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A cat got stuck in a tree for five days. It took more than 30 people to get him down.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/26/2021 Dana Hedgpeth
Hank, a cat, climbed a tall tree in Northeast Washington and was stuck in it for five days. © Courtesy of Humane Rescue Alliance Hank, a cat, climbed a tall tree in Northeast Washington and was stuck in it for five days.

Hank, a 1½-year-old cat, usually spent his days in his yard in Northeast Washington and sometimes wandered into the garden of the nuns who lived on the block. He enjoyed sniffing their flowers.

But one recent fall day, he got stuck in a roughly 60-foot tall tree for five days and four nights with no food or water. It took more than three-dozen neighbors, friends, animal rescue volunteers and strangers working together and trying a half-dozen different ways — that included the use of tall ladders, baskets and catnip — to get him down safely.

“To realize something you love is in trouble and you personally can’t do anything about it is very frustrating,” said Delores Bushong, 74, Hank’s owner who got him from a rescue shelter in the Shenandoah Valley area and has lived in Northeast Washington for 30 years. “It really required a lot of people coming together and trying an incredible number of different things to get Hank out of that tree.”

Hank’s big adventure, as Bushong and the animal rescue volunteers dubbed it, started Nov. 6.

Bushong had gone to a farmers market and come home when she realized Hank hadn’t come in for his midday snack with Effie, his 2½-year-old sister. The siblings are indoor and outdoor cats.

She looked for him, calling out his name, in alleys and streets around her home near Hamlin and King streets in the Langdon neighborhood. As it got dark, she started to worry.

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Then she heard a cat crying, looked up and spotted Hank, stuck in a neighbor’s tree.

“I couldn’t believe he’d climbed a tree and especially one that was so high because he’d see squirrels in trees but never tried to climb them,” Bushong said.

Bushong believes Hank got under a fence and then got spooked by a neighbor’s dogs. The more scared he got, animal rescue experts suggested, the higher he climbed.

“Cats have an amazing ability to climb up trees, but actually they aren’t that good at climbing down,” said Dan D’Eramo, director of field services for the Humane Rescue Alliance.

Bushong now worried about getting him down. The Humane Rescue Alliance took the lead, but it was no easy task.

They called the D.C. fire department, which said they couldn’t go up in the tree for him with their ladders.

Delores Bushong, who lives in Northeast, hugs her cat Hank after he was rescued from a tree in her neighbor's yard. © Courtesy of Humane Rescue Alliance Delores Bushong, who lives in Northeast, hugs her cat Hank after he was rescued from a tree in her neighbor's yard.

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Then Bushong called a construction company to ask about renting scaffolding but was told she would have to book the equipment 48 days in advance. Renting a tall ladder was expensive and hard to find.

Bushong called Casey Trees, where she’s a volunteer, and they sent an expert, who analyzed Hank’s predicament and said it wasn’t safe for a person to go up the tree because the branches weren’t sturdy.

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Ed Baptiste, the neighbor whose tree Hank had climbed, let Bushong sit in his backyard to be near him. She said sometimes she’d just take the newspaper and sit under the tree, occasionally trying to talk Hank down, but that didn’t work.

“I could hear him crying, and my neighbors could hear him crying,” Bushong said. “I think it really got to people’s hearts.”

One of the volunteers in Hank’s rescue suggested Bushong call the owner of a nearby pest control business, EJ’s Pest Control, which had a tall ladder. She did and the owner — Ijeoma Maduforo-Barry — told her she could use her 42-foot tall ladder.

“I wanted to make sure they were all taken care of,” Maduforo-Barry said. “I don’t have any pets, but I’m human, and I do have a soft heart.”

One neighbor gave a can of sardines to put out to try to lure Hank down. But no luck. By the fifth day of Hank’s adventure, word had gotten around at the offices of the Humane Rescue Alliance about the failed rescue attempts.

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Lydia Krassensky, who works on the agency’s customer care team, told another staff member how her sister and brother-in-law years ago had set up a rope system and a basket, with a few items inside that had their scent to lure their cat and successfully lowered it from a tree.

Word of Krassensky’s idea spread: Her colleague D’Eramo — who had tried every trick of luring cats out of trees that he’d ever used in his 12 years at the D.C. animal group — decided to give it a try.

With ropes and a contraption that shot a bean bag into the tree and looped some string around a branch, they maneuvered into place a small crate with special items inside — catnip, a pair of Bushong’s slippers, a cat scratch pad and a fuzzy blanket. They put it in just the right spot, and Hank took the bait: He jumped in.

The 33 people who’d helped in the rescue effort were surprised it worked. When he got to the ground, Bushong scooped Hank into her arms, and he purred.

Hank rests on his favorite chair after his rescue from a tree in Northeast. © Delores Bushong Hank rests on his favorite chair after his rescue from a tree in Northeast.

Afterward, Hank went inside, ate and rested in his favorite armchair. The next day, Bushong recalled, when he wanted to go outside, “I said, ‘Oh no.’ ”

Bushong put chicken wire under a few gaps at the bottom of her fence and her neighbor’s so Hank couldn’t prowl into his yard.

For her, Hank’s adventure became a lesson about neighbors helping neighbors.

“I can’t believe how many people went out of their way to help me with this cat. … No one ever said, ‘You’re being ridiculous,' ” Bushong said. “It made me feel good that I live in a neighborhood where people would help to do whatever they could to get him down. It gave me hope.”

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