I don't have any close pictures of this kitten to show to you, but, if you see him, don't be fooled by his cute face. This little gray tabby kitten is Trouble with a capital T, and I do mean Trouble. I arrived to rescue this unknown kitten thinking it would be a quick and easy rescue, but this troublesome stinker outsmarted me at every turn and forced me to climb this tree four times over three days before I could rescue him. It was as if he knew exactly what I was planning and knew exactly how to thwart it.
The saga started when Jonathan, a tennis instructor, called me about a kitten he found in a tree next to the tennis courts at a small neighborhood park. He had heard the kitten the day before but could not find it until now. Since he told me the kitten had been crying loudly, I just assumed it was tame. I asked if the kitten was looking at people down below or off into the distance when he was crying, but I don't remember getting a clear answer. That distinction is important, because it means the difference between a tame or feral kitten. Unlike adult cats, kittens, both tame and feral, will cry out for help, but feral kittens are crying for mama, not people, to rescue them.
When I arrived, the kitten was quiet, but all cats get tired and quiet, so I was not concerned about that. I climbed up to the kitten thinking it would be happy to see me, but well before I could get close, the kitten went farther out the limb making it clear that I was not a welcome sight. Since he was not going to let me get close, I went back down to the ground to prepare the rescue-pole and net and climbed back up to him again. This time, he scooted out to the wispy tips of the very long limb far out of my reach. The kitten was about 70 feet high at this point and hovering precariously over pavement, a large wooden sign, and tubular metal railing, all of which could be deadly if he fell. If I climbed higher and got into the highest safe spot in the tree, I might be able to reach him with the rescue-pole, though that was not clear. What was clear to me was that doing so would be extremely risky. Not only could the kitten slip out of the noose, but he could also fall just from my attempt to get the noose around him. The result could be fatal. The mantra, "First, do no harm" was playing in my head, and I felt that it was best to listen to that, abandon this rescue attempt, and, since it was getting dark, return the next day in hopes the cat would be in a better position.
The complicating factor was the weather since severe storms were forecast for late that night and the next morning. Even though one would think that a cat would get out of the tree in a hurry during a storm, especially a severe one, I have never seen that happen. They hang on tight and put up with the rain until it is all over, so I was expecting the kitten to be there the next day. I could not be positive, however. The severe weather moved slower than forecast, so the next morning I had time before the weather arrived to check on the kitten. He was still there, and, for the first time, I heard him crying. He was crying a sad and desperate cry out into the distance hoping his mama would hear him and come rescue him. But mama didn't come. The storm, however, did.
I watched the weather carefully and was pleased to see that it cleared just enough for me to go out there and possibly rescue the kitty before sunset. My plan, this time, was to set a trap for him in the tree, since that is the safest and best way to get a scared kitty out of a tree. I prepared the trap and climbed up to him again. As expected, he started moving away from me well before I got close to him, but, unexpectedly, he went up instead of out. He climbed the thin spire of the tip of the tree. He wasn't quite the star on top of the Christmas tree, but he was close. There was no way I knew to set up a trap for him now with him in that position. I had no other options, so, with the sun beginning to set, I went back down with the plan to return the next morning.
When I returned the next morning, I was surprised to find him on the opposite side of the tree. To get there, he had to come down quite a bit to get on that limb. He was on the safer side of the tree since, if he fell, he had soft ground below for a landing. The bad news, however, was that I could not put a trap in a workable position for where he was at that moment, since the angle of that limb was too steep. If he moved farther out the limb when I climbed up to him, as I would expect him to do, then I might have a place to put the trap. I prepared the trap and even the rescue-pole to be sure I was ready for his unpredictable behavior and climbed up to him. Again, the little stinker did the unexpected. This time, he stayed in place. He actually let me get much closer than before and still showed no signs of discomfort. I talked to him and watched his reaction, but he gave me no hint of what he was thinking. He just stared.
I climbed just a little bit higher, and at that point, I had breached his safe distance. He stood up and walked out a fairly short, horizontal limb instead of going up higher as I was expecting. This was the first good fortune I had, because I could place the trap on that limb and have an almost-guaranteed chance of success. He would have no place to go except in the trap unless he fell.
Where he was standing at the end of the limb was not a secure spot. Every movement that the wind and I made caused the tip of the limb to sway and bounce, so he came back toward me a little bit where the limb was slightly larger and more stable. He was still well out of my reach and felt a safe distance there, but we were still closer together than ever before. Yet, I noticed he seemed fairly calm. Maybe it was exhaustion I was seeing, but, whatever it was, it occurred to me that he might now be receptive to some food. I opened a can, dumped it in a container, and used a pole to reach it out to him. I held it near him, and I was pleased to see he did not turn away from it. It took a minute for him to get a sniff and become interested in it. Then he stood up and moved closer to it. He sniffed some more and slowly stretched his head closer until he could taste it. I let him have a couple bites and then pulled the food closer to me. He followed the food cautiously and slowly, but he liked it enough to overlook that scary dude in the tree. I was so pleased to see him follow the food right up to me where I could touch him if I dared. I did dare, and I gave him a gentle stroke down the neck and back. He looked up at me and hissed, but he stayed there and returned to eating. I was so surprised to see this working that I had not prepared the cat bag on my arm. I set the food down in a stable spot on the limb and quickly used both my hands to prepare the cat bag while he continued eating. Again, I dared to give him a gentle stroke over the neck and back, and, this time, he gave me a more pronounced hiss and stare. As he did so, one of us, not sure which, accidentally knocked the food off the limb, and I decided to grab him quickly while I could. I quickly lifted him off the limb and pulled the bag over him while he hissed and fussed, and that is how our three-day saga in a tree finally came to an end.
There was just one small matter remaining to consider: what do I do with him? This is an unadoptable feral kitten. Socializing him, if it's possible, takes a dedicated and patient person a long period of time, and, even if I can find someone to take that responsibility, what about the next one and the next one? With no sign of siblings or a mama cat at the site, he may be displaced, possibly a stowaway in someone's car from anywhere that stopped at the site where the kitten jumped out. Returning him, neutered and vaccinated, to that site would hardly be ideal. I hate to think that I ended this cat's suffering in the tree only to sentence him to another kind of suffering elsewhere. He won't be happy in a shelter environment, and he is too young to survive well in the wild on his own. If we, individuals and organizations alike, were not all so overwhelmed with the immense over-population of needy cats, we could probably find someone who would want to take this one case. Maybe, in spite of that reality, there is someone out there who wants to save this kitten. If so, he is currently at Companion Animal Alliance (CAA), and his impound number is 128076. I am grateful to CAA for taking this little kitten and giving him a chance, and I appreciate all the work they do. They can't save them all, but maybe someone out there will want to save this kitten.
When I arrived to rescue the kitten that third day, I noticed that someone had dumped a pile of cat food at the base of the tree. Every time a cat gets stuck in a tree, someone always tells you to put some food at the base of the tree, and the cat will come down. Oh, if only it were that easy! I think of all the trouble I go to to rescue these kitties, and then I feel so stupid for not learning that there is an easy way to do it. No! Food at the base of the tree does NOT work to bring a cat down. The cat does not need that motivation to go down. He is already desperately motivated to go down, but he just doesn't know how. Food on the ground does not suddenly teach him how to climb down. What is worse, if a predator or another cat chased the cat up the tree in the first place, all the food does is give them a reason to hang around. Even if the cat knows how to climb down, he will not do it if the threat on the ground is still there. So, putting food at the base of the tree is not only useless, it's actually counter-productive. Whoever put that food at the base of this tree will likely return to the site to find that the cat is no longer in the tree and then conclude that the food worked and take credit for the rescue. And sometimes cats fall down or come down on their own, especially overnight, but the food on the ground had nothing to do with it. Even though there is no causal relationship, people will continue to believe there is. Oh, I wish it were that easy.
I am very happy to report that Rescue Me Animal Welfare Society has tagged this kitten at CAA and will be taking him into a great new home. This is the best thing that could have happened to this kitten, and I am thrilled to know that he will be getting excellent care and attention for the rest of his life. Please show your appreciation by donating to them via PayPal at email address firstname.lastname@example.org using the friends and family option.