When Lindsey told me that her cat, Maybelline, was stuck in a tree again, I immediately flashed back to the painful memories of her first rescue which was difficult and frustrating. It was to be my third rescue in that one day, and the previous one had been very difficult and long and left me pretty drained. If Maybelline had been cooperative, it would have been an easy rescue, but she was afraid and went to extremes to avoid me. I was unable to rescue her before it became too dark, and I had to return the next morning. Again, she avoided me, and when she walked out too far to the extreme end of a branch, she overwhelmed the ability of the tiny limbs to hold her weight and fell to the ground.
At Maybelline's first rescue, I was expecting her to be friendly. At least this time I know in advance to expect her to avoid me and can plan the rescue accordingly. While I always strive to prevent a cat from falling out of the tree, I am especially challenged and motivated to make sure that does not happen a second time. While it is always a painful blow to my confidence and ego when the cat falls, it is a more painful blow to the cat's body as well as a risk of injury.
Lindsey's grandfather planted a row of several pine trees on the property 60 years ago, and those trees are very sizable now. On one of them, however, the top of the tree broke off in a storm long ago, and while it is the same size as the other trees in girth, it is shorter in stature at only 50 feet tall. That is the tree that Maybelline was in this time, and she was about 25 feet high on a short branch crying to me below when I arrived.
I knew that she would likely climb higher if she got spooked by anything, so I decided it would be best to climb the tree next to hers, get above her, swing over to her tree and then approach her from above to cut off her upward escape route. Even though the rope installation process made her nervous, it was happening far enough away in another tree, so she stayed where she was. And even though it made her nervous to see me climbing up that tree, again, I was far enough away that she did not see the need to climb higher. Once I was above her, I was feeling very good about my strategy. I pulled myself over to her tree and began to descend toward her. I could see her watching me and getting nervous, so I came down slowly and talked sweetly to her. I thought she might make an attempt to go down, but she didn't. She stayed there until I got just a little too close for her comfort.
At that point, she made an attempt to climb higher in the tree on the opposite side of the trunk from me. I quickly stuck my hand out above her to block her escape route, and she stopped.
She stayed there clinging vertically to the side of the trunk and was distressed that I was so close and she had no way out. I calmly lowered my hand down to her and gently touched her and gradually began to pet her. While she was getting a little relieved, she was still far from relaxed.
Maybelline and I were both in a bind. She was clinging to the side of the tree with no place to go and would not be able to hold on much longer. I was happy to have her in a position where I could easily grab her and bag her, but I did not have my cat bag ready. I was not prepared. In order to prepare the cat bag, I needed to pull my hand away giving her a clear escape path up the tree. I needed to get the bag ready quickly, so I pulled it out and over my hand as fast as I could. I was pleased to see that Maybelline was hanging there in place while I did so, but just as I finished pulling the glove over my hand, with a burst of energy, she climbed up the tree so fast that there was nothing I could do to stop her. If I had been properly prepared, or if she had delayed that climb just one more second, I could have easily bagged her, and this rescue would be over. Instead, a new, more difficult rescue is just beginning.
Now, Maybelline was about eight feet from the top of the tree sitting on a live branch that is attached to a trunk that is hollow and half dead. At the top of the tree is another large, live branch, but the structural support for that branch at the dead trunk was too weak to be trusted with any significant additional weight. I swung back over to the tree I climbed and climbed up higher until I was level with the top of Maybelline's tree and this untrustworthy branch. I threw a rope over it and used it to gently pull myself toward Maybelline, but I could see the entire top of the tree moving, and the risk of breaking off the entire top portion of the tree was just too great. The only way I could get into position close to Maybelline now was to climb up much higher to reposition my rope, go back down to the ground, install another rope very high in the tree on the opposite side of Maybelline's tree and then climb up again while attached to both ropes. I did not want to go to all that trouble, so I considered other alternatives.
From where I was, Maybelline was within reach of both my net and rescue pole. I ruled out the rescue pole because she was in a place where her movement was not restricted enough. She could easily either go up higher or walk far out on her very long branch before I could get the noose properly positioned and tightened around her. The net, however, was a possibility. If I position the net in such a way that I simultaneously block both of her escape routes, then I might be able to pin her against the trunk of the tree and slip the hoop of the net under her feet from the side. She was facing away from me and not looking in my direction at all, so I could get the net very close to her before she would even notice that it was coming. I decided to give the net a try.
As I had hoped, I managed to get the net close to her before she sensed that it was coming. When I put the net over her, however, I noticed that she was moving forward away from me, and I could see her head poking out from the net. Once I moved the net out to contain her, I now had the net horizontally flat over her instead of vertically against the trunk as I had planned. Before I could turn the net, she fell out from under it, and I watched helpless and horrified as she plummeted 40 feet to the ground below. As soon as she landed, she ran off a short distance and hid. Lindsey went over to check on her, but Maybelline ran toward the house and inside the door. Lindsey checked on her, and she seemed just fine. She started eating and drinking right away.
I was very relieved to hear that Maybelline survived the fall, but I don't know how many times this can happen before a kitty gets hurt. I feel lucky that none of my rescue cats that have fallen or jumped has been seriously hurt, but someday, this luck is going to end. I checked with Lindsey again later in the evening, and she reported that Maybelline is totally back to her normal self and sent this picture as proof.