Two days after Randall Kolb retired, he discovered what he’d do with his free time by looking in the least likely place.
High in a tree.
A cat was stuck in a tree near Kolb’s house. It was too scared to come down, and it took Kolb two days to find someone who could help. When he did, Kolb paid close attention.
“When I watched him do it, I was impressed with how easy it was to climb the tree,” Kolb said. “I thought that was going to be the hard part. I decided I wanted to learn how to do that.”
Almost 150 cats and their owners are glad he did.
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Since December 2014, Kolb has rescued that many cats from trees in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area, up to about an hour’s drive away. And because he loves cats, he does it for free.
Animal control and cat rescue organizations send desperate owners his way. You can see his work at catrescueguy.com.
Kolb, 64, found people to teach him the climbing skills, and he has bought or created equipment designed to capture and secure cats so he can safely bring them to the ground. He uses a slingshot to send a weighted bag attached to a cord over a limb. The cord is attached to rope, which Kolb pulls over the limb, allowing him to climb using leg-powered ascenders.
Typically, cats are 20 to 50 feet above the ground, but he’s gone as high as 90 feet to recover them.
“It’s not the height that bothers me. It’s just what I’m tied to that bothers me,” he said. “As long as I’m secure, the tree is healthy and the branch I’m tied to is healthy … then, yeah, I’m very comfortable with that.”
Which is more than the cat can say.
Kolb brings food, which often is so enticing that cats will walk into the cat carrier to get to it. The carrier is of his own invention. Kolb cut a hole in the bottom of a laundry bag and sewed in a glove. He puts on the glove and pulls the bag over his arm, then picks up the cat by the scruff of its neck and inverts the bag over the cat. He also has a bag attached to a pole, though he seldom needs to use it.
The cat determines how long a rescue can take. Kolb said with set-up time, about the fastest it will go is 30 minutes.
“It can take hours,” he said. “I’ve had rescues that have gone on and on for hours. This was, obviously, not a cooperative cat as they went higher and higher and higher and farther away from me. That was when I was just starting and was a slower climber than I am now.
“Sometimes, I may not have any good option except to wait for the cat to settle down and relax and see I’m not a threat, and then I can get the cat to come to me.”
Although some people insist cats always can get down on their own, Kolb disagrees. Their claws are oriented well for ascending but not for descending face-first. Clearly, he said, cats wouldn’t remain in a tree for days without food and water and in bad weather if they could get down themselves.
In addition to cats, Kolb once caught an animal more than capable of getting down — an iguana. It had escaped its enclosure and ascended a tree. Its owner wanted it back.
“That was far more challenging than a cat because they are so mobile in a tree, and they can go under the branch, and no matter where you are, they are going to hide from you,” Kolb said. “They are going to get on the opposite side of the branch so you can’t see them.”
Kolb left a trap in the tree that did the trick.
There are two cats Kolb has had to rescue five times, and he recovered one that was stuck in a tree surrounded by water in a swamp. It’s a long way from the information technology work he performed at LSU, but he likes it.
“People ask me sometimes, ‘Isn’t it dangerous doing this?’” Kolb said. “I think yeah, it is. Driving over there is dangerous and driving home is dangerous, but the part in the middle is pretty good. I feel a lot less safe on the interstate than I do on the tree.”