Journalism / New Haven Register

Rescuers willing to go out on limb to save cat in tree

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 24, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — A cat is stuck, but so are its would-be rescuers.

The feline has been perched 40 feet up a tree since Saturday and either can’t or won’t climb down. A group of animal lovers brought together by a Web site are ready to mount a rescue effort, but the property owner won’t let anyone go up the tree due to liability concerns.

The town’s volunteer fire department, like most departments, does not rescue cats.

So the brown cat remains sitting in the V-notch of a tall, straight tree with just a few branches below.

Pam Cramer, who lives next door, said she noticed the cat Saturday. She posted a message in the “pets” section of http://www.craigslist.org on Monday, saying that the cat “is getting too dehydrated to move” and asking for help from “anyone in the area with a 40-foot extension ladder.”

“It’s a little tough to watch at this point, although the cat has come down a little from yesterday, so maybe it is trying — it is still moving around the tree,” Cramer said Wednesday.

Cramer said she received responses from two people in the tree-care industry willing to get the cat down for free. But the homeowner said she did not want to let them climb the tree because of the possibility that she could be sued if anyone was injured, according to those involved.

The property owner, who does not own the cat, said she left food out hoping to lure the cat out of the tree, but it didn’t work. She declined to discuss the situation further. It is unclear whether the cat is feral or a pet, but Cramer said she knocked on several doors in the neighborhood and did not find anyone missing a cat.

Mary McMullen, who became involved through the online posting, said the police and fire departments have been unresponsive.

“It is within our power to help this animal,” McMullen said. “I understand people aren’t cat lovers, but I can’t sleep at night thinking this poor animal is going to die from starvation or get so weak she might fall from the tree.”

At least one of the professionals who offered to help was willing to sign a liability waiver, McMullen added.

Pam Medlyn, an animal control officer at the Branford Animal Shelter, which also covers North Branford, said she went to the home Saturday after receiving a call about the cat.

“I said, ‘Give it a couple of days because most of the time they go back down,’” Medlyn said. “Well, evidently he went higher.”

And she does not think animal control officers would have the authority to go on the property without permission.

Deputy Police Chief Michael Doody said Wednesday he was not aware of the situation.

Cheryl DeFilippo, the president of the Greater New Haven Cat Project, thinks it is the responsibility of town officials to intervene in the situation. The Cat Project is a nonprofit organization that works with stray, abandoned and feral cats.

“When you intentionally withhold water and shelter and food from an animal, that’s neglect and cruelty,” she said.

Cats will often come down from trees on their own, she said, but after several days without food and water, the cat could be in distress.

“It’s probably scared out of its mind,” she said. “It could be, too, that it’s become dehydrated.”

Frederick Acker, the director of the SPCA of Connecticut, said that animal control officers in the state are legally responsible only for dogs and not cats. But, he added, the officers could choose to help.

“Animal control would have liability insurance and there should be no reason that they couldn’t make an attempt at saving the cat. Also, probably businesses may have liability insurance that might be able to use a ladder and go up and rescue the cat,” Acker said.

Acker added that cats can survive a few days without food and water, but could need veterinary care after that.

DeFilippo said that her organization could help with the cost of veterinary care and finding a home for the cat, if it is feral.

“That cat that’s stuck up in the tree, whether it be a feral cat or a tame cat, an abandoned cat or somebody’s pet, it’s a life and that life is supposed to have value,” she said. “Is that the kind of value that we want to promote in the community, that, ‘Oh well, it’s just a cat, leave it alone?’ That just doesn’t sit well with me — it’s not fair.”

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