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July 07, 2020
How AEP Ohio Employees Rescued JuJu the Kitten
Arriving to work at the Canton General Service Center and approaching his company vehicle, Ian Myers, meter electrician, found an unusual bright orange note on the window: “Please check engine compartment and wheel wells prior to starting truck. I spotted a kitten jumping in and out!”
At first Myers didn’t see anything; however, after a couple minutes, he heard some meowing coming from underneath the truck. Myers went inside to alert his supervisor, Garrett Cilles, and with gloves and safety glasses on they began the search.
Cilles placed some cardboard on the ground and peered up underneath the truck. It took a few scans of his flashlight but then he spotted it: a small kitten perched atop the fuel tank.
Getting the kitten out was no simple task. They couldn’t easily reach it, so Cilles and Myers tracked down some long, skinny measuring sticks to gently nudge it out. After 20 minutes of poking and prodding the kitten finally jumped out … and then immediately scampered away and leapt up into the neighboring truck.
The process began anew as the kitten moved from fuel tank to spare tire back to fuel tank. It took some effort but they were finally able to get the kitten to jump down. And this time, the neighboring truck had been moved away so Cilles and Myers were able to corner it and grab it.
Employees are required to circle their vehicles before using them to search for all types of hazards. This search is commonly done with the eyes – less attention is often paid to the other senses. Cilles gives full credit for the rescue operation to Robyn Steward (one of three AEP Ohio truck drivers who transport tools and equipment to storerooms around the state), for stopping to write notes on both trucks.
“We definitely wouldn’t have seen the kitten,” Cilles said. “Without her we probably never would have heard it either.”
A Love for Animals
Steward lives on a farm with sheep, chicken and a menagerie of other animals. It’s slowly turned into a landing spot for stray animals who have needed a home because friends, family and co-workers will often send them her way when they aren’t sure what else to do. “Everyone knows I love animals. I’m constantly talking about them,” she said.
When Steward couldn’t find the kitten at 4:45 a.m. but needed to get on the road, many people might have given up. But Steward isn’t wired that way.
“I would have felt terrible if anything had happened to it,” she said. “Not just for the sake of the animal but for the employee, too. It can be pretty hard psychologically.”
Steward says finding critters in the yard behind the service center isn’t uncommon because the property butts up against a state park. Rabbits, raccoons, geese, feral cats and even the occasional lost dog will wander in. In fact, Steward says several years ago three kittens turned up in the bed of a line truck that drove all the way from Michigan. So she stays alert and was happy to hear that the kitten was found unscathed.
Not only did employees emerge with a renewed commitment to performing a 360 Circle for Safety – “and to keep your ears open” – but there was a happy ending for the kitten, too.
“We didn’t know what to do with it. So I texted my wife, ‘Hey, do you want a cat?’ ” Cilles said. “I was just joking. I didn’t even think she liked cats. But right away she said, ‘Yes!’ It’s named JuJu Smith-Cilles after the Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. My kids just love him.”