In the Pines 

It’s easy for a cat to climb a tree—but not so easy for him to come down

It’s easy for a cat to climb a tree—but not so easy for him to come down

Friend Jane lives in a little town about 20 miles outside Nashville. She has a very nice house on the bank of the Cumberland River. And she has cats—temperamental, spoiled, conniving cats.

Some months back, one of the cats ran out of the house, down toward the river, and then up a spindly pine tree. At the bottom, the tree was about as big around as the cat. At the top, it was about as big around as a pool cue. It was the kind of tree that would accommodate a hard-charging pussycat on the way up, but not on the way down. One wrong move, and a cat could find himself whipped about 30 feet into the air, with nothing but man-size river rock below. The cat was smart enough to figure this out, so he just hung on to the top of the tree until he, or somebody, could figure something out.

Jane spied the cat, went to the tree, and tried to coax him down. She called, she begged, she offered little cat treats. Nothing worked. The cat stayed up there like a knob at the top of a flagpole. So Jane called the fire department.

I would’ve thought that here in the 21st century, fire departments would be out of the cat-rescue business. I can’t figure out how it makes sense to send firefighters and firefighting equipment out on a stranded-cat call. I’d hate to think that my house could catch on fire, but nobody could come because the fire engine was out rescuing a cat.

In Jane’s little town, though, a cat up a tree gets a woman a real-enough red fire truck—lights and siren and all—and three men. Well, more like two-thirds of a fire truck and two-and-a-half men. Jane’s driveway is steep, winding, and narrow, so one of the men stayed at the top of the hill with the fire truck, and the other two hiked down to the scene. They didn’t want to risk getting the fire truck stranded along with the cat.

The firefighters analyzed the situation. They studied the cat, the tree, and the riverbank. They huddled and talked among themselves, then the older man, the one in charge, said to Jane, “We see two options, ma’am. We can hose the cat out of the tree, or we can shake the cat out of the tree.”

“Which do you recommend?” she inquired.

“Well, if we hose him, we will definitely get him out of the tree. But depending on where the water hits him, and how high he goes once he lets go of the tree, he might sustain an injury.”

“Tell me about shaking,” she said.

“In the shaking scenario,” the firefighter explained, “my partner and I will shake the tree until the cat lets go. The cat would not be propelled upward and would not sustain a water injury. The disadvantage is that it could take some time.”

Jane asked, “How are these different from the cat just falling out of the tree?”

“Neither is real different, ma’am. Just quicker.”

Jane decided to go with the shaking option. But first she went into the house and pulled some mattresses off the beds. She dragged them out to the bank and placed them around the base of the tree. No cat of hers was going to bounce off river rock that day.

The two firefighters took their positions, one on each side of the tree. They gave the tree a quick shake. The cat just dug his claws in deeper.

The men started to rock the tree gently, with a little back-and-forth motion. The cat seemed to enjoy that.

The spokesfireman turned to Jane. “Ma’am, we’re just going to have to shake it harder and harder until that cat decides that falling is better than riding.” Jane nodded.

The firefighters leaned into the tree and started building up a pretty good oscillation. The cat still wouldn’t let go. So the men went beyond cold professional tree-shaking and started putting some anger and passion into their work. The tree started whipping and whooshing, and the cat started yowling.

Then, don’t you know, the cat started pissing—great expanding circles and figure-eights of big-droplet, high-ammonia tomcat piss.

It came down like an angry rain, onto the firefighters, the mattresses, and Jane.

With that job done, the angry cat let go, flopped down onto one of mattresses, and ran into the house, hissing and spitting the whole way.

I know, hindsight is 20/20, but I think if I’d been given that cat-rescue job, a fire truck full of tools, and two able helpers, I’d have cut that spindly tree down and lowered it to the ground, pussycat and all.

Better yet, I would’ve left that cat alone. I’ve never seen a cat skeleton in a tree, and I don’t expect I ever will.

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