I know better than most people just how important a pet cat can be to a person. I fully understand that, when I rescue a cat in a tree, I am also rescuing the owner as well. That is one of the reasons I do this. Knowing that the rescue is so important and meaningful to the cat owner makes it that much more meaningful and rewarding for me. Many times, it is very easy to see how the owner feels after the rescue because they show their joy or great relief or tears, but many times, they do not show their feelings on the outside regardless of what they may feel inside. And sometimes, I focus so much on the cat during the rescue that I fail to think about the owner afterward.
Yesterday, I rescued a black cat named Abby for Linda. Abby is four years old and has lived happily with Linda since she was a four-week-old kitten. Abby got stuck about 15 feet high in the next-door neighbor's sweet gum tree and had been there only half a day when Linda gave up on her efforts to get her down and called me. The rescue was simple and quick, taking all of two minutes once I started to climb. Abby was skittish and did not want to have anything to do with me, so, once I was level with her, she decided to get away from me and go down the tree. She climbed down head-first as best she could for the first six feet or so and then was forced to jump to the ground from there. She was not very high and landed on soft ground, and she appeared to be just fine as she ran out of sight toward home a very short distance away.
I packed my gear and was loading it into the truck while talking with Linda. Abby was hiding outside somewhere, and Linda was concerned about her coming home. I told her that most cats will hide until they feel it is safe to emerge and that I expected Abby would come out in an hour or two. Up to this point, Linda had been clearly concerned about her cat but was not overtly emotional. But then her eyes welled up and in a tense, breaking voice she told me that her husband had died just three weeks ago. Then in that instant I knew just what this cat meant to her, and that she feared losing it too. My heart erupted with ache for her. I wanted to hug her, but I was so sweaty and stinky that I held back. I should have hugged her anyway; I think she would have understood.
In that moment, this simple, routine rescue of a cat that had been stuck for only half a day suddenly became profoundly meaningful. Linda had suffered much more than Abby had, but up to that time, I had been focused on Abby and was completely blind to Linda's feelings. I wonder how often I have left a rescue too soon without ever learning about the significance of the rescue to the owner. I wonder how much was left unsaid. I am grateful to Linda for telling me what this meant to her so that I am not oblivious to at least that part of all the drama of life that is silently unfolding all around us, and I wish there were more that I could do to ease her grief. Linda wanted to pay me for this rescue, but that would have felt so wrong and backward for me. I felt so grateful and honored that I could do this for her, and even though I know it was very meaningful and helpful to her, I still felt like I had not done enough.
About two hours after the rescue, Linda sent this picture to me with the news that Abby was home and safe. I was very relieved to hear that and know that Linda could now relax knowing she did not have to suffer another tragic loss. And it was good to see that Abby was clearly happy to be home. Since Abby was on the opposite side of the tree trunk from me for such a short time, I never got a good look at her. I could see either her butt on one side or her head peering around the other side but never the whole cat. That is why I have so few pictures of her to share here. But I will well remember her and this quick, routine rescue that was anything but routine.