'Bella' - A Difficult Rescue

(March 2015)

Executive Summary

"Bella", was stuck at 60 feet for six long days in Terry MS. It took two days and some rescue pole drama, but I was finally able to rescue her. Nicole, many thanks for your generous donation to the Oktibbeha County Humane Society!


It was a Saturday, and on my walk/jog around the MSU North Farm area that morning I reflected that today would be a good day for a kitty rescue - except, nobody calls me on Saturday, they normally call on Monday! So, I was lazing around Saturday afternoon, not doing much of anything, when the Kat Fone yowled. It was Nicole, from Terry MS, and she had a kitty ("Bella") who had been stuck for six days. Bella was an indoor kitty that had escaped outside, and she had promptly fallen into the barkly clutches of a vicious tree. A local fire department rescue attempt with a fire hose had already failed, and Nicole had found my name by a web search. I checked the clock -- it was 3:00 pm, and Terry was 2.5 hours away. Given 30 minutes to load the truck, I probably would not begin the rescue attempt until 6:00 pm. This could cause daylight issues if the rescue was difficult but I decided to chance it since the kitty had already been in the tree for six days. I asked how high the kitty was, and Nicole replied "50-55 feet". This made my stomach churn as the higher the kitty, the longer the rescue and I was already concerned about daylight.

When I arrived, Nicole's father Gene introduced himself, and he and Nicole led me out back. They asked if I had spotted the kitty yet -- I could hear a kitty crying in distress, but did not see Bella. They told me to look higher, and pointed. My stomach did a triple flip-flop when I finally located Bella -- I estimated her height at 60 feet, and she was perched at the very end of a tall stem in some tiny branches. It was not the height that was the concern, but Bella's position. The stem leading up to her was extremely small, and I had no idea how I was going to reach her. The last good tie-in point for my rope was 20 feet below her. Gene and I dragged my equipment out to the tree, which was in a wooded area out back with dense underbrush about. It took two tries with my throwbag launcher to get my line set. Finally, the climbing rope was installed and I started up. When I reached my tie-in point, there was no way to advance the rope further. Instead, I had to use nylon webbing loops to work my way up the stem (attach one nylon loop to the harness, and use another nylon loop as a foot loop to stand in to push the harness loop up the tree). This is a very slow method of climbing, and not one that I have much practice with. We tried calling Bella, and even though she was very vocal, she could not come down the stem any further as it was all she could do to maintain her precarious position. I decided that I would have to use my catch pole as it was clear that I could not get close enough to grab Bella. I lowered a line weighted with a throw bag, and Gene attached my catch pole, which I dragged back up. I started up the stem again, but the sun slipped below the horizon when I was still about 5 feet short of my goal (does not sound like much, but it was going to take another 20 minutes to cover that five feet). I did not have the battery for my helmet light with me, and I also did not feel comfortable proceeding with this difficult rescue with darkness oncoming fast. I yelled to Gene and Nicole that I was quitting for now, but would return the following day. I descended, and it was near full dark when I reached the ground. I loaded the truck, and promised to be back by 10:00 am the next day.

Day 2: When I arrived the next day, I was hoping that Bella had perhaps come down the tree a bit, but no such luck - she was at the exact same spot. Gene and Vada (Gene's wife) helped me lug my equipment back to the tree. I had left a throwline in the tree, so pulling up a climbing rope was done quickly. I was soon back at my tie-in spot, and proceeded up the tree stem again using nylon loop climbing. After about 40 minutes, I was approximately 10 feet below Bella, and we were both swaying in the breeze. It was clear that the catch pole was the only option to reach Bella, as she was unable to climb down any closer, and I was unable to get much higher. I had purchased my 7-foot catch pole about 18 months previously, and had never used it. I had watched several videos of other cat rescuers using catch poles, and the preferred method was snagging the kitty around the middle of the body. However, the way that Bella was perched and the numerous small limbs about her made it doubtful that I would get a body grab. I had noted a couple of rescuers snagging kitties about their neck - this concerned me about the kitty's ability to breathe, but I resolved to do this if I had no other choice - I would simply try to minimize the amount of time the kitty was on the catch pole. My plan was to snag the kitty, place the bag over the kitty at the end of the pole, and then release the wire. Taking a deep breath, I raised the wire up to Bella and over her head - I was unable to get it further down her body so I had to settle for a neck grab. I tightened the wire, and when I was sure that Bella was firmly snagged, I pulled Bella off the limb, and lowered her down towards me. I encountered a problem at this point - I had used a nylon loop to attach my catch pole to a stem to keep it from accidentally falling, and this was preventing me from reaching the end of catch pole. While Bella was frantically struggling at the end of the pole, I had to unlock the carabiner holding the catch pole to the loop. After some fumbling, I finally released it, but then I realized that I had not readied my bag. I grabbed Bella's scruff, then fumbled around with my bag, finally getting it off my harness and unfolded. I placed the bag over Bella, and was finally able to release the wire, letting Bella drop into the bag. It took about 2 minutes from the initial grab to me releasing Bella -- if I have to do this again, I will strive to reduce this time as this was too long.

I shouted happily in relief! Bella was safe in the bag! It took me almost 30 minutes to work my way back down the stem to my tie-in point. I slid down the rope and handed Bella off to Vada, who whisked Bella inside the house for food and water. The picture below is Bella snuggling with Vada, taken after the truck was packed and I was on my way out the door. This was my most difficult rescue to date from a climbing perspective, and I hope that I do not have another challenge like this anytime soon. I also want to thank Nicole for her generous donation to the Oktibbeha County Humane Society!

This rescue was featured on the webnew shows 'Right This Minute' via this link: http://www.rightthisminute.com/video/rtmtv-animal-rescues-will-make-your-heart-melt