We are not sure why Louisa climbed up the tree, but whatever the reason, she sure picked a cold day for it. Four inches of snow had just fallen -- a rare event for this area -- and the low temperature was expected to be in the mid-20s that night. Paula, who cares for Louisa along with several other cats, dogs and horses, tried her best to get Paula down, but all her attempts failed. Sleep did not come easily for Paula that night as she worried about Louisa stuck high in the tree in the cold. She asked for help and ideas via Facebook, and the next morning a friend put her in contact with me.
I drove out to the site in rural Maurepas early that afternoon. It was a pretty and clear day, though still cold, and the ground was very sloppy from all the melting snow. Paula thoughtfully met me at the gate to her property to let me in so that I did not have to get out on the wet and muddy ground to open and close the gate myself. She made sure she closed the gate securely to keep the horses contained. She led me to the tree at the fence line where Louisa was stuck. It was was skinny tree with few branches, and Louisa was uncomfortably perched 30 feet high near the top. Several other similar sized trees were close by, and there was a barb wire fence running close to the base of the tree.
It is always a pitiful sight for me to see. I think how it would feel for me to have to stand on a branch about the width of my foot for a long time. I could squat, or I could stand; I could move my feet to a different spot on the branch; I could drape my body across the branch. I can imagine how miserable and tiring it would be to have to stay in these limited positions for just one hour, but to be stuck there for several hours or days is torture, even in the best of conditions. Add the cold, lack of sleep, fear of sleeping and falling, and a full bladder that can't be emptied here, and it gets even worse. That is what these cats are suffering through, and it makes me sad every time I see it.
Normally, I like to set my rope above the cat, but that did not appear to be a viable option this time. The next best choice was a branch just under the cat, but it would be risky to use my very large sling-shot to shoot my line over that branch. If I hit the cat with the weighted bag, it would hurt her and possibly knock her out of the tree. Since the branch sloped upward, however, I decided to aim very carefully away from the cat, and then I got the rope to fall down the slope of the branch into the crotch where I wanted it.
Paula explained to me that Louisa is a semi-feral cat. She comes to Paula for feeding but never wants to be touched. With that information, I felt doubtful that Louisa would even allow me to get close to her. I approached her slowly and calmly in hopes that I could get close to her, but I expected her to climb higher. As I climbed closer to her, she stayed in place but gave me several warning growls. Now that I was close enough to see her well, she appeared weak to me, and I think that weakness contributed to her reluctance to climb higher. I could see her looking up for escape routes, and at one point she put herself in position to climb up and out the branch she was on, but she continued to stay in place, and she continued to growl at me.
I hung out there below her and just out of reach for a while to give her time to calm down and see that I was not threatening her. I inched my way higher over time and calmly talked to her. I even offered her some food, even though I knew it was highly unlikely that she would have an interest in that now. She showed no interest in the food, but I hoped it would help her see me in a friendlier light.
Since she was in such an uncomfortable position, I thought that there might be a chance that she would go into a carrier for comfort, if not food. I held the carrier over my head and placed it in front of her, but she showed no interest in it. If I got a little higher, I could reach her to scruff her into a bag, but since she does not like to be touched, I thought that would be too risky. At this point, I felt that the net or rescue pole were my only options, but those would be very risky too.
I climbed up a little higher so that I could touch her back just to see how much touching she would allow. She reacted vocally to my first touch, but she didn't move or act like she wanted to bite me. I kept talking to her calmly and touched her again. After a few touches, she complained less and less. I gave her some more time and touched her some more. I even scratched her back, and she didn't react. I was beginning to feel like I could get away with scruffing her into the bag, but I needed to get her comfortable with being touched on her neck more. I got the gloved bag ready and touched and then massaged her neck. She was taking this pretty well, so I decided to go for the scruff. I was still prepared for her to panic and react with aggression toward me, but if I was quick enough, I could still contain her in the bag and maybe not get bit.
I massaged her neck one more time and slowly began to feel for her scruff. I slowly but firmly pulled up enough skin to grab while watching her reaction. I gently picked her up off the branch, and to my relief, she did not protest. I quickly pulled the bag over her and secured her in the bag. I was very relieved. I was prepared to get bit, but she took it like a dream.
I brought her down and gave her to Paula who took her inside and released her. Paula fed her well and came back outside to thank me while I was packing up. This rescue took me a long time, and I was grateful for her patience while I tried to figure out what to do and to give Louisa plenty of time to adjust to me.
The next day, Paula reported that Louisa is doing just fine. She sent me these pictures of her shortly after the rescue. Louisa looks much better now, and I am so glad she is not suffering in that tree anymore.