"Gracie" - The Tightrope Walker

(November 2014)

Executive Summary

"Gracie", a young brown and white tabby, had been missing from her home for a week. She was discovered by a neighbor in a tree at about 40 feet. I was called by Denise, and my initial rescue attempt failed as Gracie was very shy about strangers. The next morning, armed with kitty food for extra enticement, I was able to nab her and return her to her loving family (Lynn, Robin, Rosemary and George). Thomas Wells, of the Tupelo Daily Journal, was present the second day and wrote a nice story with action photos. I also want to thank Denise for her generous donation to the Oktibbeha County Humane Society.

Details (Day 1)

It was about noon on Monday, Nov 24th when the Kat Fone meowed. It was Denise, who with her husband Peter, was visiting her mom in Tupelo, MS. They discovered a young cat high up in a tree in the backyard at about 6:00 am that morning, and were concerned. A web search had produced my name, and she wondered if I could help. I had no other appointments that afternoon, so I said 'Yup', loaded up the truck, and headed out. Denise had warned me that the kitty was 'high'. When I arrived, I found that she was accurate in her height estimate. The kitty (unknown name at this time) was in a pin oak, in the second crotch at about 40 ft (the first crotch was at 30 ft). The kitty was meowing fairly piteously, so I thought that this would be an easy rescue as the kitty obviously wanted help. In fact, EVEN THOUGH I KNOW BETTER TO NEVER PREDICT A RESCUE DIFFICULTY, I loudly proclaimed to all present, that this would be an EASY RESCUE, thus guaranteeing that the Gods of Smugness would SMITE ME.

I installed a throwline over a crotch about 10 ft above the kitty, and proceeded to haul up my climbing line, where it would be in perfect position for the rescue. And, here is where the wonkiness began. As the climbing line was passing the kitty's crotch, it spooked her, and she ran out on a limb from the crotch. She did not go too far, but it was far enough that my original line needed to be positioned higher if there was any hope of me eventually walking out on the limb. I pulled the climbing line down, and this time installed it at about 20 ft above the kitty's original perch (so about 60 ft). At this point, I started up. Meanwhile, Denise, Peter, their son, and Denise's mom Loretta, deployed a tarp that I had to catch the kitty if she fell. As I drew near the limb, the kitty kept going further and further out on the limb until it was in the teensy-weensy twigs at the end of it. The tarp crew kept moving to keep under her, because the kitty looked liked she could fall at any minute. The picture below gives you an idea of how far out on the limb the kitty was.

There was no way that I could get to the kitty without her falling, so I hung in the tree for about 20 minutes calling her, trying to coax her back. I was unsure if it was even possible for the kitty to get back to the trunk given the flimsiness of the twigs that she was spreadeagled over. We finally decided that the kitty was not going to come back to the trunk with me in the tree, so we decided to tie the tarp below her and hope the kitty would work her way back to the trunk during the night. I descended, and Peter and I strung the tarp below the kitty with Peter making a visit to the hardware store for some needed extra rope. When we finally finished this task, it was full dark. I was dejected at the thought of leaving the kitty in the tree overnight, but did not know what else to do. At about this time, Denise's mother Loretta came out and announced that she had found the owners -- they lived two doors down and would be home in 30 minutes from work. I started packing up, but left my climbing rope in the tree for the attempt the next day. Lynn and Robin (the owners) arrived with their son (George) and daughter (Rosemary). They said that 'Gracie' had been missing for a week and they had been frantically looking for her. They all started calling to Gracie, and miracle of miracles, Gracie immediately responded and started working her way back to the main trunk (hence, the 'tightrope walker' moniker). Soon, she was right back where she had started from. I unpacked my gear, and decided to make a climb back up to her (it was dark, but my helmet light, yard lights, street lights, and neighbor's flashlights provided enough illumination). Huffing and puffing, I worked my way back up the rope to Gracie. I was trying to go slow, so as not to spook her. When I was near enough to her, I lifted my hand and let her sniff my fingers. I had a fleeting thought "Ok, this is going well" when suddenly Gracie turned around, and bolted up the main trunk. The Gods of Smugness had decided to Smite Me once again. Gracie kept going until she was at 60 ft, in the crotch where my rope was tied in. Dejection filled me again, as I felt there was no reason to go any higher if she was just going to run. Consulting with the ground crew, we decided to leave her overnight -- at least she was on the main trunk in a relatively safe position compared to earlier in the day. I descended, and made arrangements to be there at 8:00 am the next day.

Details (Day 2)

I arrived back at the tree at 8:00 am, and Denise, Rosemary and George joined me. During the night, Gracie had worked her way down to a crotch at about 50 ft. Rosemary and George started calling her, and as the previous day, she immediately reacted. Gracie climbed down to the lowest crotch (30 ft), but then would not budge from there. In fact, repeated calling by Rosemary and George just had Gracie bouncing between crotches at 30, 40, and 50 ft as she searched for a way to reach her owners. Eventually, Gracie ended back up on the limb she was on the previous day, but about 10 ft out from the trunk (so, about 45 ft or so). The climbing line passed right by the crotch at 40 ft, and she had an easy path to the crotch if I could only convince her to come to me. My feverish brain quickly came up with four-point genius plan for success: 1) Klimb, 2) Wheeze (necessary for old folks), 3) Koax, and 4) Kapture! Aside from the Wheeze part, the critical plan component was 'Koax'. I loaded up a ditty bag with wet cat food and a pouch of kitty treats.

I started Klimbing, Wheezed as necessary, and was soon at the limb. I put the Kat Bag on my right hand, then dipped my fingers in the wet Kat food. I also got out the kitty treats, and remembered that Robin had said they shook a kitty treat bag when it was time to feed Gracie. I started shaking the kitty bag with my left hand, and the rattling around of the kitty treats immediately got Gracie's attention. I also asked Rosemary and George to start calling her again. Gracie slowly slinked down the limb, trying to keep as far away from me as possible, but unable to resist the lure of the kitty treats. When she got close enough, I let her smell my gunky cat-food covered Kat glove, and she became even more interested. She slowly followed my Kat Glove hand down to the crotch, and then my desperation fueled a ninja-tastic grab of her scruff. She did not struggle, and I let out a loud cry of relief as I stuffed her in the Kat Bag. When the day started, I had little confidence that the day would end well, and yet it did. When I arrived on the ground, I handed the Kat Bag over to George and Rosemary, who took Gracie home (a picture of Gracie with Rosemary is below, Gracie was not keen on being held at that point so the photo is blurry). I fervently hope that my next kitty rescue is easier!

During the climb, Thomas Wells of the Tupelo Daily Journal arrived and captured some action photos. He was called by Loretta, who thought that perhaps an old dude climbing in her tree to save a kitty might be interesting.