I was walking towards the car in my usual morning fog when I heard a plaintive meow. I mentioned this to my wife, who was heading for her own car. "It sounds like a catbird," she replied after the noise occurred again.

"I don't think it is one. It doesn't sound right." I began to walk towards the sound. It sounded to be on the edge of the forest that abuts our apartment building. A bird suddenly flew from the direction of the sound, and I thought she might have been right, but it turned out to be a Pileated woodpecker.

She impressed me by walking under a tree and saying "I can't see it." What was impressive about this was that her sonar-like hearing had placed her directly below the cat I suddenly spotted above her. Black and white, it looked at me, continuing to meow. The cat was about 20 feet off the ground.

The cat looked familiar. It had a red collar and a bell around its neck. We had seen it once before, and suspected it was lost -- but it ran off before we could even read the phone number off the tag, let alone touch it. It was named Tex. I looked at the tree. All the low branches were small and dead. Pulling lightly on one broke it. Climbing was not an option.

I had hoped to get into work nice and early. Instead, I was running up the stairs to our third-floor apartment. I pulled out the phonebook, and called the municipal phone number. They gave me a number for the dispatcher, so I called them. I learned something.

Neither the local fire department nor the police will get a cat out of a tree.

I couldn't give up, however. Despite my general pretense of being evil, I am a good person. I called the municipal phone number back, wondering how in the world a small subsection of Centre County (and not the one with the university in it) got away calling itself a municipality, which conjured up in my mind the idea of a city. They told me to call a couple who lived not too far away. As I listened to their answering machine, my watch told me where they were. It was 8:10 and they were at work.

I sighed. The maintenance department of my apartment complex wouldn't be open for nearly an hour. I grabbed a stepstool and headed back downstairs. My wife had begun laying out a primitive ladder out of some fallen branches. I watched the cat pace across the branch he was on as my wife told me to remove one of the larger branches from the ladder, to see if the cat would climb on to it when we held it up from the stepstool. It batted at the branch, but would not climb onto it. I couldn't blame the cat -- I'm not sure I would have either.

Sent to get twine to assemble the ladder, I grabbed a broom and a large hanging plant basket as well. The ladder idea was abandoned for unknown reasons, likely due to the cat's reticence to climb onto anything other than the branch he was on. We took the broom, attached it to a shorter but straighter fallen branch, then attached the basket to it. We were able to get it to the point where the cat could have climbed in. It refused. A jogger passed nearby, and I likely frightened her by abruptly emerging from the woods and asking if she had a ladder. Any port in a storm, after all. A real ladder (the primitive one would have required the cat to do the climbing) would end this quickly. I will admit, with large amounts of guilt, that I did momentarily contemplate relying upon the fall distance to allow the cat to be ok and simply giving it a nudge. But I couldn't.

Finally, nine am rolled around, and I walked upstairs and called apartment maintenance. They said they'd try to send someone out, if they could spare anyone. I guessed that my wife and I were the lone animal lovers around. Fifteen minutes later or so, they showed up, decided the cat wasn't stuck because it could still move on the branch (Yes, that's why it's been up there, meowing like that for two hours). But, by accident they found the owner. She lived a few doors down, and happened to be calling a friend to help her look for her cat when she heard the maintenance person talking with someone who had been mowing the lawn. Serendipity caused them to talk right outside her window.

The owner came out, in what looked like pajamas to me, and we told her what had happened so far. She called to Tex, mentioning that he liked high places to us. Since someone who cared at least as much as we did about the cat's well being was present, we went to work. Before we left, we asked her to leave us a note telling us how it turned out. Oddly, we never introduced ourselves; we gave her our apartment number.

I drove to work, tired and a little smelly from the effort. I noted that the thorny raspberry bushes near the tree had not done much for my work clothes -- or my skin.

During the day I retold the story. One person told me I had done the Right Thing -- which I knew internally, my sense of honor wouldn't allow me to leave. I would have taken a day off for a cat that I didn't even know. But not all reactions were so universally positive. I will agree that the cat was foolish for getting stuck, but I'm not annoyed, lest my hypocrisy be exposed when I get myself into something I can't escape.

When I arrived at home, there was a note from the cat. He told me his mother had called the maintenance department again, and that they had actually brought a ladder this time. I felt better, but then I wondered to myself how many people would have taken two hours out of their day to make sure that a cat that meant nothing to them was okay? I occasionally watch that Animal Rescue show that FOX has, but I had no delusions that rescuing this cat was a path to fame and fortune -- the idea that I was taking care of someone's pet was enough.

Isn't it?

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