Sad and unfortunate news from down in Orange County. Scott Beuhler, a 27-year-old man attempting to rescue a treed cat, fell to his death Wednesday, and reading about it reminded me of the night in 2004 when Susan and I were first dating and  I came to her aid when she worriedly called to tell me that her Pumpkin had gotten stuck in a tree across the street.

I arrived and sure enough Pumpkin was out on a branch about 20 feet off the sidewalk, and though he didn’t seem very thrilled with the situation, he was also in no hurry to descend on his own. And while common sense told me that what goes up on its own must surely be able to come down on its own, I think my genuine empathy for the unhappy cat and my eagerness to help (as well as perhaps impress Susan a little bit with what a great guy I am) resulted in me propping up her extending ladder at something of an awkward and unsteady angle against the trunk of the tree and tentatively climbing up the wobbly thing about a step or two beyond what would have been considered safe by any impartial third party.

Pumpkin, who barely knew me at that point in our relationship, spared me from going any further out on the proverbial limb by moving further out along the branch away from me with a look that was either “Yeah right!” or “Who the hell are you!?” or a bit of both.

After a few more minutes of attempted coaxing I returned to earth knowing any further attempt on my part would be fruitless. The cat certainly wasn’t going to come to me and though part of me was thinking about getting further up in the tree, I knew it was risky and all it would do is drive the cat higher up or farther out among the smaller branches. Bottom line was I wasn’t going to be able to get close to the cat. And even if I could, what then? Did I seriously think Pumpkin would just snuggle in and be patient while I tried to get us both down safely? Hell no.

No, it was time to step away from my ego and call in the professionals. So I whipped out the cell and after a series of transfers from the information operator to the fire department to animal services I had the after-hours dispatcher on the line. I don’t remember the exact course of our conversation but it basically went something like:

“Hello, we have a cat stuck up in a tree.”

“Yes sir. And you want us to come help you get it down?”

“Yes.”

“Sir, may I ask you: do you know how many calls we get from people whose cats have climbed up into trees?”

“No.”

“A lot. And do you know how many we respond too?”

“No.”

“Not many. And do you know why?”

“Uh?”

“Partly because we don’t have the ability to, but mainly because no cat’s ever starved to death in a tree, sir.”

“But…”

“Never. You know why?”

“Because they come down?”

“Right. Because at some point the cat gets bored or cold or tired or thirsty or hungry and it comes down. All on its own. Doesn’t need any help from you or the city.”

“But…”

“Sir, is the cat injured?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then at some point, I’d hazard either later tonight or tomorrow morning at the latest, the cat — what’s your cat’s name?”

“Pumpkin.”

“Pumpkin will come down. I practically guarantee it.”

I didn’t like the prospect of poor Pumpkin up a tree overnight, but I knew the dispatcher was right and thanked her for her time before I hung up to retract the ladder and say goodnight to Pumpkin and leave him to decide when enough was enough.

The next day I got an early call from Susan letting me know that she’d found Pumpkin safe and sound and waiting by the back door.

I wish the young man who died trying to be helpful yesterday, had either thought what he was doing through a little more, or had been able to talk to a dispatcher similar to mine.