At the insistence of her four-year old children, Mary Jo adopted a cute, orange-tabby kitten and brought him into their home. They named him Francis, and this sweet, playful fur-ball settled in very nicely. Five years later, the family moved from their home in Texas to Baton Rouge, and, of course, Francis came too. Unfortunately, Francis escaped out of his new house and got lost in this strange, new land. The family searched for him for a very long time but could not find him. Three months later, while taking a walk in the neighborhood, Mary Jo saw him in the driveway of a home a half mile away. She couldn't believe her eyes. She talked to the woman who lived there and learned that Francis just appeared there some three months ago, and the woman kindly took care of him and gave him a place to call his own. Mary Jo took him back home with her and reunited him with the family, and Francis settled in and gave them no more trouble. Until today.
Francis is now 13 years old, and he is a big boy. We don't know what happened, but somehow, Francis was now stuck about 30 feet high in a tree inside the woods behind his home, and he has already spent one night there. The only way he could be found was by following the sound of his cry. When Mary Jo led me to the tree that held him and pointed to him, even then, I could not see him. I could hear him, but he was hidden inside a dense mass of vines and foliage at the top of an otherwise bare stem. The stem rose vertically from a tree whose trunk was leaning about 45 degrees.
This was not a typical tree. If there were any branches in that mass of vines where Francis was hiding, I could not see them. Even if I could, they would be too close to Francis to risk shooting my weighted bag to install a rope up there. There were no suitable branches below him either. If a taller tree had been nearby, I could have used it to rescue Francis, but there were no other suitable trees close enough for that. The only option I saw was to use a tree-climbing technique called stem-climbing or pole-climbing. It is a slow, tedious and strenuous technique for climbing a bare stem, and I have done that only a few times. It's not fun, and progress is measured in inches. It takes more energy and more time, especially since I have not practiced it in a long time.
Mary Jo's son had already taken a ladder out to the tree, so I used it to get started. At the top of the ladder, I tied myself to the tree and began my slow ascent. I asked Mary Jo to remove the ladder since it would be a hazard to Francis if he fell. Progress is slow in the best of situations, but this tree had numerous vines growing along the stem that complicated the process. It was a hot day too, so my clothes were soaked with sweat very quickly.
As I inched my way up to Francis, I talked to him, and he talked back. He looked so pitiful poking his head through the bars of his vine prison. It appeared that he would be receptive, and, indeed, when I finally reached him and held out my hand to him, he sniffed it and appeared satisfied that I was a friendly guy. He remained calm and watched me as I struggled through the vines to get closer to him. I got a little closer and petted him, and he pushed his head into my hand. He was perfectly comfortable with my touch, so I felt confident now that I could get him in the cat bag.
Before trying to bag him, I needed to cut some of the vines out of our way. As I was cutting them, he surprised me as he started to go down the stem head-first. He was now in a precarious position, and it was only the support of the vines around him that kept him from falling. I don't know if something spooked him, or if he was suddenly afraid of me or if he was trying to come down to my lap. Regardless, I needed to act fast before he fell. I did not have the cat bag on my arm yet, so I just reached over and picked him up and struggled to get him through the vines and onto my lap. He seemed okay with that at first, and I spent a little time just petting him to calm him down. As I reached for my cat bag, he unexpectedly stepped down on the stem again as if he was afraid of me and trying to get away. Again, he was in a precarious position, so I quickly put the cat bag on my arm, and then I picked him up again to put him on my lap.
I tried to grab his scruff, but I could not get a secure grip. I used both hands to part the curtain of vines and grab him any way I could to pull him back up toward me. It was difficult to get his four legs and my arms through the vines, but I eventually managed to get him back up on my lap. Again, I spent a minute just calming him down and petting him. When I felt the time was right, I tried to grab his scruff so that I could lift him and pull the bag over him. For some reason, however, I could not get a grip on his scruff. It was slippery, and I could not hold him for more than a few seconds at a time as his scruff slowly slipped out of my grasp. I was not going to be able to lift him, so I worked to pull the bag under him from the rear instead. He was complaining and making some moves to get away from me, but he did not fight very hard, and I was able to get the bag completely around him. We were both out of breath, but he was now securely in the bag.
I brought him down to the ground and handed him to Mary Jo. She took him home and released him there. He seemed a bit surprised to find himself suddenly at home, but relieved nonetheless. She fed him some canned food and added water to it to help him get hydrated.
As I brought him down to the ground, I could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. That surprised me, since no rain had been forecast. But I could see the clouds forming, and I felt relieved not only to get Francis in the bag, but also to finish the rescue before a thunderstorm arrived. Indeed, on my way home, I drove through a heavy downpour just one mile away. Fortunately, Francis was safely inside now and recovering from his night of misery. A little while later, as Francis was sleeping, Mary Jo took this picture of him and sent it to me. He will be fine now.