Sunday, November 20, 2011

The cat in the tree

The skinny little tree was only about 30 feet tall and growing in the middle of a swamp. Recent flooding had surrounded it with water several feet deep. And yet somehow an orange cat had managed to climb it. He was perched precariously: when I first saw him, he was jammed into the fork of two branches, and his every movement made the little tree bend. I was riding with an animal rescue service, and we had been called out to get the cat out of the tree. It was supposed to be a simple job of using climbing gear to get up the tree; the rescue driver was trained to do jobs like this. But this tree was never going to bear her weight. It could barely hold the cat. Even getting to the tree was going to involve wading through waist-deep water in the chilly November weather.

The cat was glad to see us. He made eye contact and meowed, clearly asking for help. But it was not immediately clear how to help him. We talked about our options, and eventually decided that we were going to have to call back to the shelter for assistance. The rescue driver called her boss, but initially failed to convince him that she couldn’t just climb the tree. She eventually had to photograph the situation on her phone and send him that as proof that the tree couldn’t support a ladder, and that trying would just knock the cat off so that he would fall 30 feet into the cold water.

As we watched and talked about what to do, took photos and made phone calls, the cat eventually stopped talking to us. I think he gave up on us. A few minutes later, he decided to change positions. I think his legs were getting tired of holding him up. After all, we had no idea how long he had been up there; a good samaritan had phoned about him about an hour previously, but the road we were standing on was small and rarely used, so he could have been there unnoticed for hours. I also think he was trying to assess his situation, see if he could take matters into his own hands and find his own way down, since we were clearly useless.

As he moved around on the little tree, it bent terrifyingly. Unable to help ourselves, the rescue driver and I yelled “No, stay still!” up at the cat. This had about as much effect as you’d expect. But he managed not to fall. Over the next thirty minutes, waiting for help to arrive, we watched as he periodically moved around and tried to find a way down. We became worried enough about him that the driver put on her dry-suit and made her way down to the water so that she could fish him out if he fell.

Finally, as the light was failing, our help arrived, in the form of the driver’s boss who had driven down from Boston. Now things started to move quickly. As the cat watched with trepidation, the driver got into the water (in her dry-suit) with a big net; I hovered with another big net; and the driver’s boss attached ropes to the little tree. He pulled, and the tree bent towards the roadway where we stood. The cat braced himself, then, when he was only about ten feet off the ground, jumped. I swung with the net and missed. We watched as the cat ran at top speed away from us down the long road and disappeared into the night.

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