Triple Play

"Excuse me. Did you say that there are three cats stuck in a tree?" The idea seemed so incredible and unlikely to me that I had to verify that I understood him correctly. "Yes," Jerry said. "There are two cats stuck in one tree, and a third cat is stuck in a separate tree about 20 feet away."

I was dumbfounded. I have heard of cases where two cats were stuck in a tree at the same time, but that is rare. Usually, they are sibling kittens or mama and kitten sticking together, but here was a case with three cats and all are unrelated. This must be a special record of some kind, and I could not wait to see it for myself.

Jerry lives next door to Donnie, and their houses are separated by a small ditch lined on both sides with trees. The cats were in trees that were on Donnie's side of the ditch, so when I arrived, they were both waiting for me in Donnie's driveway and motioned for me to park there. After introductions, they pointed out the cats to me. Closest to us was a black and white older juvenile about 30 feet high in the top fork of a sketchy-looking tree. This cat just showed up at Donnie's house a few weeks ago and made himself at home. Donnie and his wife do not want another pet, but they have been feeding him since he was such a friendly boy. They have not named him, but they sometimes referred to him as Mittens. Mittens' left ear is tipped which indicates that he was trapped, neutered, vaccinated and returned to where he was originally trapped, though we did not know where that might be. Mittens was the first to get stuck in the tree and has been there for three nights already.

Jerry and Donnie then pointed to another nearby pine tree where I saw two kittens perched close together about 30 feet high. They were both sitting in the middle of their limbs all exposed like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The larger of the kittens was an orange tabby that appeared to be about four or five months old. Donnie said that he first saw it about two weeks ago, and it has been hanging around since. It's left ear is also tipped, so it may have come from the same colony as Mittens. They did not have a name for it, so I will just call it Butterscotch.

The third kitten, a dilute torbie, was the smallest of the three and appeared to be about three months old. She had first appeared there the day before while Donnie was out looking at Mittens high in the tree and wondering what to do. She and Butterscotch were on the ground under a trailer when a neighbor's friendly, over-exuberant dog ran over to play. While the dog was not a threat to the cats, the cats did not know that, and they quickly ran up the same tree together for safety. In an instant, Donnie's already-perplexing problem of getting Mittens out of the tree became compounded and overwhelming. It was time to find some help, and, fortunately, Jerry found me through a trail of connections with other people on Facebook.

My first problem was deciding which cat to rescue first. Mittens had been in the tree the longest, and I would normally like to get him down first, but the tree he was in gave me some concerns. The limbless stem of the tree rose 30 feet where it forked into a "Y," and Mittens was in the crotch of that "Y." One side of that Y was dead, and the other side was not useful either. The only safe place to tie my rope in the tree was the same crotch that Mittens was in. I did not want to do that if at all possible, but that meant I would have to climb his tree using a very slow and strenuous method that would likely tire me out. With that in mind, I looked at the other two kittens and saw them both chattering away to us below. They looked like they would be cooperative and easy to rescue, so I decided to get them down first.

As I climbed up the pine tree to rescue the two kittens, the torbie went to the opposite side of the tree and walked all the way out to the end of a limb while Butterscotch climbed all the way up to the top of the tree. I sure was wrong about their willingness to be rescued. I climbed up to the torbie's limb, and she stayed as far back as she could while hoping I would not bother her. I talked to her and tried to coax her to me, but she was not having any of that. The limb she was on was not very long, but it was too small for me to go out to get her. I opened a can of food hoping to get her to come to me, but she did not show any interest. I put the food on an extendable pole so that I could reach it out closer to her, and when I did so, she seemed uncomfortable and would not look at it. I gently nudged it closer to her so she could smell it, and then she began to show some signs of interest. After a minute or so, she sniffed it and then took a bite. I pulled the food back a few inches to get her to come toward me, and after a little while, she did so and took another bite. We spent the next several minutes there playing this game as I tried to lure her closer to me. I could get her to come within my reach, but when my hand got too close, she would go back out to the end of the limb again. Normally, I like to pet the cat before I scruff and bag it, but she was not allowing that. So, on her fourth trip up the limb to me, I decided to do a quick grab. She seemed resigned to being captured and did not complain as I pulled the bag over her.

Since I was expecting these two cats to be easy to rescue, I did not have my rescue pole or long-handle net available. It appeared that Butterscotch was going to be even less cooperative than the torbie, so I decided to take the torbie down to the ground first, get the pole and net ready and then go back up for Butterscotch. Once on the ground, I released the torbie in a carrier and went to the truck to get my rescue pole and net. As I did so, I noticed how exhausted Mittens was looking, and I felt regret about not getting him down first. It also occurred to me that, if I was careful, I could probably install my rope in the same crotch of the "Y" where Mittens was without disturbing him very badly. With Butterscotch now at the top of the pine tree with closely spaced limbs that made climbing more difficult, suddenly my priorities changed, and I decided to go after Mittens next.

I installed another rope in the same crotch where Mittens was and did so without upsetting him very much. Since that worked out so well, I now wished I had chosen to rescue him first. While the structural integrity of the tree gave me some concerns, I climbed straight up to Mittens quickly and with no trouble. Mittens walked up the dead fork of the "Y" and watched me. He was not sure about me and wanted to keep some safe distance between us. I talked sweetly to him, but he was not impressed. By the time I showed some food to him, however, he began to feel more comfortable. He slowly stepped down the fork to the crotch where he sniffed both my hand and the food. While he did not appear to care for the food, it at least showed him that I was friendly. I put the food in the far back of the carrier and held it up to him. He slowly walked inside, and I closed the door and brought him down. Donnie took Mittens to the back yard where he is most comfortable and released him there.

Now, it was time to get the scaredy cat, Butterscotch.  I climbed back up the pine tree, squeezing myself and my gear between the limbs, until I could not go much higher. At that height, the trunk of the tree was smaller and began to sway in response to my weight. Butterscotch was still above me and slightly out of reach. Making friends with her appeared unlikely, so I could not get her to come to me, and the limbs between us would be very problematic obstacles for the rescue-pole or net. Though I knew she would not be interested in tasting any food, I offered her some just as a friendship gesture to calm her down. When I placed the food too close to her, she tried to climb even higher, and that is when I got a break. She lost her footing and slipped down the trunk to a point right in front of my face. While she was still holding tightly onto the trunk, I calmly petted her for a few seconds to reassure her, and then I grabbed her by the scruff, pried her claws off the tree and put her in the bag. I was unable to get any pictures of her, but she looked very much like the kitty pictured here.

After a few minutes on the ground and feeling safe again, Butterscotch and Mittens were enjoying milling about and sniffing things on the ground. Mittens especially seemed to enjoy rolling around in the dead leaves, and I enjoyed watching him. The torbie, however, was still stuck in a carrier and getting impatient. Since she was not ear-tipped, I wanted to take her to the vet to get spayed and vaccinated. I took her to the vet clinic where they boarded her for the night and spayed her the next day. When I was checking the kitten in, I was asked for the cat's name, but I had not yet thought about that. I asked the girl checking me in to name it, and she said "Alexis." So, Alexis it is.

I was extremely fortunate that Andrea Bryant-Young with Pets and Wildlife Sanctuary (PAWS) in Denham Springs offered to foster Alexis until she is ready for adoption. Lexie, as Andrea calls her, is now in her care recovering from her surgery and doing well. Lexie is a cautious girl, but in Andrea's care, she will learn very fast to get comfortable with people. I know she is in good hands and should be ready for adoption in a few weeks. Andrea does great work, and I would encourage you to visit the PAWS website to learn about all the good work they do. I would also encourage you to make a donation, as I have, to help them cover all the many expenses they accumulate.

Every cat rescue is unique, but this case was especially unusual. So, you would think that I would have lots of good video and pictures to show. Unfortunately, I don't. Due to an incompetent videographer and technical problems with the camera, I managed to record only the first rescue of Lexie, very little of Mittens and nothing of Butterscotch or their playful antics after the rescue. I know I should fire the videographer, but he's such a nice guy, and I really can't do without him.