Activism

Up a Tree

A Note from the editor: We here at keepgoing.org tend to get excited about the big issues that face the world today. International politics, the environment, world hunger: these are the things that we’re passionate about, the things we debate through endless reply-all email chains, the things that we shout at each other about when the beer has run out and we’re unwisely tapping into someone’s liquor cabinet at 3:00 in the morning.

But when you’re constantly focused on the big picture, it can be easy to forget that sometimes the actions you take right in your own neighborhood can have the biggest impact. That’s why we also try to get out and do things with local organizations and political campaignsno matter how big your ambitions are, how global your interests, it’s locally that we can all make the biggest difference. As I’m often told when I despair about the state of things, I can’t fix all the world’s problems. But I might be able to fix some of the problems right in front of my face if I bother to stop and see them.

This is the story of how one of our editors responded when faced with a very local problem indeed. It would have been easy to walk away, but he didn’t, and it probably meant the difference between life and death for one of the world’s tiniest citizens. To us, that represents activism of the truest sort.

We can all make a difference. Keepgoing.

By the time I make it to my street, I’m drenched through and shivering. A steady mixture of freezing rain and sleet has been falling for hours. It’s an awful, blustery February night. As I turn the corner ’round the side of my building to get to my entrance, I stop dead in my tracks, keys in hand. There are three wet people standing there in the middle of my backyard, staring straight up.

I recognize one of these individuals as Eric, my upstairs neighbor. I take off my headphones. Eric and the other two, a man and a woman I’m not sure I recognize, are still looking straight up. The man I don’t know makes a kissing noise toward the sky.

“What’s going on here?” I ask. As soon as I speak all three heads come down and everyone’s looking at me.

“There’s a cat up in the tree,” Eric tells me. His face and hair are all wet. He looks cold, and I can tell he’s been out here a while. “This little white and black cat. It’s been stuck up there three days.”

“It’s my mother’s cat,” says the guy I don’t know. I presume the woman is his girlfriend. They both look to be in their early twenties. “We called everybody, man. Animal control, the police, the fire department, 9-1-1, 3-1-1. Everybody said the same thing: the cat will come down when it’s ready. But it’s already been three days! I’m afraid it’s going to freeze up there tonight.”

I squint up into the tree we’re all standing under. I don’t see anything. Then I hear it. The most pitiful, helpless sound I’ve ever heard.

REEEEOWWWWWWREEEEEEEEOWWWWW …”

“He’s way up there,” Eric says. “I’ve been trying to coax him down for the last couple of days, but he won’t budge.”

I’m in no condition for all this. I’ve just come back from some moderate to heavy drinking at my buddy’s house. This is the first I’ve heard of this situation because I’ve been across town at my girlfriend’s the last few nights, so I haven’t been home in days. I’m cold and wet and all I’ve got on my mind is my bed. The last thing in the world I wanted to come home to was some drama unfolding in my backyard.

REEEEEOWWWWW …”

“I’m thinking of climbing that tree,” says Eric.

I look at Eric, then I look at the tree. Part of me thinks maybe it’s climbable, but then again I have been drinking. Its long, thick trunk shoots up from the ground at about a 60- or 70-degree angle for a good 50 or 60 feet. Then the tree splits into two thick tangles of big branches at the top, in one of which is presumably this cat that I still can’t spot through the sleet and darkness. You could get up there, but if you fell … oh man. And I don’t know how you’d get down with a scared, wet cat in one arm.

“Eric, you can’t climb that thing. Not tonight,” I tell him. “It’s icier than hell out. That tree trunk is slicker than snot. You can’t climb that thing. If you fall out of that, you’re going to break your back.”

“Well I don’t know what else to do,” he says.

“I’m going to bed, Eric. If that cat is still up there in the morning, we’ll figure something out. I think I’ve got a rope in my place. Maybe we can rig something up. But don’t climb that tree tonight.”

He looks at me like I just broke his heart. But I don’t know what else to do.

I’m awoken at 7:00 a.m. by pounding on my door. I sit up in bed, still wearing all my clothes from the night before. I reach around for my glasses, then I’m out of bed and at the door.

“Do you have that rope?” It’s Eric, annoyingly bright eyed. I remember everything from the night before all at once. “It’s still up there. It survived the night.”

“Come on in.”

I search around for the rope. I’m not even sure I have oneI did at one time, for hanging food packs when camping, but I haven’t seen it in a long time. I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do with it if I find it. I look through all my camping gear and through my closets, but I come up empty-handed.

“Eric, I don’t know what to tell ya, man. I can’t find it.”

Eric lets out a long sigh. “That’s all right. Don’t worry about it. I’d probably just end up killing myself if I tried to climb that tree.” He pauses for a moment. “I don’t know what to do. That little guy’s resilient. I can’t believe he made it through last night.”

We go outside to take a look. I can see him now, way high up in the tree. He looks awful. Just this tiny, skinny mess of black and white fur stuck to one of the branches 75 feet in the air.

REEEEOWWWWWREEEEEEEEEEOWWWWWWWWW …” It’s like he’s calling out for help.

“I’m sure he’ll come down eventually, Eric. When he gets hungry or cold enough, he’ll take a chance and figure it out.”

Eric shakes his head. “I dunno, man. This is the fourth day he’s been up there. The weather’s been lousy, it was horrendous last night. I think if he was gonna come down, he would have last night. I didn’t think there was any way we’d see him up there this morning.”

“It feels like it’s getting colder,” I tell Eric.

“Yeah. It’s supposed to plummet tonight. Supposed to drop to like 10 degrees in the middle of the night.”

REEEEOWWWWWWWWW…”

We both look straight up into the tree.

“I just don’t know what we can do that hasn’t already been done, man,” I say. “I think it’s up to the cat at this point.”

Eric doesn’t answer. We’re still looking straight up.

“We can’t climb that tree,” I tell him again. “If one of us dies trying to rescue that fucking cat…” I don’t feel the need to finish the thought.

“I know,” Eric finally replies. “I have to go to work. I’m late already. Fuck it.”

“I’ll be around tonight. Maybe we can figure something out after work.”

Eric shakes his head. “Right.”

I go take a shower and get ready for the day. I feel bad, but what can I do about it? I get cleaned up, shave, and put on clean clothes, and I flip on the news before it’s time for me to leave. All the news can talk about is how cold it’s going to get tonight.

RRREEEEEEEOOOWWWWWWWWWWW …” I hear above me as I’m locking up the door to my apartment. I look up into the trees and spot the cat. I wonder if maybe it can tell it’s going to get really cold tonight. Some primal animal instinct. Maybe it knows it’s going to be too cold to be stuck outside.

“Come on down, buddy,” I yell up into the tree.

REEEEEOWWWWWWWW …”

Before I leave I decide to climb the fire escape at the back of my building to see if I can get a closer look. I climb up three stories to a little deck on the roof of my building. From there I can see everything.

The little guy is clinging to a branch, shaking. He’s maybe 20 feet away from me. I can see his terrified little black and white face. The branches of the tree sway back and forth in the wind. He doesn’t look like much more than a kitten. I’m not a cat guy, never have been, but I can’t help but find the scene absolutely heartbreaking.

Then I’m struck with an idea. Inspiration! I can’t reach him from the ground, but maybe there’s some way I can reach him from up here. It’s only about 20 feet from where I am. Maybe I can bridge something across from here to the cat, and he can crawl over to me.

I look around on the roof, but I don’t see anything. Maybe I can find a board or a branch, maybe a ladder set across as a bridge. But there’s nothing up here.

I start back down the stairs to see if maybe I can find something in my apartment or in the yard. The moment I begin charging down the back steps the cat calls out to me, “REEEEEOWWWWWWWWW?”

I look around the yard but don’t see anything. I have a stepladder in my apartmentmaybe I can hold it across the gap and he’ll jump on it and walk over to me.

I run up the back steps with my aluminum stepladder. Once up there I try to hold it out in front of me extended as far as I can. I can’t hold it there for long, and even if I could it doesn’t bridge half the gap. The cat barely looks at it. He knows that’s never going to work. I charge back down the steps with my ladder and try to think of something else.

There’s a hardware store up the street that opens at 9:00. It’s 8:20. I’m supposed to leave for work right now if I’m going to make it on time. Maybe I can be at the hardware store right when it opens, buy something there that would be long enough to reach this cat from the roof, come back here and rescue the cat, and just show up at work an hour or two late.

Right?

I call my boss. I let him know that I’m running late and won’t be in for a couple of hours. I don’t go into any details, and he’s fine with that. I figure the less said the better.

I’m out in front of the hardware store at five minutes to 9:00. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I guess I’m hoping they’ll have a big ol’ ladder I can borrow, and somehow I’ll be able to lug that up to the roof and create a bridge for the cat.

But of course they don’t have a ladder. And when I explain what I’m doing, the two old Asian guys who run the place look at me like I’m nuts.

After about a half an hour of futzing around Ho’s Hardware, I settle on two aluminum poles used for painting. Each is a six-foot telescopic rod that extends to 12 feet, with an attachment at one end for screwing a roller into. I buy a nylon laundry basket and have visions of connecting the two telescoping rods together with the basket fixed at one end. I can stand safely on the roof, extend the basket out there, scoop the cat right up, and save the day.

Right?

So now I’m $40 poorer, but I have a plan. And you can’t put a price on that.

Once home, I lash the two aluminum poles together with duct tape. Then I attach my new navy blue nylon laundry basket to the far end of the super long, double extendable pole using a combination of duct tape and bungee cords. Feeling cautiously optimistic, I head back to the roof.

Needless to say the practice is a little tougher than the theory. My new 25-foot pole contraption is not easy to maneuver. The cat isn’t exactly sitting out in the open up there; there are a lot of branches and twigs between it and me. I keep getting the basket caught up in the branches. And then the joint where the two poles are connected begins to give and the whole thing starts to bend in the middle until it’s finally a giant arm bent at the elbow. It’s like trying to maneuver a 25-foot wet noodle.

The cat watches me the whole time, soaked to the bone and pathetic. Every now and then he let’s out a plaintive “REEEEEEOWWWWWWWW” just to keep me motivated.

I reinforce the pole with more duct tape (roughly half a roll) and a wooden splint. The weather’s getting nastier now. It hasn’t gotten any colder, but it’s sleeting again, just like the night before.

It’s slowgoing navigating that basket through all those branches. Feels like threading a gigantic needle. I get stuck and have to start over several times. My bare wet hands are beginning to go numb against the freezing cold metal pole.

Finally, I’m right there. I’ve got the whole thing extended out absolutely as far as I dare, and the basket is resting against the branch the cat’s clinging to. It’s about two feet from him. He’s looking right at it and he doesn’t budge an inch toward it.

“Come on, buddy!” I plead with him. “Just get in the basket.” I try encouraging him: “You can do it!” I try reason: “This is your best shot, buddy. No one else is coming out here.” I try bribery: “Come on! I’ll get you a nice warm saucer of milk if you just get in that basket.” I shake the pole. I make kissing noises and clucks. He occasionally meows at me, but that’s it. He doesn’t make a blessed move.

I feel like an idiot.

In the meantime I’m freezing, my khaki pants are soaked through to the skin, and I’m running horrendously late for work.

I’ve got to take a break. Warm up for a minute, call work, and figure out what I’m going to do. I pull the pole back onto the roof and retreat back down to my apartment.

I’ve got three messages on my phone, and they’re all from my girlfriend, Alisha. We work together, so I’m sure she’s concerned that I didn’t come in on time. I dial her back with my numb, swollen fingers, and I explain the situation to her.

“The poor cat!” I knew she’d sympathize.

“It’s the saddest thing,” I open the door and walk out into the backyard while I’m talking to her to take a peek up into the tree. “He’s still up there.”

REEEEEEEEEEOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!”

“Oh my god, Matt! I can hear him!” She’s hooked over the phone. “It’s so sad.”

“I don’t know what to do. I’m soaked and cold and it’s already almost noon. I’ve got to go to work. But I just can’t walk away from this damn cat.”

Alisha advises me to just take the day off. “Nothing’s going on here today anyway,” she says. “Just take a personal day.”

Can I really take a day off of work because there’s a catnot my cat, just some catstuck up a tree in my yard? Do people do that?

I decide to try it. I call up my boss and just level with him. I tell him the whole story. “I’ve gotten a little carried away here,” I confess. He chuckles at me. “If you tell me to drop it, that I need to come in, I’ll be there as soon as I can. But if you don’t mind me taking a personal day, I’d like to see this thing through.”

My boss is cool about it. He says fine, take a personal day. “But be prepared to take a little shit tomorrow.” Then he wishes me luck, and that’s it. It then occurs to me that I don’t ever need to sweat coming up with a fake excuse for missing work again. If my boss believes this, he’ll believe anything.

I call my dad. He’s a handy guy, so I figure maybe he’ll have an idea. I get him on the phone at work and explain the situation to him. “So, any thoughts?” I ask him.

“Yeah. I’ve got a thought. Go to work. A cat that climbs up a tree and can’t get back down shouldn’t come back down. That’s natural selection.” My dad’s such a softy.

“I know,” I reply. “But I’ve become invested in this now. I can’t just leave him up there to freeze.”

“You get high marks as a human being, son. But low marks for sense. Just go to work. That cat will come down eventually.”

My friend Ryan, who owns the building and lives in the top-floor apartment, joins me on the roof during a moment that is not my best: I’m cold and soaked to the bone and getting frustrated.

“Come on, you stupid goddamn cat! Get in the fucking basket! Come on! You little fucker, come on!”

“Trying to sweet-talk that cat outta that tree?” he asks with a wide grin.

“I’d serenade the son of a bitch if I thought it would help.” And I mean it.

“You look awful, man. You’re soaking wet. It’s terrible out here.” It’s cold and grey and it keeps changing back and forth between cold rain and freezing rain.

REEEEOWWWWWWWWWWREOWWWWWWW …” The cat looks worse than meat least I hope I don’t look that bad. The fur on his back is standing straight up and he’s absolutely bedraggled. I imagine as cold and miserable as I am, that little cat must be feeling 10 times as bad.

“Take a break, man,” Ryan advises. “I’ll buy you lunch. I’m betting the cat will still be there when we get back.”

We’re sitting in El Pacifico having burritos and beers when my phone rings. It’s Alisha.

“Did Jon call you yet?” she asks.

“What are you talking about?”

“Okay. You’re not going to believe this. I was telling some people at work about the catyou’re going to get an earful on that tomorrow, by the wayand, anyway, Jaime suggested I email this guy at the Tribune who has that ‘Got a Problem You Can’t Solve’ column. People email and write in with problems they can’t solve and the Trib helps with some of ’em. So I emailed this link on the Tribune website, yourproblem@tribune.com, and some guy called me like five minutes after I sent it! His name is Jon. He wants to talk to you. I gave him your number.”

Alisha barely gets the words out of her mouth when there’s a beep in my ear. “Honey, that’s my other line. Hold on.”

And, sure enough, it’s him. Jon Yates of the Chicago Tribune. I tell him the whole story. He says he’s going to make some calls and get back to me. I do not have great faith in this. But by the time we’ve finished our lunches and another round of beers he has already called me back.

“A field officer from the Anti-Cruelty Society is on his way out to try to help. I’m going to go ahead and come over too.”

I can’t believe it. The power of the press.

A white van with “ANTI-CRUELTY SOCIETY” printed in big block letters across the side pulls up in front of my building. A tall, thin man in coveralls steps out. He’s probably in his mid-fifties, with glasses and grey hair. His name is Don. We shake hands and I lead him up to the roof.

“Jeez, he’s way up there isn’t he?” He shakes his head, then reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small can of turkey-flavored Fancy Feast. “Well, if he’s been up there for four days, he’s gotta be hungry.” Don pops the top on the can of food and peels back the lid. “If he catches a whiff of the food, maybe we can entice him to come down.”

He looks around for a second, then picks a small twig up off the roof. He sticks one end into the food, extracts a little brown glob of it, and then attempts to fling that in the direction of the cat. He does this several times and finally manages to hit some branches near the cat.

REEEEEOWWWWWWREEEEEOWWWWWWWW …” The cat knows what’s up right away. He starts meowing like mad, and he’s moving around on the branch a little now. Investigating, trying to find a way to get to that food. He makes a move to another branch, but higher up. He’s looking around everywhere for the secret path, but he can’t find it.

It’s time for my pole again. We put the can of food in the laundry basket, then extend it out to the tree. After some intricate maneuvers, we’re able to get the basket just a couple of feet from the cat.

“Is this going to work?” Don asks me suddenly. “If we get the cat in that basket will it hold him?’

Shit. Now I’ve got visions of finally coaxing this cat into the basket only to drop him three stories to his grisly end. That would be a lousy ending to this whole affair.

“I dunno, Don. I sure hope so. I figure it’s better than the alternative. It’s going to get awfully cold tonight.”

By the time the reporter from the Tribune arriveswith a photographerDon and I are in Ryan’s apartment warming up. We go back out and the photographer takes pictures of Don reaching out with my pole trying to get the cat in the basket. But the cat will have none of that basket. It looks at it, but then just looks over and meows at us. I can just tell there’s not a chance in the world we’re going to convince that cat to get into that basket. No way.

The reporter, Jon, asks me a few questions; then he turns his attention to Don. “What if you can’t get the cat to come out of the tree?”

Don considers for a moment. “Well, I’ve never yet seen a dead cat in a tree. I think he’ll come down eventually.”

“But you don’t have any idea when that could be?”

“No. There’s just no way to tell.”

“Okay.” Jon clicks his pen and puts it away in his pocket. “We’re going to leave now, because there’s no telling when this might get resolved.” He gives me a business card. “Call my cell phone if anything happens. I’ll check in with you a little later.”

About a half an hour later Don and I are still freezing out on the roof, our hope fading, when my phone rings. It’s Reporter Jon from the Tribune.

“I’m on my way back there now. The fire department is on their way over. They’re sending a truck and they’re going to see if they can get it close enough to send a ladder up there. They’re coming to ‘assist Anti-Cruelty,’ as they put it.”

I can’t believe it. I thank him, then tell Don, who’s absolutely stunned. “They never come out for this,” he tells me. “Word gets out they rallied the troops for a cat in a tree and they’re going to get all sorts of crazy calls.”

I run inside to tell Ryan, and Don follows me in to thaw out. Five minutes later there’s a fire truck in our back alley and a dozen or so firefighters are standing around in Ryan’s backyard, staring straight up, pointing at the trees. I’ve never in my life felt better about paying my taxes.

All these firefighters are standing around discussing tactics in thick Chicago accents.

“Maybe if we can get a rope around one of those bigger branches up high …”

“I don’t think we’re gonna get a ladder up there with the wires back here and all those branches.”

“We need two ropes.”

“I think we can back the truck right in here.”

“What about the wires?”

“I think we can dodge the wires. We’ll send someone up in the cherry picker with a chain saw to clear out some of those branches.”

“Who’s going up?”

Reporter Jon and his photographer arrive just as the fire department is backing the truck into the yard. The photographer immediately starts taking pictures of the scene unfolding, and Jon walks over to Don and me. “Can you believe this?” he asks with a grin.

Two firefighters are high above us, 50 feet in the air, in the cherry picker basket that extends from the rear of the truck. One guy is brandishing the chain saw, taking down limb after limb. The branches come crashing down to the ground in Ryan’s yard. The other guy is there for safety, I presume. He keeps grabbing the belt of the other firefighter when he needs to lean out of the basket to make a cut.

The cat watches it all from his branch, meowing occasionally. He doesn’t seem terribly impressed by the commotion he’s causing. He even starts grooming himself, licking his paw, then rubbing it over his head.

A small crowd is gathering. Neighbors, noticing the truck and the noise, have come over to investigate. I spot the guy I saw last night when I came home standing among those who have gatheredthe guy who told me the cat belongs to his mother. He sees me looking at him and walks over.

“How’d you get the fire department out here?” he asks. “I must have called them five times, and they kept telling me they don’t come out for this sort of thing.”

I tell him the whole story, and introduce him to Reporter Jon, without whom I’m sure we never would have gotten the fire department out. Jon takes out his notebook and gets to work asking him questions.

“What’s the cat’s name?” Jon asks him.

“Chiky. His name is Chiky. He’s only six months old.”

Just then, Alisha arrives. She left work at the end of the day and headed right over. She gives me a big hug and we decide to climb back up to the roof to get a better view of Chiky the cat.

“Ohhhhhh. Look at him! He’s so little. He must be so cold!” Alisha makes some kissing noises in Chiky’s direction. “Chiky … come on down, Chiky. It’s okay.”

The firemen are lowering the cherry picker. They’ve done all the cutting they need to do. One of the firemen climbs out of the basket when it’s low enough, and Don the Anti-Cruelty Society guy takes his place, climbing awkwardly in. He looks almost as scared as Chiky. He’s holding a pole with a collar at one end, used to capture small animals.

With a mechanical hum the basket of the cherry picker begins to slowly rise toward Chiky with its two occupants. They’re able to get it right near Chikymaybe four feet away from him. With the fireman holding him around the waist, Don reaches out with his collar andvery carefullyloops it around the cat’s neck. There’s commotion down below, some applause and cheers. Don starts to try to pull the cat in, but he’s not budging. He’s got his claws dug into that branch.

“Come on, cat!” one of the firemen yells from below.

Don starts pulling harder. Chiky begins to move a little, reluctantly, off that branch. Then everything’s chaos.

Chiky is off the branch, hanging in midair from Don’s pole, squirming around frantically. He slips the collar. There are gasps and cries from down below. Alisha grabs my arm tightly and catches her breath. Chiky falls maybe 10 feet and catches himself on a lower branch. There is a collective sigh of relief from the ground.

Chiky stays where he is for the moment. The firemen are repositioning the cherry picker, trying to get closer. Then Chiky starts to climb. The firemen below begin shouting, trying to discourage him, but it’s no use. Chiky’s climbing, trying to find someplace safe. He finally stops because there’s no place left to climb. He’s at the very top of the tree.

The firefighters try to move the cherry picker toward Chiky, but he’s too high now. They can’t reach him anymore.

Three firemen come up and join Alisha and me on the roof. “So what’s the plan now?” I ask.

“There’s another engine coming,” replies one of the firemen. “Another company has a bigger truck with a bigger ladder. We’re trying to get them to come out here.”

I’m amazed by these firefighters. I feared they were going to be bitchy and not too happy about risking life and limb for a cat in a tree. But they all seem in good spirits, laughing and joking, calling up to the cat, meowing, trying to coax him down. They seem like good guys.

It’s dark out by the time the other truck arrives. It parks in front of the house, and they send the ladder up over the top of the house into the backyard. Now there are two fire trucks in Ryan’s yard, both with ladders extended and people up in the air. Probably 20 firemen are on the scene. It’s quite a spectacle. Other firefighters are holding spotlights down below, shining them up into the tree. The crowd of onlookers has gotten bigger.

Every time one of the firefighters gets near him, Chiky moves. Side to side, down a couple of branches, back up a couple, always just out of reach.

One of the firemen standing on the roof with Alisha and me picks up my duct-taped-together pole. “What’s this?” he asks with a grin.

“I rigged that this morning. I couldn’t think of anything better. I don’t even know if it would work, but we just can’t get that damn cat into the basket.”

The firefighter examines it for a moment, then rips the laundry basket off the end. “We’ve got a long pole up here,” the fireman yells down to the others. “I’m going to try to herd him toward one of the other guys.”

He tries, but it doesn’t do anything. Chiky just sidesteps it. He hands it over to the guy on the ladder of the truck parked in front of the house, who tries the same thing, but to no avail.

Things are slowing down. Everyone’s getting cold and running out of ideas. They lower the cherry picker in the backyard. I’m getting the impression they’re minutes away from giving up.

“Oh, shit,” one of the firefighters on the roof mutters. “Look who’s climbing into the cherry picker.”

A silver-haired fireman in a different uniform than the rest is getting into the basket.

“Crap,” one of the other firemen agrees. “What’s the chief even doing here?”

“I dunno. But if he gets that cat out of the tree, we’re never going to hear the end of it.”

The mechanical hum starts up and the cherry picker begins to rise with Deputy District Chief Steven Bates inside.

“Chiky …”Alisha starts calling out. She’s trying to distract him so he won’t retreat from the fireman. “Chiky…” And call me crazy, but I think it’s working. The cat’s looking right at her, and meows. Maybe after hearing all these gruff male voices it finds the soft, feminine voice soothing.

The cherry picker is closer now. Just a couple of feet away. The chief hasn’t made a move. He’s biding his time, being patient. Alisha still seems to have the cat’s attention.

The chief suddenly reaches his arm out. Using his bare hand, he pins Chiky to the branch he’s on. After a couple of moments he’s got him by the scruff of the neck and lifts him into his arms.

YEAHHHH!” There’s cheering and clapping from down below. I get a big hug from Alisha.

“Aw, shit, man,” one of the firefighters near me mutters. “I can just hear him now: ‘You guys are all out there with two trucks for two hours and can’t do anything, then I show up and get him down in five minutes!’”

“I know,” one of the other firemen agrees. “It’s gonna be a real pain.”

The chief, holding Chiky against his chest, is on solid ground now. He hands the cat over to Don from Anti-Cruelty. Alisha and I rush down the stairs to see him. The photographer is taking pictures of the whole thing; the flash of his camera goes off every few seconds.

“The little guy is shaking like a leaf,” says Don. “And his heart is beating a hundred miles a second!”

It does my heart good to see that little cat out of that tree. It makes me forget the cold and the rain and all the trouble. It restores my faith in humanity to some degree to see all these folks here to help, all brought together by this one silly cat. I feel so grateful to the fire department and Anti-Cruelty. Even toward the Tribune. I’m just so glad it all had a happy ending, because it sure didn’t look like that was going to be the case for a while there.

“We’re going to take him in, check him out, make sure he’s okay,” says Don. “And we’ll have him neutered too. That should help with the wanderlust.”

I’ll bet Chiky wishes he never saw that tree.

If you enjoyed this story, please check out the websites for the Anti-Cruelty Society and the Chicago Fire Department.

The email address for the Chicago Tribune “What’s Your Problem?” feature is yourproblem@tribune.com.

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