Kelly walked out into her backyard in Ocean Springs, Mississippi one morning and saw something unusual. There were two cats sitting in a tree at the back edge of her yard. She did not recognize either cat, and she did not have a cat of her own. She wondered if they would be able to get down on their own, and when she checked on them a little later, sure enough, one of the cats was gone. She gave the second cat more time to come down and kept checking on it, but he did not seem to be making any progress. More time passed, and still the cat was there. Kelly and her husband, Casey, tried to coax it down, and when that failed, they tried to think of other ideas. A friend of theirs climbed the tree without ropes or any safety equipment and tried to shake the cat out, but that, too, failed. Each morning, Kelly checked the tree and hoped that the cat would be gone, but he continued to cling to his place for six days. The only cat rescuer she could find anywhere close was Bob Reese in Starkville, Mississippi, but even though she knew that was too far away, she contacted him anyway just to see if he had any ideas. Bob referred her to me, since the drive would be much shorter for me.
When I first talked to Kelly on the phone, I was not feeling very optimistic about this rescue. She told me how the first cat in the tree talked to her quite a bit, but she had never heard the other remaining cat make a single sound. That is usually a sign of a feral, or at least neglected, cat. Then she sent me a picture of the tree, and I was disheartened to see that the cat was in the top junction of a thin tree. This was not going to be a pretty rescue. Given the circumstances, I thought the best outcome we could expect would be for the cat to jump out of the tree to get away from me.
When I arrived at the site and met Kelly, I found the site looked just as I had imagined from the picture. Access to the tree was limited by the other surrounding trees and vines. I had only one place to install my rope, and that was on a limb about 10 feet below the cat. I would have to climb up as high as my rope would allow and then switch to another slow, tedious and strenuous climbing technique in order to climb up the stem beyond that point to the cat.
As I approached the cat, I was watching him to see his reaction. I was expecting a feral cat and a feral cat reaction. While he was not happy to see me and gave me some verbal warnings, overall, his reaction seemed rather muted. He had no other place to go except small limbs, so he remained in place, even though I would expect a feral cat to go out on a limb anyway. I climbed up just as high as I could until I was just barely within reach of him. He sat there with his face behind the stem and just ignored me. He looked sleepy and exhausted, so perhaps he didn't have the energy to react strongly. He was a large black and white cat, and with my view of him from below, I could see that he was an intact male.
I tried to make friends with him, but I had a hard time just getting his attention. He would not look at me or my hand so close to him. I gently tapped his dangling foot and got no reaction. I reached a little higher and touched his shoulder, and, again, I got no reaction. I opened a can of food, and he had no reaction to the sound and would not even look at it. I eventually got him to look at the food by putting it directly under his nose, and he did sniff it, but that was all.
I did not bring my carrier up the tree with me, because I did not expect him to allow me to get this close. I asked Kelly down below to attach it to my rope, and then I pulled it up. I knew the chance was slim that he would go in it, but it was a chance I had to try. He has been in an uncomfortable position for six days now, so I hoped the sight of a flat place where he could stretch out comfortably would appeal to him. It didn't.
I was in no position to bag him, because I could not reach up high enough to touch his back or neck. I tried petting his shoulder to get him to bend down toward me a bit, but he just continued to sit still and ignore me. I needed to get higher, so I attached two more ropes to some small limbs just above us so that I could come a little higher and move a little more to my left to better reach him. Once I did that, I could finally reach his back. I touched his back for the first time, and, again, he did not react. I scratched his back and rubbed his neck, and he seemed to like that. When I rubbed the top of his head, he closed his eyes and really relaxed. This kitty is not feral, and now I felt I could bag him.
I massaged his scruff and slowly collected it in my grip and pulled him out of his perch. He grabbed onto the tree with the claws of his front legs, and I had to use my other hand to pull them loose. I was very pleased to see that he was not fighting me. He did not struggle or make a sound. I bagged him easily and brought him down.
Now that we had this unknown cat in the bag, we had to figure out what to do with him. Even though I knew it was highly unlikely that an intact cat would have a microchip, I scanned him anyway just to be sure, and, indeed, he did not. Kelly had been holding him in the bag, and he continued to stay calm. Kelly was planning to keep him contained at her house until she could get him to a vet and was making arrangements to borrow a large crate from a friend. In the meantime, she handed the cat to her son, Caden, who gently held the cat in his lap while waiting for her to return. When she returned, Caden reported that the cat was purring. He was still in the bag, but felt so safe and relaxed there in Caden's lap, that he started purring. We transferred the cat from the bag into an old, soft carrier that I brought along to leave with them. The cat remained calm in the carrier.
I packed up and left after reminding Kelly to check with the neighbors and the local Lost Pets Facebook page as well as the neighborhood website. When I was about an hour down the road toward home, Kelly sent me a text message saying she found the cat's owner who lived nearby. Unfortunately, the owner did not know his cat had been missing, even after six days. He took the cat out of the carrier and took it home with him without so much as a "thank you," and it appears that the cat will still be allowed to roam freely and remain unaltered. That is irresponsible pet ownership, of course, and it is the cat and the neighbors who will suffer as a result. Unfortunately, I have seen this much too often.