A purr-sonal problem

By on October 8, 2014

Rescuing a cat from a tree is harder than you think



Smokey, a large gray 18-month-old house cat, escaped his home at 219 N. Locust St. Sept. 30 and wound up having quite an adventure.

“He could see the birds and squirrels out the window and wanted to play with them,” said Sandy Banks, one of Smokey’s owners. “My daughter was on her way to work, and he just ran out through her legs.”

Smokey, who hadn’t been outside much in his life, began exploring the backyard and then, to Banks’ dismay, slipped into a nearby cornfield.

“I knew I’d have to wait for my son Justin to get home from work,” Banks lamented. Later that day, Justin and Louie set out in search of Smokey.

Louie, a beagle, is close to Smokey in age. In fact, the two were raised as brothers.

“When Louie got into the yard, Justin kept trying to steer him towards the cornfield,” Banks recounted, “but Louie pulled him towards a huge tree and started sniffing around the bottom of it. When we looked up, there was Smokey. We tried to call him to come down, but he got scared and only climbed higher.”

Banks’ first inclination, after failing to get Smokey out of the tree on her own, was to call the Lititz Fire Company. She claims the person she spoke to said they no longer help get cats out of trees. Fire Chief Ron Oettel verified this.

“We are an all-volunteer organization,” Oettel said. “When a call comes in at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and 95 percent of our guys are at work, we have to consider our options. We have rescued a few cats from trees during my time with the department, but these days the ladders on our trucks have gotten sturdier and heavier. It’s not easy and quite dangerous to raise a heavy ladder into a tree. In fact, it can be inordinately dangerous. Safety is paramount. We made the decision to stop rescuing ducklings from storm drains when one of our guys pulled up a grate and fell, breaking a vertebra.”

Banks then phoned ORCA, Lancaster’s Organization for Responsible Care of Animals. Founded in 1983 by John and Connie Kondrovy, they have a well-regarded reputation for helping at-risk animals. Banks claims they also declined to help. When the Record Express spoke to ORCA representative John Kondrovy, this was confirmed.

“We can’t go and climb trees,” he said.

Smokey's heroes, Officer Stephen Detz and Lititz Sign Co. owner Tom Benjamin.

Smokey’s heroes, Officer Stephen Detz and Lititz Sign Co. owner Tom Benjamin.

But he did offer a willingness to again speak with Banks on the phone and give her some time-tested methods for getting Smokey to come down.

“Our hotline volunteers are each provided with a printed booklet with the solutions to the 25 most common animal issues that might prompt people to call us,” said Connie Kondrovy. “Cat up a tree is one of them.”

She added that the most successful way of getting a cat out of a tree involves a paper plate of cooked, crumbled bacon.

When asked what would happen to a cat who stayed in a tree too long, Connie replied that their bladders would explode, causing death. She quickly added that this has only happened to two cats that she knows of in ORCA’s 31 year history.

“They usually come down,” she said. “My husband has this saying: How many cat skeletons have you seen up in trees?”

On a more serious note, Connie added, “ORCA will help out with anything animal related &tstr; abuse, injury, endangerment, 24/7, Christmas day or doomsday &tstr; but we don’t do ‘cat up a tree.’”

Connie admitted that the reason is due to insurance and liability.

According to agent Mark Hough, of State Farm Insurance, ORCA’s insurance concerns are valid.

“You’re putting a ladder up a tree, and say the cat lunges at you,” Hough said. “You could have a slip and fall, get injured and have to file for workers’ comp.”

Depending on the size of the claim, a company could take quite a hit financially, which could be especially devastating for a non-profit organization like ORCA.

This, of course, was no consolation for Smokey, who had by now spent 48 hours trapped two-and-a-half stories above ground on a slender tree limb. He had been without food, shelter or sleep for nearly three days.

“He’s up there fighting the elements and not eating,” Banks said in a phone call to the Record Express during the ordeal. “His meows just keep getting weaker and weaker.”

Smokey had never been in a tree before. The odds were not in his favor.

“Cats can go into a state of shock, and much like a human can be overcome with the fear of falling and simply not be able to think clearly,” said Kraus. “A cat can be so filled with fright that it doesn’t realize it’s capable of climbing down on its own. Also the curved claws of a cat work well for climbing up a tree trunk, but to climb down, the cat has to climb backwards down the trunk. This is not so easy for some cats to do naturally.”

Banks claims she also called a number of other local and national animal protection agencies, but none would come out to help.

“I must have called about 30 places, over the past two days, all told,” Banks said when she called the Record Express office Oct. 2.

After an exchange of several phone calls, The Record Express suggested Banks call the Lititz Borough Police. Banks made the call and Officer Stephen Detz went to assess the situation.

Officer Detz called Tom Benjamin, owner of Lititz Sign Company. In less than 30 minutes, Benjamin arrived on the scene with his bucket truck. While an associate worked the controls, Benjamin went up in the bucket himself to rescue Smokey.

“He wouldn’t come down,” Benjamin said. “It was easy to see why. He was on a very steep branch. He was in there pretty deep, but I coaxed him closer by shaking some branches. Eventually he jumped right into my arms.”

All told, Benjamin said, it took about 25 minutes to rescue Smokey from his perilous perch. Benjamin, a 20-year veteran of the Lititz Fire Company, was involved in the rescue of a bird and many ducklings during the 1980s and ‘90s.

“This was my first cat,” he said.

Smokey was rescued at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2 (three days into his ordeal).

“He’s limping right now,” Banks said. “He was so excited to get rescued that he jumped the last 10 feet or so from the bucket truck to the ground. He scraped his face on the way down, too.”

Smokey is now recuperating.

“All he wants to do is just be be held and be pampered right now,” Banks said, grateful to have her beloved pet safely back on the ground. “I doubt Smokey will ever climb a tree again.”

To learn more about ORCA and the work they do, visit orcarescue.org. Information about Cat in a Tree Rescue can be found at www2.catinatreerescue.com.

Melissa Hunnefield is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at mhunnefield.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4452.

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