Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — Pole Cats

It’s a good thing cats have nine lives, because they often get themselves into trouble. Over the years some of our cats have had some hair-raising adventures. When our kids were young, we had several good barn cats, and the kids had their favorites. Our son Michael’s special pet was Spot, so named because he was a big white cat with a large black spot.

Spot was our son's favorite cat.

Cats on our ranch have to be wise and wary to survive very long, because they are always at risk from such predators as coyotes, foxes, bobcats, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, and eagles. The cats are especially vulnerable when they are out in the fields hunting mice. Some of our cats, particularly the young, inexperienced ones, have disappeared. They probably became dinner for our many resident predators.

Spot was field-wise and wary and managed to escape being eaten, in spite of his flashy color. He lived on our ranch to a ripe old age of fifteen. He probably had many narrow escapes that we weren't aware of, but he had two scary adventures that we did know about.

The most life-threatening episode was when he was mousing in the field below our house the day Michael was cutting hay with our new pull-type swather. Michael was a young teenager by then, and Spot was probably about nine years old. Michael was very good at driving tractors and handling machinery, and probably his keen eyes and good reflexes were the only things that saved Spot, who tried to hide in the tall hay instead of running off when the tractor approached.

Michael, Andrea and me, sitting on our back porch with Spot

Michael was glancing back at the swather, as usual, to make sure he was cutting the hay in perfect windrows and not missing any hay between the swaths. He was on the steep side of the field and driving very carefully to make sure the machine didn’t slip too far down the hill.

Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a bit of movement just ahead of the cutter and suddenly realized it was Spot. Instantly, he hit the up lever, which raised the header (since there was no time to shut off the machine). Because he was on the steep hillside, he already had his hands on those levers, carefully maneuvering the header as he went along.

Our daughter Andrea, at age four, with Spot
and Pepper (the dog) on our back porch

The header bobbled back down, but by that time Michael had the cutter stopped. He was sure he’d killed the cat and shut off the tractor to go back and look and heard the cat yowling. The header was on top of Spot, holding him captive in the windrow. So Michael went back to the tractor and started the swather again, to raise it off the cat. Spot immediately ran off and hid in some rosebriars along the edge of the field and wouldn’t come out — so we couldn’t assess his injuries.

A few days later he came back to the house for food, and we were relieved to see that he had no serious wounds. The swather cutter had shaved all the hair off his hind legs and part of his back and cut his tail off. The hair grew back, and the tail stump healed. Thanks to Michael’s quick thinking and fast reflexes, his beloved cat was okay and lived many more years as a bobtail.

Spot’s other adventure had happened a few years earlier, when Michael was only eight years old and his cousin Scott Perkins (age sixteen) was staying with us for the summer. One morning Spot did not show up for the daily cat-food handout. We didn’t think much of it at the time because he often went off on hunting forays for a day or two.

Then a bit later in the day we heard a cat crying, looked toward the sound — and noticed something white on top of the telephone pole at the top of our lane. Sure enough, it was Spot. He must have climbed up there during the night or early morning and was afraid to come down.

We hiked up the lane to the pole and tried to coax him down, but he would not come down. We thought that after a while he’d get hungry and come down, but he did not. We were afraid to leave him there through the next night because in that vulnerable position he would be easy prey for an owl. We had to figure out a way to get him down.

Finally, my husband Lynn drove our jeep up close to the power pole and put our tallest ladder on top of the cab, leaning it against the pole. He steadied the ladder while Scott (who was the tallest and also lithe and athletic) bravely climbed up the ladder. It was still a bit of a stretch for him to reach the cat. Spot was desperately ready to be rescued by that time and allowed Scott to grab him and bring him down. Scott carefully inched back down the ladder, holding onto it with one hand and with the other cradling Spot tightly against his chest — while Lynn held the wobbly ladder firmly against the pole. Michael was ever so grateful to his older cousin for rescuing his beloved cat.

Twenty-five years later (this past Christmas) we had another “pole cat” episode, but this time we couldn’t rescue the cat. We had just built a house for our daughter Andrea and her four kids, here on the ranch, and they had barely moved in (just after Thanksgiving). Her kids have a bunch of cats, and the cats were getting accustomed to their new home after being moved here from town.

One of the grandkids' favorite cats, Patches

Andrea was afraid to let the cats wander around outside at first, because of all the coyotes, eagles, hawks — and now wolves (which we didn’t have 25 years ago). So she kept them in her little shed and trailer house for a few days, then started letting them out during the day and locking them safely back in at night.

One evening just before Christmas (December 23) young Emily (thirteen years old) went out to feed and lock up the cats, and Patches was missing. He had climbed up the power pole next to the house and was sitting on the transformer. Andrea telephoned us, and Lynn drove up there to assess the situation. He realized that we couldn’t rescue the cat because the pole was too tall and the power lines too close to the cat. Andrea called a friend who works for the power company, who told us they no longer rescue cats off power poles. However, her friend would have come himself with his extension bucket, but it was a cold night (below zero) and his diesel truck was not plugged in and would not start.

Young Emily was distraught about her favorite cat being stranded up there, so close to the power lines. She spent several hours out there in the dark and the cold, trying to call him down, bribing him with food. At one point Patches tried to come down, backward, but he only made it partway, got scared, and ran back up the pole — this time clear to the top, and even closer to the deadly power lines.

Granddaughter Emily and Patches.
Em brought the cat into the house to comfort him
after his adventure on the power pole.

Finally, Emily gave up and came back into the house to get warm. When she went back out a few minutes later, there was no cat on the pole. She got worried that he’d been electrocuted or fallen to his death and began frantically calling him. Patches came wandering nonchalantly out of the dark, and she was so relieved that she brought the cat into the house to check him out for injuries and feed him and comfort him. He seemed fine. He probably became more receptive to thinking about coming down after realizing that he was all alone out there and it was up to him to save himself.

At any rate, we didn’t need any more of these pole-climbing adventures, so the next morning Lynn took a sheet of tin up to Andrea’s place and attached it around the base of the power pole so no cats can ever climb up it again!

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.

1 comment:

Lolly Squirrel said...

Small furry animal antics can be harrowing. Thanks much for taking good care of our adventurous feline friends!! ♥