Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is Normer Adams, of nonprofit Cat Man Do Rescue, as told to Heather Buckner.
Winter is a real busy time for cats in trees—I had three yesterday. My first cat rescue, four years ago, was the best one of all I’ve done. I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t a good tree-climber. I get up to the cat; the cat comes to me and headbutts me, purring, begging me to get him out of the tree. That’s quite unusual. He let me pick him up, put him in a cat bag, come down, have my picture taken with him. This was a neighborhood cat: He roams house to house. People think of him as their own. When I brought him down, I saw what it did for people. It gave them relief and joy and happiness. People cry. I would have never imagined pulling cats out of trees would have such a great impact on people.
I was a child advocate for 23 years. I represented children who were in Georgia’s foster-care system. Just prior to retiring, I got interested in climbing trees. I had a bamboo forest in my backyard, and starlings used to roost in the bamboo. After several days, the canopy and floor was white with their droppings; it smelled like a chicken coop. I went on Craigslist and found some steel scaffolding that was 65 feet tall. I figured if I could get up in the canopy, I could scare them away. Once I had it built, I couldn’t climb it more than 10 feet: Heights scared me to death. I said, “If I had a safety rope, maybe I would be okay.” So, I went to a rock-climbing gym and did a one-hour course. I found that I really enjoyed climbing that steel tower into the bamboo canopy. I joined a tree-climbing club and learned the ropes, so to speak.
Then, the founder of the Atlanta Tree Climbing Club [said at] a meeting, I want to introduce all of you to rescuing cats out of trees. There were about four or five of us that said, Yeah, let’s rescue cats! They came up with the amount we were going to charge. I said, “I’m not going to charge for my services.” Boy, they did not like that. But when I retired, I said I would never work again for pay. Pay changes the relationship; I didn’t want that relationship with people again. And a lot of people can’t afford it. They’re barely making it. I’ve been poor myself at times. I don’t want to put people in that position: I’m not going to get my cat down because I can’t pay someone. So, they call me. And I’m happier because of it. There is extreme joy in helping others.
There’s a couple of questions I ask to figure out what the cat’s gonna do: What would the cat do if I came to your house? If they say the cat will hide under the bed, the cat will go out on a limb, maybe even jump out of the tree. If they say the cat will jump in your lap, that cat’s gonna come to me. If they say the cat would hiss at you, I’ll say to that person: How are you with heights? You wanna go up and get them?
When I first started climbing that [steel] tower, I would put a big six-foot Christmas star every year on top of it. It went out at 12 o’clock one night, and it was freezing. I said [to my wife], “Pam, I’m going outside to see if I can get this light back on in the star. If I’m not back in an hour, come looking for me.” Well, I was gone two hours. I come down and find that she’s asleep! I said, “I thought you were gonna come looking for me after an hour!” She said, “If you’re stupid enough to go up there, you’re stupid enough to come down.” That’s been her attitude—not that she disparages me, but that she realizes I’m going to be safe. She goes with me on most of my calls; she is really very supportive.
If you’ve got an irrational fear, you push through it. I used to be a therapist; people would come to me with all kinds of fears, and I told them how to overcome them. I did desensitization: I kept climbing higher and higher and higher. Now, height doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t matter how high a cat is if I’ve got a rope over a good limb. One hundred and ten feet is no different from 30 feet—you’re gonna die anyway. I thought, This fear is not going to conquer me. I’m not going to let fear keep me from going to the top of the tower to scare those birds. And, by the way, it didn’t help. The starlings just came over to the tower. I finally figured out a way to get rid of them: a flame-thrower.
This article appears in our February 2022 issue.