Friday, August 1, 2014

Cats in high places: Should you help?

Jasper the cat in a tree

There are two magnificent incense cedar trees in my backyard, and they provide shelter to all sorts of critters, including scrub jays, squirrels, hummingbirds and purple finches. The tree's branches don't jet from the trunk for 10 feet or more, so normally, the trees provide a safe spot for creatures who might get eaten if they lived closer to the ground.

On Wednesday, however, Jasper decided to take a crack at capturing something in the top of the tree. This is where we found him, when our neighbors alerted us to his cries for help.

At this point, Jasper was about 16 or 18 feet from the ground. He had no branches to use in order to safely climb down, and the idea of jumping that far filled him with fear, so he was calling out for someone to help.

Normally, experts suggest that cats up in trees can and will climb down on their own, if they're given enough time to do so. The Oregon Humane Society, for example, won't send out rescuers to help unless the cat has been stuck up in the tree for two days or longer.

So, on the one hand, we could have left him there to scramble down when he got hungry enough to do so. But, there are some risks with that plan. For starters, Jasper is an old cat. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with the idea of leaving him without water for a few hours, much less a few days.

In addition, cats who cry tend to draw attention to themselves, either from irate human neighbors or from other predators who see them as an easy mark. Both of those factors weighed pretty heavily on our minds as we tried to figure out what to do.

Climbing a ladder to rescue a cat

Thankfully, we have a ladder that can reach that far. My husband scrambled up that ladder, while I stayed on the ground and tried to talk to Jasper in a reassuring voice.

We had planned for my husband to grab Jasper, but he decided to jump down. He skidded a bit on the trunk of the tree, but he landed softly and was more than happy to accept treats and head scratches when he hit the ground. He seems to have emerged with nothing more than a bruised ego. 

If this plan hadn't worked, we had some backup ideas:
  • We thought about trying to climb close to him with the ladder, and then leaving the ladder there, so he could use it as a ramp to climb down on his own. 
  • Jasper is a hungry boy, so we considered opening up tuna cans or melting butter and blowing the aromas his way with a fan, so he'd be hungry enough to come down. 
  • Beorn, his kitty friend, could have sparked Jasper's jealousy, so I toyed with the idea of giving Beorn food and a long grooming session within Jasper's view.
But I don't think I could have left him up there for days, trying to work up his courage. Maybe that's what the experts recommend, but it wouldn't have sat right with me. I'm glad it didn't come to that.

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