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Man climbs tall tree to rescue kitty
Cat had been stuck up high for a week
treed kitty 1 jd
Ozzie, who looks like he's taking a nap on this high tree limb has actually been stuck in this tree, according to a nearby homeowner, for seven days. - photo by Jim Dean

Local firefighters, animal control officers and the humane society were stumped. So were pet-rescuing agencies and tree removal companies.

No one, it seemed, wanted anything to do with the 4-year-old orange feline that had spent seven days stuck in a tree high above a south Forsyth neighborhood.

But the job wasn't too much for Bill Maher and Jeff Newman, two bad cats in their own rights.
Maher, a Vietnam veteran, and Newman, a former engineer, are tree-climbing instructors at Sawnee Mountain Preserve off Spot Road.

It took the two professionals less than 20 minutes to rescue Ozzie, who had been without food or water since climbing some 50 feet up into the tree last week.

Ozzie, an indoor-outdoor cat that has not been declawed, belongs to Jackie Allen of the heavily wooded Bunting Run subdivision.

Allen, a working grandmother, was at work during the rescue and sounded spent when reached later by phone.
"I'm relieved," she said. "I'm very thankful and grateful and I appreciate everyone's efforts."

Ozzie was tired and dehydrated, she said, but otherwise fine.
Allen and her 4-year-old grandson, Hayden, put food on the ground and talked to Ozzie every night after it escaped into the tree.

"I don't want to look like the nasty person that let her cat stay in a tree," she said.

Still, neighbors pointed out, it was at least the third time in 10 months that the pet had gotten stuck in a tree.

Allen said it has cost her at least $100 to rescue Ozzie each of the previous times.

The best solution, she said, would be lopping off the treetop, which would run about $350.

Maher and Newman relieved any financial concerns this time.

"I'd want someone to do it for me if it was my cat," Maher said.

Montgomery Smith, Allen's neighbor, helped organize the rescue, contacting local media outlets and sending about 100 e-mails to pet agencies and tree companies.

Smith said he was "just really looking for someone that would just deliver it." He was more worried about the cat dying than the finances involved with getting it down.

He had cause to be concerned, an official with a local veterinary practice said.

"If it did stay in the tree for seven days it would definitely be dehydrated," said Debbie Adams, administrator for Creekside Animal Hospital.

Adams speculated that the cat may have climbed down at night, only to return to his treetop perch.

"It really doesn't take much food for them [to survive]," she said.

The rescue of Ozzie, who Smith described as "a poor soul, scared to death and wants to come home," got under way about 1:30 Monday afternoon.

The wooded area where the cat was stranded is something of a community green space.

The feline looked oddly predatory, lounging on a branch near the trunk and about 50 feet off the ground, twitching its tail.

His meowing slackened as the climber approached.

"Oh, this is a good one," said Maher, sizing up the situation. "It should be an easy tree."

Newman threw a rope over the branch and anchored it to a nearby tree.

The two unloaded backpacks full of climbing gear onto a tarp on the ground. Maher pointed at a jade green, military-style sack.

"He's going in the bag," Maher said. "I'm not kidding. They'll claw you to pieces."

He tied the sack to his harness, and proceeded to climb with a single-rope, "Texas rig."

Newman said this style of climbing is the most labor-intensive while the sweaty, 59-year-old Maher pulled himself up.

"You are using 100 percent muscle power," Newman said. "But this is also the quickest way to climb."

About the time Newman had finished his sentence, Maher hollered, "Cat's in the bag."

While too tired to scratch or fight Maher much, Ozzie did muster enough energy to bolt off as soon as they tried to put him in a box.

Forsyth County Fire Capt. Jason Shivers, who watched the rescue, said firefighters were not able to help because their tallest ground ladder extends just 50 feet. A fire engine could not reach the trees, which are behind the houses.

After the rescue, residents' attention quickly turned to prevention.

Smith, the neighbor, said he could sympathize with Allen, but people have "got to be responsible for pets when they take the responsibility of owning them."

Smith made it clear that he was an animal lover, too.

"Two of my dogs and one of my cats are in urns on the dresser, and they'll go in my coffin because they're going with me to heaven," he said.

Allen isn't quite sure how best to keep Ozzie's tree-climbing in check. Her grandson keeps letting the cat out.

"The two solutions that animal control came up with in order to keep him in the house were both not very kind," she said.  "And that is to do an electric fence at the door openings ... and the other thing was to put him on a harness and tie him up.

"Neither of those are very appealing, but I'm going to check into the electric fence thing."