By Alyssa Schnugg
When Starkville resident Bob Reese’s cat managed to climb 30 feet up a tree in 2013, he spent hours thinking of how to get his beloved furry friend down safely. Eventually, the cat managed to get himself down but the event sparked something in Reese.
“I thought about what would happen if my cat couldn’t get down,” Reese said. “So I decided I was going to lean how to climb trees and rescue cats. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, practiced and did my first rescue in May 2013.”
Today, the retired MSU associate professor travels hundreds of miles each year rescuing cats from trees. Since he started, he’s rescued about 190 cats around the state and about 14 in the Lafayette County area.
Reese says he will drive three hours to rescue a cat if necessary; however, he now has contacts at each end of the state to help out.
“I have a guy in the Memphis, Southaven area and a guy in Baton Rogue who helps with cases close to the coast,” Reese said.
Mississippi Cat Tree Rescue is Reese’s hobby and he does not charge to rescue a cat. He does accept donations for the Oktibbeha County Humane Society. He’s raised about $6,000 so far for the shelter, where his wife, Donna serves as treasurer.
“Donations are optional,” he said. “I don’t want what I do to be a financial burden to anyone. If they want to donate, it goes to the shelter but it’s not an obligation.”
The highest Reese has climbed to save a cat is about 90 feet.
“I’ve had to climb 90 feet twice,” he said. “But the average height is about 30 or so feet.”
Reese said he generally tells people to wait 24 hours as many cats do eventually find a way to get themselves out of tree.
“I typically get contacted when the cat as been in the tree for two or three days,” he said. “Most people will wait awhile to see if the cat comes down. Then they’ll start calling people and eventually they find me.”
Cats are more resilient than most people realize, Reese said. He’s rescued cats who have been stuck in a tree for 20 days and other than losing a few pounds, they were OK.
“As long as there is rain or dew for them to get water, they are very tough and just built for survival,” he said. “However, if it’s August and 100 degrees and they’ve been up there a few days, it gets worrisome.”
His most recent Oxford rescue was in March when a pretty, furry cat named Jezebel was stuck in a 35-foot tree.
“After an overnight stay, she was ready to be rescued when I climbed up to her,” Reese said. “Jezebel made no complaints as I nabbed her and placed her into the cat bag.”
Reese often gets referrals from fire departments and other animal rescue organizations like Nine Lives Cat Rescue of Oxford.
Natascha Techen, director and founder of Nine Lives said Reese is her “go-to-guy” when it comes to rescuing stranded cats in trees.
“Anything above the height of my gutters makes me dizzy and I am unable to rescue cats in trees,” she said. “I watched (Reese) once rescuing a cat and I was amazed by the weight and variety of equipment he takes up with him to be prepared for everything. I cannot thank him enough for the many lives he has saved that way – a true hero in my book.”
After climbing the tree using tree-climbing gear, Reese will often try to tempt the cat to come to him using dry or wet cat food. If the cat is scared and unwilling to come to Reese, he uses a grab or snare pole, that he loops around the cat and gently pulls the cat to him and then places the cat into a net, or cat bag, and carries the cat back down to safety.
“I’ve only been bitten a couple times,” he said. “I bring a big, heavy pair of gloves with me but I’ve never used them.”
Reese retired from Mississippi State University as an associate professor of computer engineering in August and now works doing consulting work, which gives him a flexible schedule to respond to cat rescue calls.
“I consider this my community service,” he said. “I’ve been a cat owner for years and instead of spending money on other hobbies like hunting or fishing, I do cat rescues.”