'Patches' - A difficult Rescue

(July 2013)

Executive Summary

5 hours, three trees, and finally "Patches" the momma kitty was on the ground. Whew.

Details - The Initial Attempt

At about 10:00 am on a Tuesday morning, I received a call from Mr. H that "Patches", an adopted momma kitty, had been stuck in a tree since Sunday (Mr. H was directed to me by Lee County Animal Control). All previous rescue attempts by Mr H. (70 yrs young), his wife (60+), and their daughter had been unsuccessful to this point. I was free that day, so I made the drive up to Mr. H's house located in the country near Saltillo, MS which is a little over an hour north from Starkville. I drove through heavy rain and thunderstorms on the way up, and it was still raining a bit when I arrived at noon. On arrival, I noticed some young cats playing under a garage, and that Mr. H and his son were waiting for me. After introductions, I told Mr. H that I would like to wait until the rain slacked before climbing but that I wanted to see the tree. Mr H. explained that Patches and her kittens had been adopted by them about 8 months previously; Patches had subsequently been spayed and vaccinated, but was very skittish and only responded well to his wife. This depressed me a bit as I thought it would be unlikely that Patches would let me get close to her (hint: this is known asforeshadowing). We walked to a heavily wooded lot (a mixture of pine and hardwood) that he owned next door, and arrived at a pine tree with a blue tarpaulin spread underneath it. Mr. H told me that Patches was stuck on a limb about 30 feet up that ran horizontal for about 10 feet, then went up at a steep angle about 4-to-6 feet, then flattened out again, and that Patches was on the second flat part. I heard Patches crying as we walked up, and by some miracle, Patches had made her way to the crotch right next to the trunk. Patches was aptly named, one eye was ringed with white fur and the other with black. Patches was a very small, lightweight kitty and she would use this to her advantage as the day progressed. Because Patches was right next to the main trunk, I wanted to try the rescue right away despite the rain. I had to use spikes as I did not want to scare Patches by trying to install a climbing line. I made my way up the tree, and got right below Patches but she moved out of reach away from the trunk to where the vertical section started to rise. At that point, I wanted to add a second lanyard to the limb so that I would have something other than my spikes and trunk lanyard holding me, so I put a lanyard around the limb. Unfortunately, this spooked Patches and she climbed the vertical section and went back out to the second flat section. We tried calling and also bribing with cat food but she would not budge, so I decided to call it quits until the rain completely stopped. I went back down the tree and left a throw line around the limb for easy installation of the climbing rope for the next attempt.

The Second Attempt

At about 1:30, the rain quit and radar showed that it had moved south. Mr. H, his wife, and myself went back out to the tree. My plan was to climb above Patches, and use an extensible rod that I carry to try to prod her gently towards the main trunk. After climbing to the first limb, I moved my climbing line higher, and finally got to a position where I could comfortably drop down to the limb. Patches was facing me on the limb, so I tried prodding Patches gently on the rear with my extensible rod -- all this did was cause her to turn around and head out even further on the limb. I had no option of reaching her and she was definitely not going to come to me as by this time she was convinced that I was a tree demon on a mission to devour her. Mr. H suggested cutting the limb and letting her drop to the tarpaulin. I was leery of doing this as the limb was long and heavy, but I did not see any other option. I rigged a second rope to the limb with a pulley so that I could control the droop of the limb as it dropped down, and the plan was to lower the limb via rigging in a controlled manner. The thought was that Patches would either hang onto to the limb until it reached the ground or drop off into the tarpaulin. Mr. H sent up three different hand saws (two wood saws, one carpenters saw) until I got one that I could make decent progress with, and eventually the limb starting cracking. The rigging worked well, and the limb was lowering in a controlled manner when Patches decided the she would simply jump to a neighboring tree instead of enjoying the ride down to safety.......sigh.

The Third Attempt

Patches was now in the top of a neighboring hardwood tree, on a small limb near the top that was about an inch in diameter. I saw that I could climb close enough to her to try the limb cutting approach again, except this time I could just grab the limb and pull Patches and the limb to me after cutting (similar to this rescue by Rob Bramblett). We moved the tarpaulin under her new position and I started the climb. I again had to install my initial climbing line on a lower limb and advance it twice because the woods were so thick that it was difficult to get a clear toss of the throw bag to get the climbing line initially high. I finally got near Patches in the second tree, about 40 feet up. It was about 5:30 pm at this time and I was wearing out - the 80+ degree heat, mosquitoes, and 99% humidity was getting to me. My hands were beginning to cramp into claw position (I had to press them against tree limbs to straighten my fingers out) and I knew this was the last tree climb for the day; I did not have the energy for another one. I tied a rope to Patches' limb for extra insurance, and started sawing. The limb began drooping but before I could cut through it and bring it to me, the limb drooped over into another tree and Patches scrambled over to the topmost twigs of that tree....double sigh.


Patches was now in a small, bushy hardwood and perched in the twigs right at the top, but about 10 feet closer to the ground than she had been. Sarcastically speaking, at this rate, it would only take another two or three trees and she would be on the ground. This tree had an initial trunk diameter of about 6 inches, but quickly branched to several 2" diameter stems of which were impossible to climb even if I wanted to. Mr. H and I were exhausted at this time, and we decided that this tree could be sacrificed to the Forest God using the chain saw. Mr. H fetched the chain saw, and we observed that the tree's lean direction was in a relatively clear area, making it unlikely that Patches would be able to move to another tree. After some quick cutting, the tree fell in a fairly gentle manner because of its bushiness and interaction with limbs of neighboring trees, with Patches hanging in there until it reached the ground. She immediately headed to the house with Mrs. H in pursuit. Mr. H and myself shook hands, congratulated ourselves on our very unspeedy, brute-force "rescue", and heaved a sigh of relief. It was now 6:30 pm, and we had spent 5+ hours on getting Patches to the ground.

Patches refused all picture opportunities after the rescue by retreating to a back shed (I did not bring my cell phone out to the tree because of the weather conditions). I called Mr. H the next day and he said that Patches emerged about 30 minutes after I left, ate/drank her fill, and frolicked with her growing kittens. So, all ended well, but it took a while to get there!

Addendum: Many thanks to Mr/Mrs H's daughter who sent me a photo of Patches a couple of weeks after the rescue!