TACOMA, Wash. —Ben Roberts does it for the kids, not the cats. He's rescued nearly 30 felines from the tippy tops of trees. He's careful when he scoops them into a bag before descending to safety.
But it's reuniting children with their beloved pets and seeing their wide eyes and beaming smiles that make his side gig as a cat rescuer worth the climb.
"I'm not a cat lover myself," said the 31-year-old Puyallup, Wash., man. "I'm a cat liker — when I have to go get one."
Roberts rescued his first cat five years ago and boasts a 100 percent success rate — excluding an African grey parrot that flitted from tree to tree and repeatedly eluded capture.
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One recent rescue came at nightfall on Jan. 10. Puff Puff, a black cat belonging to 8-year-old Breslen Taylor, was on his seventh night in a tree.
Michelle Taylor, concerned about an expected storm and tormented by the cat's meowing, asked Roberts for help.
With Breslen and her family anxiously watching from their home deck, Roberts slipped on a harness and lanyards and shimmied up a 115-foot Douglas fir.
In less than an hour, Puff Puff was inside his rescuer's bag and being lowered to the ground.
"He found Puff Puff, Mommy, he got Puffy," Breslen yelled in excitement.
Taylor, who is slightly afraid of heights and couldn't watch the rescue, said Roberts more than deserved his $150 fee.
Not all cat rescues have gone so smoothly, though.
There was the time he had to use a handsaw to cut a cat off the top of a tree because the branches were too unstable to support Roberts' weight.
Or when a cat that kept backing away from Roberts eventually jumped out of the 70-foot tree and landed on a car windshield below.
The glass shattered, but the kitty lived.
He's also been sent up a 200-foot tree to capture a baby falcon from its nest. A hunter had a permit to harvest and train the bird, but he needed someone to fetch it.
It took Roberts seven hours to climb the massive trunk. As he reached for the falcon, the protective parents squawked and dive-bombed his head in futile protest.
"Never again," he swears.
As an arborist for the city of Seattle and a resident firefighter in Graham, Roberts already had the makings of a cat rescuer.
So when fellow arborist Dan Kraus told him about a website he ran — www.catinatreerescue.com — and asked if he'd like to be listed, Roberts jumped at the opportunity.
The calls come at all hours of the day and night, though he's noticed business picks up around full moons and in summer months.
Roberts has pretty much cornered the business on cat rescuing in Pierce County, Wash.
Most fire departments opt out of pulling cats from trees in case they're called out to an emergency with a person. Humane societies can't do more than recommend an arborist or cat rescuer like Roberts.
Pet owners sometimes call for help after a frisky feline has been treed for hours, but most wait three days before pleading for outside help.
Roberts recommends they let the cat come down on its own but will come to the rescue if needed.
The longest he's seen a cat stay in a tree was nine days.
"I've never seen a dead cat in a tree," he said. "But that doesn't mean it couldn't happen."