OKOTOKS, Alta. — Kevan Yeats is a reluctant hero.
A year ago he helped his cat Momo escape from a submerged truck and swim to safety in the floodwaters that deluged southern Alberta.
A photographer with The Canadian Press captured the moment and the photos garnered international media attention as a symbol of hope amidst devastation.
“It’s nothing that anybody else wouldn’t do in the same situation. You have to do what has to be done,” shrugs Yeats, 22, at his home in Okotoks, his mother Lori playing with Momo in the background. “He’ll be the death of me. That’s for sure.”
Momo and Yeats were in a pickup truck on a partially submerged street in High River when disaster struck. Yeats had been at work when the flooding started and he went back to his apartment to pick up his pet.
As they fled, the truck hit a deep spot in the road and was quickly swamped by water washing through the community from the Highwood River.
Yeats says he realized that because the truck had power windows, getting out would be a problem. It took two tries, but he managed to smash the back window with his arm and hopped into the truck bed with the then-eight-month-old cat in his arms.
Momo jumped into the water and started paw-paddling to safety about 50 metres away, his tiny wet head poking just above the surface.
“Really it was kind of mutual. We realized we’ve got to get out now. It was a good thing he was by the window because he was looking to get out, too, but he couldn’t break the window,” Yeats says.
“I put him in the box of the truck and I was trying to squeeze out the window and he decided to leave me behind. That was very kind of him.”
Yeats says his feline buddy is none the worse for wear and still occasionally jumps in the shower.
Jordan Verlage, the photographer who captured the escape, was nominated for a National Newspaper Award for the picture.
“The truck started to sink and everybody on shore started freaking out and yelling, ‘Get out.’ All of a sudden Kevan’s head popped out of the back of the truck and the look on his face was harrowing. The cat leapt from his arms and into the water and Kevan followed,” recalls Verlage.
“It’s kind of like all the stars aligned for everybody and that Kevan was able to make it out alive with Momo and I was able to get the photo.
“It was so surreal that whole entire day.”
Yeats has tried to shy away from publicity and says he’s no longer being recognized like he was immediately after his adventure.
But there’s one group of friends that won’t let him forget about it and the teasing is constant.
“All the time. Any time I see the rugby boys they always have something to say about it,” Yeats says. “They call me Kitty Momo.”