Figures obtained by the Sunday Herald under Freedom of Information laws reveal that almost 10,000 firefighters were sent out on animal rescue calls across Scotland between 2008 and 2012. In total, there were 1690 animal call-outs over the period, costing about £1 million.
Each of the eight fire-and-rescue services in Scotland provided a breakdown of call-outs in the last five years, but significant gaps suggest the true numbers may be higher than reported.
Crews have freed a cat from a washing machine, a hamster from inside a window frame and a puppy from a wine rack. On one occasion 41 firemen and 13 vehicles were sent on a single animal rescue.
The findings have prompted questions over whether the emergency services should be investing so much time, money and manpower into helping pets.
Robert Oxley of TaxpayerScotland said: "The authorities have to prioritise the calls they receive and to many taxpayers, rescuing a cat stuck up a tree won't be a priority. When such calls come in, the fire service needs to respond in a proportionate way and send fewer staff out on calls involving animals."
Animal charities have rebuffed the suggestion that they should be picking up more of these calls. Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: "Our officers don't have the specialist equipment to reach animals trapped at significant heights."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said staff were "trained to assess each of these incidents appropriately before mobilising resources", adding that one officer would be sent to assess the situation where necessary.
He said: "Our intervention in these cases can often prevent an escalation of the incident and prevent the public from endangering themselves by trying to effect a rescue. Our fire control also has the facility to withdraw or redeploy resources if they are required for another more high priority, life-threatening incident so there is no detriment to our strategic cover."