Cat rescuer scales new heights after family's pet climbs 70-foot tree
Shelley Moore, CTV News Vancouver
Published Monday, April 29, 2019 10:31AM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 30, 2019 7:25PM PDT
Look up, way up. Near the top of a 70-foot cedar tree in a suburban forest in Surrey clings Snowbar, a one-year-old cat.
She’s been there for almost four days, yowling, howling, and clearly unable to get down on her own. Her owner, Farah Chaikho, started worrying the first night Snowbar didn’t come home, and as the days progressed, she started to panic.
"I was freaking out," she said. "We need to call people to get her down."
The stand of trees where Snowbar began her adventure is directly behind Chaikho’s family home. With the help of binoculars she finally spotted her little grey cat perched amongst the thick branches and leaves, and consulted with the rest of her family about what they could possibly do to get Snowbar out of there — before it was too late. The little cat had had nothing to eat for almost four days, and the sounds of her wailing could be heard from Chaikho’s balcony. And now the crows were circling.
"I was thinking that’s it," said Farah's dad, Abdul Chaikho. "The cats going to get hungry and weaker and it’s going to fall and that’s going to be the end of it."
But who to call? Farah tried the fire department and said she was told it was too high, they couldn’t help. The family was willing to pay but they could see the logistics were treacherous — it would take a professional. That’s when she heard about Stan’s Treetop Cat Rescue.
Self-described “tree-nerd” Stan Pennors is the Stan behind this one-man tree-scaling feline retrieval service. He’s a professional arborist and on any given day is likely to be found up a tree somewhere working as an independent contractor. But when the call comes that a helpless cat is stuck, he hauls out all his climbing apparatus, goes into rescue-mode, and prepares for the worst.
"Cat’s can be quite hard with claws," he said. "The biggest thing though is convincing them that you’re there to help them. Most animals, when they’re in the tree in that position, they only see you as a predator or as a threat. They don’t understand that you’re there to help them get down safely."
Pennors figures he’s rescued 60 cats since starting up his service in 2016. His motivation is simple: "Because the animal is suffering," he said. "There’s really nobody else out there to help it — that cat’s stuck up in the tree, there’s really only two or three outcomes."
Pennors said the cat might jump, potentially risking its life, or be attacked by animals such as crows, owls, or even racoons. And if the temperature is below freezing? It’s an emergency, with a headlamp if needed: "That cat’s only got one night."
After sussing out Snowbar’s situation, Pennors slings a rope as his anchor point, dons his safety gear, and straps his cat-bag to his waist, then he quickly shimmies up the tree, reassuring Snowbar that he’s on his way to save her. He calls it "negotiating."
"When I’m approaching the cat and talking to the cat, it really is a fine dance. I speak English, I speak French, I speak a bit of Polish — but I don’t speak cat. I’m hoping that they understand," Pennors said. "Soft tones help, slow body movements, so when I start to approach a cat I’m no longer jarring the tree or making sudden moves or moving quickly. I’m really trying to slow down everything, because that cat’s above me so everything that I do that cat feels, because it goes through the trunk. So it is that process of trying to approach as slowly as possible, trying to convince it that you’re not going to hurt it, that you’re there to help. Usually it’s successful. Usually the cat sees you and there’s this relief and they’re really happy. This one’s not so happy."
Nope, Snowbar is definitely not happy to see Stan. Her yowls grow more intense, and as Stan gets closer, Snowbar goes higher. And the branches get thinner. Stan’s dream scenario of Snowbar leaping into his arms with relief has evaporated, and he knows this one is going to come down to the wire. He has a saying: with a cedar, you’re on the edge.
"You have to assess every tree and what is a safe anchor point, what is safe position, where is a safe place to be. You know, what kind of strength the tree can support. Today I was climbing to the limit I would say, down to about one, one and a half inch diameter wood."
Thirty minutes in and they had almost reached the top of the tree, with Snowbar on the run, and Stan close behind, trying to keep the worst from happening.
"I have not had a cat jump yet, thankfully," he said. "I have had friends who have had it happen. But you get a feeling with the cat, you learn to read the animal, and if they’re thinking of jumping you notice in their body language, before hand they’d be miaowing — miaow miaow miaow — and they’re just vocalizing a lot but when they start to think about jumping they go dead quiet and they start to look down at the ground and they try to choose a target or a safe spot, and that’s the point where you just stop what you’re doing to let that feeling kind of pass over, and then you see the cat kind of normalize its behaviour and then you keep going towards it, keep pursuing it."
Finally, after negotiations break down, Pennors and Snowbar engage is a brief wrestling match, the top of the tree swaying back and forth — then Snowbar, still yelling at the top of her lungs, is in the bag. "That’s your safe spot right in there!" He tells her. But not before she gives him a parting shot. "You try to position yourself out of the way," he said. "But… today I got peed on — which means I get to go home and wash all my ropes, wash my gear, because it’s quite acidic and it does damage ropes. That’s a downside."
After a quick trip down, Stan hands Snowbar to Farah, with his usual strict instructions: "Please don’t open it until you’re back inside. Let that cat figure out where it is, let it calm down, because it’s been a super stressful situation for four days, so it needs time to re-acclimatize and kind of calm down a bit — it’s just had four days of adrenaline and exhaustion."
Once inside the house, Snowbar crawls out of the bag and into Farah’s arms, none the worse for wear, purring now instead of howling. The Chaikho family is relieved and grateful.
"I think he did a very good job," Abdul said. "This is a very good thing."
In the end, Pennor’s formula for success is pretty simple: "You have to understand trees, you have to understand cats, you have to understand all the parameters that go into safely climbing the tree, safely rescuing the cat, and then getting it done and back down to the ground safely."
"I like cats," he said. "I have empathy and compassion for them."
Even the ones who pee on him.