The call came one afternoon from a woman who was worried about the neighbor’s cat. She had heard the cat crying and followed the sound to the base of an ancient pecan tree and soon found the source of the sound. A female cat that belonged to her elderly neighbor was high in the tree, apparently afraid to climb down.
This situation isn’t uncommon. Many cats at some time in their lives learn too late that going up is much easier than coming back down and their desire for food usually eventually overrides their fear. We advised her to check back the next morning and see if the cat had come down and figured that was that.
The next morning she called back and said that the cat had indeed decided to move. Unfortunately it had moved further up the tree, not down. It was still crying and the woman was more worried, so we agreed to come out and see if we could coax the cat down.
When we arrived, the cat was about thirty feet off the ground out on the end of a large branch of the tree. We opened the smelliest canned cat food we could find, fish. We started by tossing some of the food up so that it lodged near her and she would smell it. Our hope was that the smell of the food would encourage her to move down a little on the branch to get to it, then we could keep tossing bits of food up on the branch a few feet lower each time. This plan seemed a lot less disgusting than it turned out to be. If you are wondering why this is, go out in your yard with a can of smelly fish canned cat food and toss it straight up over your head, then try to dodge the bits as they fall back down. Then try to dig them out of your hair and eyes while you try to throw even more of it up in the air. It doesn’t work very well.
When it became obvious that most of the food was going to end up not in the cat’s mouth, but in mine, I switched to plan “B”. I wasn’t sure what plan “B” was, but I had endured as much pulverized fish as I could. It turned out that plan “B” was to attempt to climb up the tree and get close enough to her to put braveness in her little feline heart and call her to me. This, too, seemed like a better idea than it turned out to be.
I don’t know if you have ever attempted to climb a pecan tree, but I don’t recommend it. For starters, there are no convenient little limbs to climb. There are only giant branches that are covered with smooth bark that makes it impossible to grip the tree. I also learned that it didn’t help that that particular branch had a pretty even coating of fish cat food on it. So there I was, twenty feet up on a limb, inching my way up only to slide back down time and time again. I forgot about the cat food in my hair and started noticing the streaks of cat food on my shirt and jeans. I smelled like a fish cannery. I could hardly stand my own stink at this point. Time for plan “C”.
I will skip the details of plan “C” because it was even less productive than plans “A” and “B”. Suffice it to say that I am glad the old lady next door was hard of hearing because I would have been extremely embarrassed for her to hear the unsavory things that I told her cat.
We called it a day and I went home to de-fish myself and figure out what to do next. While I was doing that, the lady called to say that the cat had finally moved off that branch…and climbed to the top of the tree. I called a local tree service and explained the situation to the friendly fellow who answered who chuckled and then said “I can bring my bucket truck, but I’m not grabbing a cat out of a tree. I made that mistake once and don’t plan to do it again. If you want to go up and grab it, I’ll get you up there”. So I had plan “D”.
The next morning we met the man with the bucket truck and he explained what he had in mind. “You get in the bucket up there and I will guide it up and get you as close to the cat as I can.” he said. “Then when you get close enough, you can grab it and I will bring you back down.” Simple enough, I thought. “One more thing,” the nice fellow said, “have you ever been in a bucket on a boom truck?” I admitted I hadn’t. He chuckled a little and said “It’s a bit like a roller coaster only you don’t have a seatbelt. It tends to drop five or ten feet and leave your heart where it was. But don’t worry, I won’t dump you out.”
“I’m not worried”, I lied, “I mean…I’m kind of terrified of heights, but I just won’t look down.” He looked at me for a few seconds and said “OK then, up you go!”
I grabbed a pet carrier and climbed up onto the roof of the boom truck and climbed into the bucket. It was deeper than I thought it would be and I couldn’t imagine how anyone could worry about falling out. I was feeling pretty confident as it eased up and I rose up smoothly beside the tree, moving higher and higher…and higher…and wow…that cat was pretty far up there! I remembered my promise not to look down and immediately looked down. Big mistake. The massive truck that had looked to be the size of a house when I was climbing up on it looked like a mailbox at the end of this completely inadequate looking fiberglass boom that I was trusting my life to. I began to feel queasy. The truck operator noticed me looking down and waved. He looked like a happy insect. “How we doing?” he yelled, and he was so far away that I could barely hear it. I gave him a shaky “thumbs up” and the bucket kept rocketing skyward.
I was just starting to get some braveness in my heart when it stopped. Well, it didn’t exactly stop. It lurched suddenly, abruptly stopped, and dropped straight down about ten feet. My feet lifted off the floor of the bucket and I grabbed frantically at the completely inadequate handles on the side of the entirely too shallow bucket that some maniac had put on the end of this boom. What were they thinking when they built this thing? Before I could formulate a proper curse, it lurched back up ten feet and then started sweeping side to side. I was sure that the operator had either died suddenly of a heart attack and was laying on the controls, or he was really a psychotic maniac who lured innocent people into his bucket truck and entertained himself by slinging them around until they die of a heart attack.
When the insanely springy boom finally settled down and I quit bobbing and weaving around the treetop, I realized that the cat was resting in the crook of two limbs not more than three feet from me. I timidly reached out to see if I could grab it, but was about a foot shy of being close enough. I then heard the voice of that evil, psychotic man who was trying to kill me drifting up through the tree saying “Hang on…I’ll get you closer.” right before the bucket lurched straight at the tree, coming mere millimeters from it, before lurching back eight feet the other direction. This started a new round of bouncing back and forth and I began wondering if I timed it just right, maybe I could grab onto the limb and hang on like the cat was doing until someone could come and rescue me. The braveness, along with most of my blood had left my heart.
The gyrations of the boom eventually settled down and when I opened my eyes, I was a mere foot from the cat. In retrospect, that was an amazing piece of operation by the maniac at the controls, but at the time I just wanted to throw up and then huddle into a fetal position in the bottom of the bucket. But I had a job to do, and the only way to get down was to get the cat. Then I could huddle in the bottom of the bucket.
As I talked soothingly to that cat with a voice that sounded like I was falling over a cliff, I wondered how the terrified cat would react to someone grabbing it and trying to stuff it in a plastic pet carrier sixty feet off the ground. I know that if someone did that to me, we would both die. You know what they say…it isn’t the fall that does you in, but the sudden stop. I petted the cat and she seemed to trust me. That was her mistake.
I finally got up the nerve to grab her. I was rubbing her back and I slowly moved my hand to the back of her neck and got a handfull of fur and skin. Cats are born with a built-in pinch point in their necks. When a mother cat picks up a kitten with her mouth by the back of their neck, it activates a nerve that causes the kitten to go limp and be unable to squirm or protest this rather rude method of carrying it around. That, I thought, was lucky for me as I grabbed her scruff and suddenly tugged her towards me.
It turns out that cats don’t really retain that built-in pinch point thing as adults. Also, their skeletons are made of rubber and they are the only animal that I know of that have twenty switchblade razors built into their feet, which she immediately engaged. She was terrified and I was terrified and we had a real difference of opinion about who was putting who in what box. She twisted and slashed at my arm, but I was ready and I dropped her tail-first into the carrier which was standing on end and slammed the door shut. She curled up in a fetal position in the bottom of the bucket and cursed my linage between attempts to spit on me, but she was too weak from lack of food and water to really put up much of an argument. I was done! Or so I thought.
I turned around, leaned over the edge of the bucket and waved to the nice fellow at the controls. He waved back and then the manic swung me wildly away from the tree and dropped me twenty five feet in one second. I may have blacked out, because the next thing I knew, I was coming in for a smooth touchdown on the top of the bucket truck. After making casual conversation in a voice that sounded like I was falling off a cliff long enough to get my legs to work, I climbed down from the bucket and onto the soft grass. I wanted to kiss the ground, but figured that would just make the psychopath chuckle some more, so I resisted the urge.
The cat was happy to be back on the ground as well. She tried to walk when I took her out of the carrier, but her legs were too weak. I could relate, but after lots of water and lots of fishy smelling food, she was her old self again. I gave her a stern talking to about the foolishness of climbing trees, thanked the nice man who loaned us his bucket truck, and we headed home.
Another successful rescue operation was complete!