An indoor kitty that escaped into the great outdoors got a little more adventure than she bargained for late this week, spending several days stuck in a very tall redwood tree, and requiring two separate rescue attempts to get her paws back on solid ground.

In the end, it took three different agencies, a bit of ingenuity and a good measure of patience to safely reunite her with her family.

When rescuers finally reached her, she was about 80 feet off the ground.

Butterfly, a one-and-a-half year-old American curl who belongs to the Junior Lopez family, somehow got out Wednesday. “When the kids came home from school at 1:30 p.m., we couldn’t find her,” mom Shelley said via text. They could hear her meowing in the back alley, she said. “So that was the first night she ever slept outside, and now we know she was in that tree.”

Shelley, her daughter, Belle, 9, who is also Butterfly’s human best friend, and son Zack, 5, searched for her all day, realizing in the afternoon that she was in the tree. They weren’t able to reach anyone at the Fire Department as it was after 5, “so Deputy Denton drove to the firehouse and brought back the firemen.”

Editor’s note: While we are fortunate to have an animal-friendly fire department, most jurisdictions don’t do a lot of cat rescues, these days. A tree trimming company is another possibility. Sometimes, though, the cat just needs time to gather its wits, and courage. “The best thing to do,” Patterson Fire Chief Don Armario said via text, “is to leave wet cat food at the bottom of the tree and be prepared to wait up to several days.”

Butterfly had worked her way about 30 feet up in the tree, which is a little over 80 feet tall.

Cats are great climbers – they’re just not that good at coming back down, unless they do so backwards. Climbing backwards down an 80-foot tree isn’t, probably, something any feline would be in a hurry to do – even if they weren’t frightened and traumatized by spending hours and hours at that height.

Butterfly had been in the tree for about a day and a half when the first rescue crew arrived.

Rescue attempt #1

As darkness was gathering Thursday night, firefighters from Fire Station 1, C Shift, arrived. Captain Nick Jamieson, Engineer Casey Zenger, Firefighter Steve Kuchac, Explorer Alex Martinez and volunteer Dan Borba quickly held a brainstorming session, discussing options for encouraging the kitty to come down.

This is an aspect of their jobs for which firefighters don’t get enough credit: They’re the ones the other first responders count on to bring the brawn, ingenuity and equipment.

Not only do they have to know how to restart hearts and get people breathing again, before they can even get to that part of their jobs, they often have to get creative in figuring out how to safely get to victims, start whatever emergency procedures they can, and then get all of them safely out of whatever difficult physical situation an incident has gotten them into.

The situations first responders encounter are rarely neat and tidy.

After discussing several options, C Shift narrowed it down to the only one available to them that had a chance of working: spraying some water near Butterfly, to encourage her to come down.

First, though, the firefighters had to get the firetruck with the hose to where she was. The redwood she had chosen was at the far end of an alley with only one (relatively easy) access point, and which happens to have utility poles running down one side.

So the firetruck had to be backed down the alley. Zenger, guided by his coworkers, threaded the vehicle carefully between the fences on either side and the poles.

No aspect of this rescue, it turned out, was going to be easy.

A small crowd gathered as several neighbors, spotting the truck, made their way down the alley to see what was happening. Shelley said later that she appreciated the concern her neighbors had shown during Butterfly’s ordeal.

At one point, several firefighters got out shovels and quickly leveled a high area so the truck could make it through – with just a few inches to spare. (Unfortunately, the department’s ladder truck, located at Station 2, wasn’t a good option for this particular rescue.)

With the truck finally in place, the team sprayed water in her direction to convince Butterfly to come down, two of them holding a blanket for her, but after a couple of attempts, she went further up into the tree – and out of reach of the equipment on hand.

The atmosphere got a little more serious.

C Shift again huddled to discuss options, but there turned out not to be any. 

Reluctantly, the firefighters called off the attempt. At least one of them spent the evening thinking about Butterfly’s predicament, Shelley said later. The family really appreciated the hard work the firefighters put in, she said, adding that they “felt so bad (for them), and were so happy for all their efforts.”

Attempt #2

Shelley called TID for help Friday morning. When they learned that the cat had been in the tree for two nights and three days, “and crows were attacking now,” TID sent someone right away. “We were so thankful they came so quickly,” she said.

By this time Butterfly, trying to get away from the crows, had climbed nearly to the top of the 80-foot tree.

Jeff was the first TID employee to arrive on the scene. After evaluating the situation, he called for a truck with a bigger ladder.  

Nate and Matt soon arrived, in a truck with an 80-foot boom, and went up in the buckets. It was the first cat rescue for both, and a bit of a nerve-wracking ascent, because of live power lines very close by.

They maneuvered their way partway up, but eventually had to bring the buckets back down and reposition the truck, to try again.

Nothing about this rescue was easy.

They were able to get up to Butterfly’s level on the second attempt – but that didn’t immediately end Butterfly’s ordeal, as her instincts continued to lead her up, away from these people she didn’t know, and the loud truck. Jeff cut the truck’s engine.

Matt, who was closest, offered her food and water, which she was too frightened to be interested in. “She smelled the food, turned around and took a couple of steps up,” he said.

While he was concerned about the cat’s safety, he must also have been keenly aware of his own – a panicked feline can do some damage with both teeth and claws, even, sometimes, through gloves and heavy work clothes. And wrestling a terrified animal of any kind at 80 feet in the air probably wouldn’t be anything most of us would be in any hurry to do.

Nate and Matt maneuvered the buckets a little further in towards the trunk of the huge tree. Finally, Matt was close enough to reach out and grab hold of the scruff of the frightened feline’s neck. “The cat had tried to escape by going further up into the tree, so I had to just grab her like a mama cat,” he said. He and Nate put her into the crate Shellie had sent up for her, then slowly lowered the buckets.

Back on the ground, Matt handed the crate to Shelley, who, after greeting Butterfly, looked her over. The birds had apparently gotten her a little on one foot, but other than being shaken up by her ordeal, she seemed to be fine.

“(We’re) glad to say that Butterfly is back home safely now,” Shelley said. She texted Belle’s teacher, to let Belle know that Butterfly was safely out of the tree. Belle hadn’t wanted to go to school Friday. Situations such as this must demand a lot of parents.

On hearing that Butterfly was safe, “I cried,” Belle, holding Butterfly, volunteered later.

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