Sylvester's rescue story deserves special attention, because his case illustrates just how serious and tragic it can be when a cat gets stuck in a tree. Sylvester is lucky. He is fine, because he was rescued quickly, but for other cats who get into this particular situation, the results can be deadly.

Most of the time, when a cat gets stuck in a tree, he can move around, walk out a limb, or even climb higher, but he is stuck only in the sense that he does not know how to climb down. Sometimes, however, a cat can get wedged into a tight, vertical fork of the tree and be unable to escape it. His front legs dangle on one side, and his back legs dangle on the other. He is trapped in the fork and cannot get out of it. The more he struggles to get out, the deeper he sinks into the fork, and the tighter it squeezes his body. His front legs are unable to push his body upward, because he can't get a good grip on the vertical surface of the stem below him. His front claws don't help because they curve upward. His back legs have the same difficulty getting a firm hold on the vertical surface of the stem below him even though those claws are curving downward. This is especially a problem on trees with smooth bark, such as a Crepe Myrtle. Sometimes, a cat may be able to twist his body around enough to reach above him and pull himself out that way, but that is not always possible.

I have seen only a few cases like this and heard of a few others, and it seems to be most common for the cat to get wedged with the fork constricting his waist. Blood flow is restricted so much that the back end soon becomes paralyzed. Sometimes, the constriction may  squeeze poop out the back end. If the cat can be rescued in minutes, he will likely be fine. If he is rescued in hours, his back end will be temporarily paralyzed, but he may be able to recover fully if given immediate veterinary care. I know of one case where the cat was stuck in a tight fork for 24 hours and recovered fully after four days and excellent veterinary care. After being stuck more than 24 hours, recovery is less likely, but every situation, every cat, every tree is different. Cats stuck in a tree in the usual sense will usually fall out of the tree eventually, but when they are wedged in a tight fork, they will never fall. Unless they are rescued, they will die there.

This is what happened to Sylvester, except the tight fork of the tree was constricting his chest instead of his waist. I have never seen a case like this before, and, at first, I assumed that the structural support of the rib cage would be of benefit in preventing severe restriction of blood flow. I don't know if that is true or not, nor do I know to what degree it restricted his heart or lung capacity. But even if it had no effect, Sylvester was still stuck and in need of rescue.

Fortunately, Sylvester was not stuck in the tight fork very long. When I first arrived, he was 50 feet high and moving around freely and was definitely not stuck in the tight fork. However, a few minutes before I began to climb, I heard him make a distressing cry. I was directly under him at that time and could not see him through the undergrowth of the woods. I have heard that cry before when a cat is losing its footing and fears it will fall, so I assumed that was what was happening to Sylvester. That was probably the time when he sank into the tight fork, and I began to climb up to him just a few minutes later. From that moment to the time when I rescued him, no more than 30 minutes could have elapsed, and it was probably significantly less time than that.

I could not see Sylvester and did not know he was now wedged in a tight fork until I climbed up to him. As I got near him, I saw him move his back legs in a futile effort to free himself, and my heart sank. It is such a pitiful and heart-breaking sight, and suddenly this rescue became more urgent. He is normally not happy to see strangers, so I did not want to go so fast as to frighten him more. I proceeded as quickly as I could without causing him any more distress, but I still tried to be calm and relaxed even though I didn't feel that way.

I took time only for the briefest of introductions with a gentle pet on the back which I hoped would reassure him. I prepared the cat bag on one arm and then used my other hand to support his back legs and gently lift his back end. The cat bag hand then grabbed him by the scruff, and I lifted his whole body together with both hands and then put him in the bag. Except for grabbing the tree with a front paw, he offered no resistance or complaint. In fact, he was so motionless, I was concerned that he was unable to move his legs. I worried that he might be paralyzed even after that short time, or, perhaps, he was just too exhausted to move, or, perhaps, he was just resigned to defeat. I don't know. I held him in my lap for a minute to reassure him and let him know he was safe, and then I took him down to the ground.

Laura was waiting for me on the ground, and she took Sylvester inside to release him. She said he walked a little funny at first, but soon settled back into his routine and appeared fine. She found a spot on both back legs that was rubbed raw, probably from his futile efforts to push himself out of the tight fork. Two days later, she reported that he is still doing well and even keeps trying to escape the house again. This was his second rescue, and you would think that a cat that had twice been chased up a tree by a big dog would be at least a little hesitant to go outside again. You're a lucky cat, Sylvester, and you had better not push your luck any further.

Technical Note:
The tree Sylvester was in had partially fallen during hurricane Ida a little over two months earlier and was being supported by another tree. I inspected both trees beforehand to determine if they were safe to climb. The leaning tree had a weak connection at the base of its stem with another stem of the same size, and, even though that connection failed during the hurricane, the tree remained firmly rooted. The base of the tree was in no danger of moving or rolling to one side or the other. The tree was still living, and the entire tree trunk was still sound. The tree had large limbs that came to rest on both sides of the supporting tree, so it would have been very difficult to force the tree to fall to either side of the supporting tree. The support tree itself was also sound and showed no sign of fractures caused by the weight of the leaning tree. When I installed my rope, I tested the tie-in point with twice my weight and was unable to move either the leaning tree or the supporting tree. With that knowledge and the fact that hurricane Ida was unable to send the tree all the way to the ground, I felt comfortable climbing it.