Watkinsville resident Naomi Rice and her husband, Jody, pride themselves on being outdoor activity instructors and guides through their business Wild Rice Adventures. However, one role they never expected to play was cat rescuers.
Their knowledge of rope-assisted tree climbing and relevant equipment primed them to respond to felines in need.
Four years ago, a local citizen called the Rice family with a dilemma. The person’s cat had climbed 60 feet up a tree a couple of days prior, and they needed help retrieving the pet because the fire department did not handle cat rescues.
“We just wanted to be able to help out in the community,” she said. “I feel so bad when they go up in a tree … We know that if something happened to our pets, I’d do whatever I could to get them back.”
The business charges $50 to assess each frustrated feline’s unique situation. Rice and her husband adapt their plans to the tall trees that cannot be accessed with a ladder. They also consider how to navigate around thick brush, ivy or briars that are not friendly to close car access.
“The way we get into the trees, it doesn’t harm the tree,” she said, “and we’re used to working with wildlife. It’s also about knowing when animals are under distress and how they may act differently from ourselves [in those cases].”
Videos on their Facebook and YouTube show their rescue process in action. Sometimes, they start by tossing a small “throw line” with a 12-ounce weighted bag up around an accessible branch. Alternatively, they may use what’s essentially a 10-foot-tall slingshot to propel a rope up. The device can accurately pinpoint tree areas of over 100 feet from the ground.
Once a throw line is established, they attach a climbing rope and hoist themselves up. Sometimes, though, if an owner is in good enough shape, Rice asks the owner to climb up instead.
“The cat may respond the best to the owner,” she said. “We’ve set the person up and let them climb up to get the cat ...who goes right to them, and we bring them down.”
Other times, feline retrieval calls for more finesse. In those instances, the Rices either take up a bag or a box trap for the cat. With the box trap, they secure it to a tree branch and entice the more skittish cats with small bowls of food and water.
Once the cat, who may have been stuck in the tree for hours or days, walks into the carrier for such much-needed morsels, it closes. Then, the cat carrier can be safely lowered down with its own rope.
The dozens of owners they’ve served often express their gratitude after reuniting with their beloved felines, Rice said. In multiple cases, her advice has helped owners coax cats back to safety with no specialized retrieval needed.
She often reassures concerned owners and gives them ideas to which the cats can safely respond and leave the trees of their own accord.
“That’s just an amazing thing...just knowing that we can help reunite somebody with their pet,” she said.