Chomper

Hurricane Harvey brought devastation to Texas, but fortunately for Baton Rouge, all we got was frequent rain for several days.  It was when Harvey weakened to a tropical storm and began making its way up the western part of Louisiana that I got a message about a cat found in a tree in a swamp near Sorrento.  A bird-watcher had been out looking for birds on a rural road through a swamp when he heard the cry of a cat coming from the trees.  This kind soul spotted the cat and reported his sighting along with pictures and location information to CARA's House, the local animal shelter nearby.  The shelter forwarded the pictures and report to me and asked if I could help.


Harvey was causing intermittent showers in the Baton Rouge area, but it was generally mild enough that it would not prevent a rescue.  But I was not sure how I was going to handle this rescue.  The pictures I saw showed standing water in front of the trees, but I could not see the backside, and I had no idea how deep that water was.  It would be very difficult to climb a tree surrounded by water, and I had never considered doing that before.

It occurred to me that if the cat was able to climb the tree, then the tree must not be completely surrounded by water.  Unless, that is, he climbed the tree when the ground was dry and stayed up there while the heavy rains flooded the area around him.  That is why the weather is significant to his story, as I believe it is a clue to the length of time he was in the tree.  I learned that this swamp is not permanently wet; it becomes a swamp only after heavy rain, and then it drains and dries out until the next heavy rain.  The rain from Harvey began falling four days before I rescued the cat, so the cat was probably in the tree at least four days, possibly longer.

As I prepared to leave, my wife, Judy, said she wanted to go too, and I was happy that she chose to do so, since I might need some help with this one.  I was not prepared for a water rescue, and I had no clear idea how I was going to handle this.  I brought some calf-high rubber boots in case the water was very shallow, but that was all I had.

When we arrived at the site, we began looking and listening for the cat.  I was not sure which side of the road he was on, but managed to locate the most likely place from the picture which the bird-watcher had provided.  The water from the swamp went to near the edge of the pavement on both sides, so we could look for the cat only from the road.  We called for the cat, but it took him a minute or two before he responded.  Sometimes it sounded like he was high, sometimes low.  Sometimes he sounded from the left, sometimes the right.  Finding him by sight in the thick tangle of branches of the crowded trees was difficult.  I used my binoculars to search for him, and again, I was unable to locate him.  We walked back and forth along the road searching for him from every angle we could for 15 minutes before I found him.  He was only two feet above the water resting on a stump.  We had been looking high while he was sitting low.

The bird-watcher had sent a picture of the cat in the tree, but it was never clear how high the cat was.  He appeared to be high, but I could not be certain.  What was certain, however, was that the cat was not now in the same place he was when that picture was taken.  I suspect that the cat fell out of the tree into the water and climbed up on the stump after the bird-watcher left.  So now, for my first time, I have a cat that is stuck in a tree only a few feet off the ground.

I have to admit that I was very relieved to learn that I would not need to climb a tree here.  If the cat had been high in a tree, I'm not sure how I would have handled it, but I'm sure I would have tried everything I could imagine.  Whether I would have been successful 
or not is another matter, but I don't give up easily.  Now, at least, the problem is much simpler.

Since I did not have a canoe or kayak with me, the only thing I knew to do was wade out there to the cat.  I put on my rubber boots knowing they would be too short and knowing I would get wet.  I didn't know how deep the water would get, but it was pretty clear that it would be passable.  I grabbed a stick to use for balance and to flick away any snakes or to poke an alligator away from me.  With the stick in one hand and the carrier in the other, I began wading out into the water toward the cat.  About halfway out, the water was at its deepest and reached my butt, but that was for only a few steps, and then it became more shallow as I approached the cat.

As I approached the cat, I could see now that he was a seal-point Siamese.  As I got closer, his cries became much more intense, and I was having trouble interpreting them and began wondering if he was going to be fearfully aggressive since was trapped there.  Now that I was close enough, I was especially impressed to see how long his fangs were and how the upper ones were exposed when his mouth was closed.  It was a rather menacing look, though that does not show well in the video.

I also noticed that he was very wet, supporting my theory that he had very recently fallen out of the tree and climbed up on the stump.  He was such a pitiful sight there, all wet, all alone day after day, and surely terrified, especially when he fell in the water.  I can't help but wonder how many others there are that we just don't know about.

He was clearly very stressed, but, as I usually do for tree rescues, I offered him a looked over the carrier at me with his  can of food just to let him know I was friendly.  I knew he would not eat it, and he did not surprise me.  I put the food in the back of the carrier and placed the carrier in front of him.  He looked inside, and he looked over the carrier at me with his distrusting, stressed blue eyes and stayed put on the stump.  I gently pulled it away from him and talked calmly with him some more.  I put my hand near him for him to sniff.  He reached out only halfheartedly for it and continued to cry.  I was still a little fearful of him and was hesitant to put my hand too close for easy biting, but looking back, I don't think I needed to worry.  After another minute, I placed the carrier in front of him again.  This time he placed his front feet inside, but changed his mind and pulled back out.  Still, that was progress, and I was confident now that I would eventually get him inside.

Again, I reached my hand out to him to sniff.  He sniffed a bit and was a little more relaxed this time.  I thought about touching him, but didn't.  Instead, I placed the carrier in front of him again.  This time, he looked inside, placed his front feet in, thought about it a minute, and then pulled his back legs inside.  I closed the door with a big sigh of relief while he continued to cry loudly.

All I had to do now was walk him back the way I came.  He seemed pretty heavy for a cat, and my arm got a little tired holding him above the water while slowly walking out.  In just a few minutes, we were back on dry land, and he continued to cry loudly.

We drove him to CARA's House as we had planned earlier.  There they took him out of the carrier and into an exam room where it was discovered that he has a microchip.  Hooray!  That is great news!  The staff person called the microchip company and was put on hold.  Then it occurred to us that she may be on hold for a very long time, since they are probably very busy right now dealing with all the Harvey-displaced pets in Texas.  We left after they promised to let me know what they learn about this cat.

They were able to contact the microchip company, but, as of the next day, they have not been able to contact the cat's owner or even learn the cat's name.  They were able to determine the humane society from which the cat was adopted, but have not been able to connect with them yet.  They have posted a "Found Cat" notice on the local Lost Pets Facebook page.  So, as of now, the cat is still a mystery, but at least he is out of the swamp and in a safe place getting good care.  I will certainly update this story as it develops, but in the meantime, let me remind everyone that, if your pet has a microchip, please be sure to register it and keep your contact information current.

Since we don't know his real name yet, I decided to call him Chomper because of his rather menacing-looking fangs.  I could easily imagine those fangs chomping down on my hand like an alligator.  After getting more familiar with his personality, I'm sure he would not have done that even when he was so scared with me in the swamp.  But those teeth made an impression on me.  So, Chomper, until we know your real name, this will have to do.  Welcome back to dry land.



UPDATE --  9/18/2017:

CARA's House and the microchip company have both left several messages for the owner, but he has never responded, and it has been almost three weeks now.  He has not responded to Facebook messages or Lost Pet notices, nor has he made an effort to report a missing cat.  Evidence appears to be mounting that this cat was intentionally dumped.

I went to CARA's House this morning to check on Chomper and want to share what I learned. I was able to let him out of his cage and visit with him a few minutes, but he was too scared with all the activity that was going on at that time. It took him a few minutes to come out of his cage, and when he did, he slinked over to the other end of the room and hid in a closet. A few minutes later, he slinked back into his cage where he felt more comfortable. I did manage to pet him a little bit, and he was comfortable with that, but I was never able to take any decent pictures of him. Someone cares for him and lets him out of his cage and plays with him every day, and she described him as very sweet. He appears to have a great disposition, but his personality will not blossom until he gets out of the shelter and begins to feel safe and secure again.

He looks good and his health is very good. He was tested for FIV and FeLV and both are negative. Through his microchip information, it has been determined that he about 5 or 6 years old.

He got his microchip from the SPCA in Atlanta, Georgia, and he was adopted there with the name Artemis. As best as can be determined, the person who adopted him there moved down here to this area. The contact information at the microchip company was last updated in January of this year, but all attempts to contact the owner have failed. I am always very slow to assume that a homeless cat has been dumped, but that appears to be the most likely explanation in this case. If the owner had wanted to find him, he would have created a Lost Cat post on the Lost Pets Facebook page or some other outlet. Where he was found is very remote and there are no houses anywhere nearby.

While he is still at CARA's House at the moment, he is "tagged for rescue" and may not be there much longer. Various rescue groups will take several cats at one time and put them up for adoption. When I arrived there this morning, several people were transferring several other cats to a vehicle for a rescue group to transport to New York where they will be adopted. The same is likely for Chomper, but I won't be able to find out until tomorrow morning exactly where or when he will go.

Poor little guy. I would love to see him enjoy a loving home and know what it is like to be wanted.

UPDATE -- 9/19/2017:

I just learned that Chomper is being given to Whiskers Animal Benevolent League ( https://www.facebook.com/ewhiskers/ ) and is scheduled to be transported tomorrow afternoon (9/20/2017) along with some other cats to their shelter in Albany, New York.  Since civilized states have stricter laws regarding spaying and neutering pets, they do not have the overpopulation problems that we have here and are able to take many of our homeless pets.  Anyone who wants to adopt Chomper will have to do so through Whiskers, so see their contact information on their Facebook page.  It is not possible now to adopt Chomper here before he leaves.

Last night, I was finally able to contact and question the bird-watcher who first found Chomper in the swamp.  Her name is Chantal, and she and her husband frequently visit that area for birding and wanted to see if Harvey had driven any exceptional birds there.  While there, she heard the cat calling and searched for him for 20 minutes before locating him.  She contacted CARA's House to report her find and sent the location information along with some pictures.  One of the pictures was a close-up of the cat, but it was hard to make out, and I thought it showed him at least several feet above the water.  When I found him down low and wet, I assumed he had fallen out of the tree and climbed up on the stump.  But, as it turns out, Chantal found him in the same place I found him.  It is still possible that he fell out of the tree into the water, but now it also seems more likely that he was chased out into the water by something that day.  We will never know what it was, and Chomper won't talk about it.  Whatever it was must have been very scary to make him jump into that water.

Chantal said that the water level fluctuates a lot there, but there are always at least two inches of water there.  After Harvey, the water was much deeper and went all the way to the road.  She had spotted several barred owls and assumed they were swooping down on prey as they concentrated close to the road to get away from the water.  It's possible that Chomper thought the owls were coming after him.  That might be enough to spook him into the water, but it still does not explain why he was there.  The complete story will probably always be a mystery.

Regardless, Chomper's future is looking much brighter now.  I am sure he will be adopted and given a loving home where he will be valued and comfortable.