Here, kitty, kitty…

Thursday afternoon, on my way to the post office, I passed the fenced-in front grounds of a Catholic school in my neighborhood. The school day was over, so I was surprised to hear a woman’s voice inside the fence over the sound of my headphones.

She held the leashes of two dogs with one hand and her phone with the other. The dogs seemed agitated and restless, but she ignored them, carrying on as if she were talking to a girlfriend about her date last weekend or a sale at the Acme.

Ten paces further I saw a group of people clustered around a tree, each of them looking upward. None of them was wearing a coat, despite the snow and the cold. Glancing upward myself, I saw a cat, totally exposed in the leafless upper branches.

Two teenage girls were calling up to the cat, who seemed to be in no mood to come down. They held something up to it. It was white. It looked like a snowball, but I assumed it must be something else. Surely they were trying to coax it down with with something that would actually attract it.

“She’s scared. She senses the dogs nearby,” someone said.

No kidding. The dogs are as plain as day, and no more than 30 feet away. I guess it’s good that the woman is holding her dogs back, I thought, but as long as they’re there, whining and yipping, that cat is going to stay put. Doesn’t anyone watch cartoons?

I looked back at her. No, she had definitely not been talking about the cat. Or the people by the tree. (Did she even know what was going on?) It looked to me like she was just waiting for them to deal with it before she tried to pass by with her mutts. And while she waited, she seemed happy to take that opportunity to catch up with a friend.

The cat was not unsteadily thrashing about in the tree. Rather, from her high perch, front legs on one branch, hind legs on another, she did not move a muscle. All was still. She just stared down at the people below, petrified, annoyed, silent.

I wondered what she was even doing outside. She probably bolted into the strange, cold, wild world when the front door was open a second too long. Overstimulated, possibly snow blind, she switched into survival mode and leapt through snow drifts into the street when its owners threw on some shoes and chased it onto the sidewalk. Coming across a pair of monstrous, barking beasts, sensing her life to be in mortal peril, her only choice was to find high, safe ground.

I laughed to myself as I passed by. Oh well. None of my business. I’d only ever seen this sort of thing happen on TV. I hope they don’t have to call the fire department. Does that even really happen? I’m sure they’ll find a way to get her down.

On my way back from the post office, there was a little more activity on the other side of the fence. From down the block I could see the top branches of the cat’s tree shaking. clumps of snow were falling to the ground. It was a big old tree, too thick to shake, so they must have rigged something long to grab the branches or poke the cat. It didn’t look like anyone had actually climbed the tree.

Then I heard worry in the girls’ voices. Something was wrong. “It’s not breathing,” I heard one girl say.

“It’ll be all right. It’s moving now,” said a man who was helping them.

“It’s trying to breathe,” someone else said.

The cat hopped onto the snow from the trunk of the tree. She sidestepped the man and ran back toward the fence, making strange jerking motions with her head. She pawed the chain link fence for a second, as if considering to climb it, but thought better of it and just crouched in the snow where she stood.

Nearing the scene, I could see that she was gasping for breath. Somehow in the minutes I had been absent, her “rescuers” had managed to get a lasso around her neck and yank her out of the tree. The man held the other end of a thin, plastic rope, and keeping the line taut (and keeping her windpipe constricted), he approached the cat slowly, trying to avoid scaring her into running further away.

Those damn dogs were still there. And the woman holding their leashes was still jabbering away on her phone as if she had nothing at all to do with the situation. That poor animal was lucky not to have suffered a heart attack, let alone strangulation. Well … so far, anyway.

Look, I don’t know how to get a cat out of a tree. I thank my stars it hasn’t happened to me. I’d like to see my fat cat try to climb a tree. It’s all she can do to leap from the floor to the couch without sliding back down. However, I am pretty sure that whatever the secrets are, they do not include snowballs or packs of loud, agitated people. The way to win a cat’s trust is not with a pair of blood-thirsty canines within striking range. And I’m nearly certain that rodeo tricks are not the among most efficient techniques for coaxing a scared animal out of a tree.

A friend of mine suggested a shotgun. I half wonder if he didn’t mean to use it on the people.


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the untallied hours

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