After rescuing numerous cats in trees, I have learned two very important lessons about patience. The first lesson is that patience is a virtue that will be rewarded with a safe and gentle rescue. The second lesson is that patience is just a big waste of time. The lesson I can't seem to figure out is how to determine ahead of time when patience is a virtue or a waste. How can I look at an uncooperative cat in a tree and determine if he will eventually warm up to me in 15 minutes or not in a million years?
That is the question I had about Crazy, the two-year-old gray tabby that was stuck in a tree next to a wild, overgrown creek behind his backyard. As always, I asked many questions about him beforehand to help me predict the likelihood of befriending him, but the answers I got were either contradictory or revealed a borderline friendly-skittish personality. I didn't know what to expect, but I was hopeful I could make friends with this boy and bring him down in a peaceful and gentle manner.
Crazy was only 20 feet up the tree, but because the tree was at the edge of an embankment that led steeply down to the creek bed below, and Crazy was about 10 feet out on a branch, he was about 30 feet above the ground at that point. Crazy had settled on the first available branch of the tree, but the branch was dead or dying and could not be trusted to support my weight.
I climbed up the tree next to the trunk in a very slow and relaxed manner, because I did not want to give Crazy any reason to fear me. I spoke to him and he frequently spoke back, but he remained in his spot about 10 feet away. I inched my way a little higher over time as I felt he would allow it, and I was eventually level with him. He remained in place and appeared neither more worried about me nor more friendly toward me. It was time to move the needle in the friendly direction, so I opened a can of food for him. He is supposed to be very highly food-motivated, so I felt confident that this would break the ice.
Unfortunately, the food made no difference, and he sat there unimpressed. I put the food at the end of an extendable pole and held it closer to him so he could consider it with the safety of a long distance between us. He did give it a good sniff, but, rather than taste it, he decided it was time to put more distance between us, so he turned around and walked another 10 feet out to the end of the branch.
I was disappointed but not hopeless. I pulled myself over to where I could stand on his branch at the trunk and considered my options. I tried to lure him closer to me with the food again, but that failed. If I can't get him to come to me, I will have to go out closer to him, so I looked at the tree to see if it would allow me to support myself in a way that would let me get closer to him without putting all my weight on the dead branch. I didn't want to use the rescue pole on him, but that was looking more like the next viable option. I did not even prepare the rescue pole for this rescue, so I went back down to get it from the truck, attached it to my rope to pull up later, and climbed back up the tree again.
Before progressing straight to using the rescue pole, I wanted to be sure I had given Crazy every chance to make friends with me. I tried luring him to me with food, but when that failed, I decided to try ignoring him. I turned my back to him and resisted the urge to turn my head toward him. I waited for a few minutes, and he began to walk slowly toward me. I had set the food bowl out at arm's reach as an added incentive, and Crazy walked all the way up to it, but stopped there without even sniffing it. This was the closest we had been, and I calmly glanced at him but continued to ignore him. He seemed to be reasonably comfortable but still wary, and I was not sure what he was thinking. It didn't seem to be the food that attracted him here, so what was it? I glanced at him and slowly reached my hand in his direction but still a couple of feet away from him. He did not like that, and he turned around and walked all the way back out to the end of the branch.
If he came that close to me once, then he will probably do it again and, hopefully, get a little more comfortable with me. So, I waited for him to do that again while I ignored him. After a few minutes, he repeated his little trip down the branch toward me, and, again, he stopped in the same place as if pondering what to do. It then occurred to me that he might want to run down the branch past me. I was supported by ropes from above and was leaning out a good bit with my feet resting more on the side than the top of the branch, so he may have seen a clear escape path down the branch back toward the trunk out of this dead-end trap he was now in. I don't know if that is what he was thinking or if he was just too scared to try it, but, for whatever reason, he turned around and went back out to the end of the limb.
I decided to give him one more try. If he decided to try to run past me, I would be ready to grab him. Again, I turned my back to him and ignored him, and, again, he eventually returned just as before. But, he did not try to slip past me, and he was still too afraid of me to make friends, so back he went to the end of the branch.
Okay, enough of this patience. It's time to bring this to an end. I pulled up my rescue pole and net, got into a more secure position a little closer to him, and practiced the maneuver a couple times to be sure I was ready. Then I reached out to him to slip the noose around him. I was pleased that he had no fear of the noose and my attempts to get it around him. With him facing me and no foliage on this dead branch to block my view of him, I could clearly see when the noose was in the proper position immediately behind both front legs. I tightened the noose and began to pull him closer to me. He resisted by grabbing the branch with his claws, but I pulled him loose and quickly shoved him into a net. I released the noose and secured him in the net with no trouble. He was not happy, but he was not furious. He complained a little, but quickly settled down in the net while I prepared to take him back down to the ground.
Back on the ground, I handed him to Ashley who took him inside the house to release him. Ashley's sister, Stephanie, and their mother, Camilla, were all very thankful and grateful to have Crazy safe and back home again. I have to hand it to them for waiting all this time for me to bring him down, because it had now been four hours since I arrived.
Had I been too patient? Would Crazy have made friends with me if I had given him one more chance? I sure would have liked to avoid the aggressive method of using the rescue pole, but would Crazy have given me any choice, and, if so, just how long should I wait? I don't know the answer, but this time at least, I had the time available and felt like I had a chance to make friends with the little guy. I wish I could tell from the start how it will go, but for now, I think I would rather take it on a case-by-case basis and err on the side of too much patience.
However long it took, the important thing now is Crazy is back on the ground safe and sound, and his family is very relieved.