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Woman pays for cat rescue, now searching for owner

Karen Fishburn paid $100 to get
Karen Fishburn paid $100 to get "Tree Top" out of a tall tree, center rear. "Meow Meow," held by Kyle Robinson, sat at the tree's base and cried for three and a half days before "Tree Top" was rescued. Both animals are strays; Fishburn is trying to locate the cats' owners. (Dan Pelle)

Everyone knows that when a cat gets stuck in a tree, firefighters rescue it. At least that’s what happens in the movies.

But when Karen Fishburn and her neighbors heard a cat in a tree Saturday, then finally spotted the animal in the top of an 80-foot pine near Ray Street and East 17th Avenue Sunday evening, things didn’t go quite so smoothly.

“I got the binoculars out and I could see him,” said Fishburn, who lives on 17th Avenue near the tree. “He was just a little black dot.”

She walked to nearby Fire Station 14, hoping that firefighters would rush over and rescue the cat, but was turned away.

Monday morning, the cat was still in the tree and it was still meowing.

“That’s when I emailed the Mayor’s office,” said Fishburn. “I just really wanted someone to help get the cat out of that tree.”

Soon after, Fishburn got a call from the Spokane Fire Department, which sent a crew with a ladder to investigate.

Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the Fire Department’s policy on cats in trees is that no rescue can take place until the cat has been there for at least 24 hours. Normally, the cat comes down on its own when it gets hungry, Schaeffer said in an email. Also, someone has to be willing to take responsibility for the cat.

On April 16, for example, Spokane Fire Department’s Engine 13C rescued “Whiskers” from a tree in north Spokane after he’d been stuck there for more than 24 hours.

In Fishburn’s case, there was no such luck: the ladder was too short and the tree too tall.

Firefighters called a tree pruning service and left the scene.

The wind picked up and the cat kept meowing.

Fishburn, a self-described softie when it comes to cats, couldn’t wait for the pruning service to arrive at noon, so she went on Facebook asking local veterinarians for advice.

Staff at the Lincoln Heights Veterinary Clinic referred her to Spokane arborist Paul Heindle, who is part of, a nationwide online directory of arborists who will climb trees to rescue cats.

Heindle said he has about 20 cat rescues under his belt.

“By the time I get there it’s usually been a couple of days and the cat is ready to come down,” said Heindle. “I don’t bait the cat. They don’t fight it. They kind of say, hey, I’m ready to come down.”

Heindle puts the cat in a special bag that’s attached to his climbing harness so he can descend safely.

Heindle spent about an hour retrieving the black cat near Fishburn’s yard; she paid his $100 fee.

“When he came down I just wrapped the cat in my sweater and took it inside,” said Fishburn.

That’s when she discovered the cat’s companion: an almost identical black cat showed up to be reunited with the tree dweller. Fishburn said the cats clearly know each other and are wearing similar nylon collars.

“We don’t know if the cats were dropped off in the neighborhood,” said Fishburn. “No one here recognizes them.”

Fishburn is now trying to find the owner of the two black shorthairs. One has a little white on the chin, the other is completely black.

“They are very friendly cats and they are doing fine living in my neighbor’s backyard,” said Fishburn. “But… really want for the owner to step forward and claim them.”