Smokey is four years old now and has been with Melinda for three years. Smokey is an inside cat, but Melinda does allow him some supervised outdoor time on pretty days. This time, however, Smokey somehow slipped off and got himself stuck in the next-door neighbor's tree. Melinda and her neighbor, Ashley, both tried to coax him down, but Smokey did not have a clue about how to climb down the tree. They called the Fire Department, and they actually came out but were unable to help, because Smokey was beyond the reach of their ladder.
Melinda's friend, Natasha, put out a plea for help on Facebook, and through that post, Melinda learned about me. By that time, however, Smokey had spent the night in the tree, and Melinda had spent the entire, sleepless night worried about him. When I arrived that morning, I could see the strain on Melinda's face, and I could tell this was more than "just a cat" to her.
Smokey was a little over 30 feet high in the tree, and if I could have simply climbed up to him without any preparation, he probably would have happily greeted me. My rope installation process, however, scared him, so when I climbed up to him, he was very reluctant to trust me. He stayed in his spot on the limb about six feet away from me and would not come any closer.
At this point, I should have remembered the lesson I have often learned about how cats will respond to food in these situations. There are some cats that will run straight to me when I show them the food, and they don't care who I am, but most cats won't come toward me until they have learned to trust me first. Trust overrules hunger. At that point, I should have worked more to earn Smokey's trust by getting closer in a non-threatening way so that he could eventually get a sniff of my hand. Instead, I wasted more time by trying to entice him with food. Eventually, I caught on, and I noticed the small gestures he made, such as rubbing his head along the branch, that told me that I could easily make friends with this boy.
I reached my hand out to him as far as I could, and now he was ready to stretch down a bit to sniff it. He sniffed a long time, and when he was done, I pulled my hand back again. He thought about this new information he now had about me, and stretched down to me to sniff it again. This time I gently touched his cheek with one finger. This small, close contact is what made the difference. After that, he came closer and let me pet him. Now that he trusted me, he was ready for that food, so he walked all the way down the limb to me and began to eat.
When I handed the bag with Smokey inside to Melinda, she thanked me, and as the relief of the stress from this ordeal began to melt away with Smokey now safely in her arms, she began to cry. Smokey is not "just a cat." He means more to her than that. She continued to thank me as she walked toward home to release Smokey. I don't enjoy seeing someone cry, but I do like knowing that the cat means enough to them to make them cry. It is that much more meaningful and rewarding to me to know that I have restored a very important relationship and bond, and I feel good about that.