Woman feeding cat

Shiela Wall, vice president of Catz Angels Rescue Effort (CARE) feeds a cat at the nonprofit organization's office in Fremont.

Although evacuated themselves, retired firefighters Shiela and Todd Wall went on some unusual rescue missions during the spring flooding.

The Nebraskans, who are from Chapman and Hallam, live across from Miller Park in Fremont. Shiela is vice president of the Catz Angels Rescue Effort (CARE).

When the flooding started, the Walls went to one of the organization’s foster homes in Arlington to rescue some cats.

The foster mom lost her home.

“We were pulling cats out of the water to get them safe and we helped her move her stuff out of her house — what we could get,” Wall said. “We got those cats to safety and we were rescuing cats off the (Platte) River and off of Main Street as the water was coming up.”

One of CARE’s board members and her spouse has a house on the river. The volunteer had evacuated, but her husband stayed behind with the five cats. Shiela was on the airboat that went to the rescue.

“We had to lift a bed to get one of the cats out,” she said.

Animals would be taken to CARE board member Deana Vyhlidal’s house, which became affectionately known as “Cat Central.”

The Walls then went to a trailer home at Main Street by Cloverly Road. Water was coming down Main Street and the residents of that home weren’t going to leave until they could arrange a safe place for their animals. So the Walls took two female cats, a male cat and kittens to Cat Central.

Amid rescue efforts, Shiela and Todd had told their adult son, Cary, to get their animals — which included dogs and foster cats — loaded up.

Their neighborhood and Inglewood would be blocked off.

The Walls evacuated at about 4:30 a.m. March 16. By then, she said, water was coming from the Platte River and the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area.

“We watched three cars disappear under the water,” she said.

The Walls loaded their 4-wheel vehicle.

“We packed the animals and a bag and went to Deana’s house,” Wall said. “We ended up with 60 animals at her house, including my two dogs.”

Volunteers set up kennels, carriers and playpens at Cat Central.

“She was the only one with a dry basement at the time,” Wall said of Vyhlidal.

The volunteers developed a cleaning schedule. And volunteers were asked to come and help set up and clean. They sought donations for food, water, kitty litter and supplies.

Foster home participants were asked if they could take some of the animals.

Volunteers cared for the animals for months.

“We went out on numerous rescues afterward,” Wall said. “I rode a bucket truck one day to get a cat out of a house.”

Wall added that people who were at work or out of town or even at the grocery store hadn’t been able to get back into neighborhoods to retrieve animals once those neighborhoods had been closed.

Evacuees, who were at one of the local shelters, weren’t allowed to take their animals there.

Wall said she and her husband went many times to get animals out of flooded houses.

Altogether, 151 cats were taken in due to the flooding, said Marsha Niday, CARE secretary and board member.

All but one were returned to their homes or adopted — except for one that came back from adoption.

Last month, Shiela Wall and Vyhlidal accepted a ServeNebraska Step Forward Award for the CARE organization.

“I’m not really into public recognition so it was really awkward for me,” Wall admitted.

But was it nice?

“It was beautiful,” Wall said. “It was wonderful. It’s an honor.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts selected a variety of honorees in tribute to significant volunteer contributions made throughout the state. The ServeNebraska Volunteer Service Commission honored the individuals and organizations on Oct. 25.

“It truly was our honor to make a life-saving impact on the lives of so many cats that may have otherwise perished,” Niday said.

Volunteers in the nonprofit organization plan to continue their work.

“We do it for the cats,” Wall said. “I’m a nurse and I’ve always loved saving lives and helping people. That’s been my mission since I was a little kid. Save a life. Do no harm.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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