After the tragic death of her infant son, Melinda suffered through devastating grief. She eventually found herself in need of something that would help her crawl out of the deep hole of grief and focus on something other than herself and her painful loss. Melinda decided she wanted a cat, and when she learned about a one-year-old cat that needed a new home because its owner had died, she decided that was the cat for her. The cat needed her, and she needed it, and that is how Smokey, the gray tabby boy, became Melinda's therapy cat. Leaning on each other, they both learned to adapt to the new realities that life had forced upon them, and they both developed a very strong bond with each other.

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.

Knowing that Smokey was highly food-motivated, I opened a can of food and offered it to him. He seemed somewhat interested, but would not make a move toward it. I put the food on the end of an extendable pole to place it closer to him, and this time he seemed more interested, but he would not take a bite. This boy who I thought would be an easy rescue is turning into a challenge.

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.

I let him eat a while, and I petted and scratched his back while he did so. I had already prepared the cat bag on my arm, so I was ready to bag him. Melinda had told me that he did not like carriers, so I did not want to put the carrier in front of him now and risk scaring him away. While he continued eating, I massaged his neck and gently pulled him off the limb while enclosing him in the bag. I secured him in the bag and brought him down.

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.