I love those "feel-good" rescues where the cat is friendly and eager to be rescued, where I make friends with the cat in the tree, bring him down safely and securely, reunite him with the loving and anxious family below, and everyone is happy and well. Maybe there is some drama along the way, but in the end, it all works out well. This was not one of those "feel-good" rescues.
This cat was unknown, a stranger in the area, but because of his classic black and white markings, I am calling him Sylvester. He just showed up this day in a tree in an area being newly developed near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This particular lot where Sylvester was stuck is undeveloped, but all around him lots are being sold and houses are being built. It is remarkable that anyone even noticed him there, but Sylvester was not shy about making his presence known, and a developer employee noticed him and told his co-worker, Patty. Patty is quite the animal lover, and this was not the kind of thing she could ignore.
Patty tried coaxing the cat down and putting food on the ground below him, but the cat stayed in place. She called Chris, an employee with the local power company who often worked with his bucket truck at this development site, to see if he would be willing to help. Chris has rescued several cats using his bucket truck before, and his co-workers had even given him a plaque in recognition of his successes. Since the tree was close enough to the road, Chris was very willing to help.
Unfortunately, the cat was not cooperative. The cat consistently moved away from Chris either by walking far out on a branch or by climbing higher. Reluctantly, Chris had to give up and leave, but he returned the next morning to try again. Again, the cat thwarted his every effort to get close to him. Since Patty knew of no other options, she persuaded Chris to try one more time. Again, Chris, out of the goodness of his heart, came out and tried to reach the kitty a third time. This time, the cat climbed up as high as he could go in the tree, and he was now higher than the bucket could reach.
Patty called the local humane society to see if they had any other ideas, and they referred her to Bob Reese, Missisippi's only professional cat-in-tree rescuer. Even though Bob was located in Starkville, a three-hour drive from her, Patty called him anyway just to see if he had any ideas. Since Bob is a good friend of mine, and Hattiesburg was closer to me than to him, he asked me if I wanted to handle this case. I agreed and called Patty to make the arrangements. The cat had already been in the tree for at least two nights, so I went out there right away.
Before I arrived, Patty called me to say that the developer of the property had reservations about my doing this and would not allow me to climb the tree without liability insurance. Since I was already close, I offered to haul an "elevator" up to the cat and rescue him in that without even climbing the tree. That was agreeable, so I continued.
When I arrived, I met Patty, and she led me to the site. There I saw the cat perched about 60 feet high on the topmost substantial branch of a thin oak tree. The top portion of the tree was one-sided and curved off to the heavy side, but the branch the cat was on was relatively level. The black and white cat was calling to us below.
To pull up an "elevator" to the cat, normally I would need to install a line on a branch above the cat so that I can position the elevator level with him. In this case, however, there was nothing above the cat. The branch he was on, however, was adequate for pulling an elevator up to him, but he would have to jump down into it. I would also need to shoot my weighted bag very close to the cat. Fortunately, I successfully shot the bag where I wanted without hitting the cat, but he was clearly now more frightened and walked out to the end of the branch.
After I installed the rope over the branch, I attached it to a carrier with the top door removed so the cat could jump down into it from above. I opened a can of food and placed it inside, and I attached another string to the carrier to help me steer it around branches on the way up as well as to allow me to pull it back down if it got stuck. I pulled the carrier up to the cat and got it in position as high as I could get it. It was now in position but tilted a little bit, so I let off the rope to let it come back down level. Unfortunately, when I let off the rope, the carrier did not move. It was stuck, so I tugged on it with the retrieval string. It still would not budge, so I pulled harder. The carrier was so stuck, that I had to pull very hard, and when I did so, the retrieval string came unattached and fell to the ground. Now the carrier was stuck up there, and I had no way to retrieve it.
In spite of the prohibition against climbing the tree, I now had no other choice. I meant no disrespect to Patty and the developer, but I felt that I had no alternative but to climb the tree in order to retrieve my gear. Against their objections, I installed another rope and prepared to climb.
I climbed up to the cat's branch and found it difficult to get in a secure and comfortable position. With the stem leaning away from me leaving nothing above or behind me to use, I could only stand with one foot on the cat's branch and the other in the crotch of the next lower branch. I could not go out the branch at all, and I even had to lean away from the cat to stay in a secure position. Fortunately, even if I could not get the cat to come to me, it appeared that I would still be able to reach the cat with the rescue pole or net.
The cat had been frightened first by the bucket truck three times, then the elevator, and now me. He was not in the mood to make friends with me, but I had to try. I pulled out the can of food from the elevator and held on to it while I lowered the elevator back to the ground. I could not get the cat to even look at the food, so I put it on the end of an extendable pole and held it closer to him. This made him more nervous, and he made attempts to back away slightly. I pulled the food farther back but still close enough for him to notice and gave him time to settle down. He was still too stressed to care about the food and showed no interest in it. After it was clear that he was not going to calm down anytime soon, I pulled the food back and put it away. With sunset approaching, I needed to speed up this rescue.
I pulled up the rescue pole and prepared to use it. I had to extend it to about 10 feet in order to reach the cat. The cat was already at the end of the branch and had no room to get any farther away from me. I slowly moved the noose toward him. He was facing me, and it should not be difficult to see when I have it properly placed around his chest just behind his front legs. I just had to get him to step his front legs through the loop. With a little nudging, he eventually did so, and I tightened the noose. When I tried to pull him forward toward me, he slipped out of the noose, so I started all over again. Again, as he moved around slightly, I got the noose in position where I wanted and tightened it again. Again, he managed to slip out of it, but this time he also lost his footing.
He was hanging dangerously by his front paws and then by only one paw. To save him, I needed to hold my net under him, but the net was still on the ground. I quickly began pulling it up and watched him as I did so. I was hoping that he could hold on long enough for me to get the net up, but I was not optimistic that he could do so. When a cat is dangling by only his front paws, it is likely that he will fall. I have never seen one hang on by one paw for more than a few seconds, and it seemed even less likely that he could recover from that. Somehow, however, to my utter shock, that strong cat pulled himself back up and got himself all the way back up on top of the branch. I was amazed and happy. He was exhausted, but he did it. Still, I got the net ready and waiting if that should happen again.
Again, I managed to get the noose around him, but this time he managed to move away from me and slip it down to his waist where I did not want it. I was having a difficult time getting this slippery boy secured. I released the noose and was getting ready to try again when he lost his footing again. Again, he was dangling by his front paws, and after exhausting what little strength he had before, I seriously doubted that he could do it again. I grabbed the net and reached out as far as I could with it. The net is not as long as the rescue pole, however, and I could not quite reach him even though I was extremely close. I tried to get the hoop of the net under his dangling back legs, but in spite of my effort, the best I could do was touch them with the tip of the hoop. I continued to struggle to reach farther, but could do no better. Suddenly, he lost his grip and tried in vain to catch the rim of the net. Instead, he fell just a few feet lower to some more small limbs and hung on there. He could not hold on for long, however, and again he was soon dangling. There was nothing I could do. He was out of my reach, and I watched helplessly and in horror as he fell all the way to the ground with a thud. He immediately ran off into the trees and bushes, while I hoped that was a good sign that he survived the fall without injury.
While I came down and packed up, Patty looked for him and found him hiding in the bushes. He was walking normally, and she tried to get him to come to her for some food. He would not come any closer, but she wisely left some food for him and walked away to give him some time to calm down. He was clearly a tame, although frightened, cat, and we hoped that he lived nearby and would go back home. Patty had already checked for lost cat notices and found nothing promising. The sun had set, the light was fading fast, and there was nothing else we could do for him. I finished packing up and left knowing that Patty would be checking on him frequently.
Patty did keep checking on him and found that all the food had been eaten. She never did see him again though. We don't know what happened to him or from where he came. We don't know if he suffered any injuries from the fall or not. The best we can say is that he is not stuck in the tree anymore. I wish he would have let Chris rescue him from the bucket truck earlier. I wish that he would have trusted me to bring him down safely. I wish I could have gotten closer to him and reached him with the net. That night, I did not sleep well as I mentally tried over and over again to reach him, even actually tensing my arms and legs in bed, in one failed attempt after another. No matter how many times I relived it or how hard I tried, I could not change the actual outcome.
Sylvester, the cat of cartoon fame, suffered many falls and accidents with no lasting effect. That's the nature and luxury of cartoons. Hopefully, by naming this real cat Sylvester, he will have cartoon powers as well and rebound just as quickly.