feet up. As I looked for a good angle below the tree, he looked down and told me he’d stop working if I started taking pictures. The ridiculous statement told me he was joking, but his tone said the opposite.
"Uh, what? Really?" I asked.
"I’m just one of those people who doesn’t like to have his picture taken, you know?" he said.
That, I understand. I run into this mentality all the time, but the fact that he seemed willing to abandon the kittens after climbing all the way up was kind of a noodle-scratcher.
I kept an eye on him through my long lens, but refrained from shooting any photos just yet. If he aborted the mission because of me, I would be the pariah of Park Street and 10th Avenue, where Debbie Orozco had been trying all day to get somebody to rescue the kittens. I was ready, though, and if I had a shot of him climbing down with kitties, I was going to take it. We were on public property, after all.
I kept moving to keep my line of sight clear, unwittingly saving myself from a turkey-sized rotted piece of wood that fell as he tried to climb to an area where he could reach the kittens. Following Robert Capa's famous motto, "If your pictures aren't good you aren't close enough" often puts us in unsafe positions — even on an assignment as benign as a kitten rescue.
It was a surprising reminder to stay frosty.
After that mishap, he called it quits and climbed back to the ground, where he apologized to me several times. "No offense," he said. "but I don’t even like taking pictures with my family." I never accepted his apology because even though I found his actions commendable (performing a duty not in his job description and risking himself to save some cute kitties), he had made my job more difficult without giving a good reason and the apology seemed empty.
I snapped a C.Y.A. photo of Orozco looking up the tree in case the following rescue attempts failed and we wanted to run a story anyway.
Dorion Smith made the next attempt, and came close, but couldn't quite reach far enough inside the hollow:
Then Al Vernon, a heavy equipment operator for the Pasco street department, showed up with his bucket lift, which gave him sure footing and freed both of his hands for kitten rescuing. It didn’t make my job any easier, however, as the wind repeatedly screwed up any clear shot I had through the branches:
My best shot ended up being the first safely rescued kitten, which Vernon handed to Debbie’s daughter Graelynn Orozco, 16:
After spending about an hour on the scene, I had enough to produce a photo gallery of the rescue operation, and even a tender outtake, which I felt was a bit redundant to include in the gallery:
Spot news so often revolves around tragedy and death so covering the rescue operation was a nice change of pace. Hard-hitting news it is not, but that doesn't mean it was easy to cover. And while the day's crime stories generated much more online interest than the kitten rescue, I hope the fuzzy, fluffy story at least put a few smiles on faces. But if your expression leaned more toward an eye-roll and a head shake after seeing this on the front page, at least be thankful that we live in a community where there is occasionally room for a story like this.