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Some heroes wear a harness and helmet.

By Madison Pincombe
December 23, 2020
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Normer with rescued cat
Credit: Courtesy of Normer M. Adams

Normer Adams was 100 feet up a tree, a height that would've scared the daylights out of him years ago. But he had a job to do rescuing Panda the cat, who’d spent the previous five days perched high within a tulip poplar tree. His former fear of heights would not deter him from completing his mission to get Panda safely back into the arms of his owner, who was patiently waiting on solid ground. 

This would be Adams’ 565th rescue since he started rescuing cats from trees almost four years ago, and his third time saving the daring Panda. Adams says the two “are friends now,” and that Panda must instinctively know that if he gets stuck in a tree, his pal Adams—a 70-years-young retired therapist who regularly scales unimaginable heights to save terrified cats—will come to his rescue. The black-and-white kitty had spent the previous 5 days perched high within a tulip poplar tree before Adams showed up.

Videos of his rescues are shared via Cat Man Do Rescue on Facebook, which he started in order to “save creatures who find themselves in trees.” They’re both harrowing and heartwarming all at once because it’s not uncommon for Adams to climb to the very top of a tree and out on a very thin limb to rescue a cat who’s gotten stuck. The videos document the dramatic moment when reaches the cat: Sometimes it takes hours for him to be able to convince the terrified feline to come close enough to be within arms’ reach. Adams always has a grab pole and net on hand in case he needs to capture a cat who’s out of reach, but says that some cats willingly come right into his arms. 

Once Adams has the kitty in his “cat bag,” it’s time for their triumphant journey back down to safety. “You can almost see their feeling of relief when they see they’re on the ground,” Adams says. The cats aren’t the only ones who are relieved—Adams told Daily Paws he’s seen grown men cry (see the end of the video below for proof) and entire neighborhoods cheer when their beloved cats are safely returned to them.

But this fearless animal lover wasn’t always so keen to climb trees, especially not ones that require three ropes, a harness, helmet, and hours of careful planning just to ensure his own safety. Adams says he started climbing trees because he thought it might help him get over his fear of heights. The former counselor wanted to use desensitization to help him overcome his phobia, with help from safety ropes and a harness. “When I first started climbing trees, I couldn’t go over 10 feet up,” he says. Slowly but surely, he pushed through his fear and climbed higher.

He says that while he initially enjoyed the outdoors and exercise, he found that simply climbing trees was “somewhat self-limiting, with diminishing returns.” Adams learned that people needed help rescuing cats from trees, and realized his climbing experience might be helpful. “I started rescuing cats, and I saw how much people appreciated it,” he says. His business and passion blossomed from there.

Adams started out as a stem climber (meaning he stayed close to the trunk of the tree), but in-tree rescues required that he expand his practice to the limbs, learn to transfer from one tree to another, and sometimes even hang upside down. If it’s not obvious, this is NOT something you should try at home. Call a tree climbing service or expert with the right tools and experience—like Adams!—if you need help getting Kitty out of a tree.

“Height is not what scares me now,” Adams says. “I trust my equipment, and I trust my knowledge of trees.”

Adams has now rescued over 640 cats, including more than 300 in 2020 alone. So far, every rescue attempt has had a happy ending. He says that while his tree climbing expertise has also included some drone and model airplane rescues, they make up a small percentage of what he does.

Adams says that in-tree rescues take an hour and a half on average, but that some have taken as long as 6 hours. “I’ve got a routine down now,” he says. When he gets a call requesting a rescue, he asks two questions: “Is it your cat?” and “Is it your tree?” Once he arrives, his process involves assessing how he is going to get to the cat and slingshotting a weighted rope near or above where the cat is perched.

Adams does not charge a penny for his rescue services. That’s right, this septuagenarian climbs trees to rescue strangers’ cats—some not-so-friendly!—for free. He says that after retiring seven years ago, he committed to never having another job. Adams believes requiring people to pay changes the entire dynamic of his passion. “I don’t need the money, so why charge?,” he says. 

“I think my favorite part is the impact it makes on people,” Adams says. We’d like to think the cats have something to do with it, too!