For 23 years, Normer Adams was an advocate for children in metro Atlanta. He worked as a lobbyist for agencies that served children, looking out for the welfare for society's youngest. When he retired in 2013, Adams pursued a different past-time — albeit still a helpful one. This time he combined a relatively newfound interest in climbing trees with creatures that needed a specific kind of help: cats stuck in trees.
Since April 2017 when he started his feline rescue business — aptly dubbed Cat Man Do — Adams has saved 91 cats stuck in trees. And it all started with a flock of starlings.
Adams has a stand of 80-foot-tall bamboo in his backyard that at times is overrun with starlings. A few years ago, he tried climbing trees to scare the birds away, and he quickly found out it could be a bit scary.
"I realized if I had a safety rope, I might feel safer," Adams tells MNN. "I fell in love with climbing trees. And then I realized there was a need for rescuing cats, so it became a marriage of tree climbing and my interest in helping people. Plus I love cats."
Adams printed up some fliers and dropped them off at his local fire station. After all, if you've seen enough movies, you know that people tend to call the fire department when Fluffy scampers up a pine tree. (Yet fire fighters typically aren't likely to getting the ladder truck out for that.) After he handed out the flyers, he got a call almost immediately.
"I couldn't ask for a better first rescue," Adams says. "He was a beautiful cat, not very far up a tree — probably 30 feet — and very cooperative, just wanting me to get him down."
A booming rescue business
Because that rescue went so swimmingly, Adams was empowered to keep at it.
"I was terribly appreciative of that cat because that first rescue told me I could do this," Adams says.
Soon, business was booming. Word spread about Adams on community message boards, fire departments and his own Facebook page. He has videos of nearly every rescue, either shot on the ground by his wife, Pamela, or from a GoPro on his helmet, which offers exciting, up-close drama.
When he comes down with wayward pet in tow, the cat owners are always very appreciative. Even though Adams doesn't charge for his services, many insist on paying him something anyway. After all, his equipment can get expensive. In addition to his climbing gear, Adams has a special black bag attached to a glove, for example. When he inches toward a cat on a branch, he snags it with his gloved hand gently wrestles the kitty into the bag.
"Grab it by the nape of the neck and don't let go. That's the secret until you get it in the bag," Adams says. "Once you get it in the bag, the cat is pretty disoriented because it's a black bag and it can't see. Most cats get pretty paralyzed when you do that."
The glove isn't some sturdy Kevlar number to help protect him from gnashing teeth and claws. It's actually about as thin as a surgical glove, Adams says, and its only use is to help him get a grip on the slippery feline.
Fortunately, in his 91 rescues to date, he's only been scratched once and has never been bitten.
"The time I got scratched, it was pure stupidity," Adams says. "I put a bare hand in front of a cat scared out of its mind on the top of a tree."
Every rescue is different
No situation is alike, which makes each rescue intriguing, Adams says. When he arrives on the scene, he asks the owner about the cat's personality while he's readying his gear, so he knows what to expect when he's face-to-face with the feline.
He asks if the cat is friendly, if it typically comes up to people or is normally shy.
"If it's crying, that's usually a good sign that it wants someone to come up and get it," he says. "If it's scared of the rope I throw up there, then I know I will need to hide from the cat or come from above. I don't want the cat to go higher or go out on a limb if I can prevent it."
Adams is calm as he climbs, sometimes talking to the kitty as he scampers up the tree. Some cats are curious and will come to him, while others will back up. When he's able to trap them in his black bag, he will often yell, "Cat's in the bag!" then tie the sack to his climbing belt as he shimmies back down the tree.
In a few situations, he's had to use a grab pole — like the kind used by animal control officers — to catch a cat that's just too far out on a limb to reach.
Some cats go higher than others
As with most things, some cats are more challenging than others.
"Typically a cat will climb a tree to the first limb unless they're really spooked. And sometimes in a pine tree, the first limb is 80 feet up," Adams says. "The highest rescue was 120 feet out of a pine tree and that’s only because the tree didn’t grow any higher."
Most rescues take an hour or two. But he's had some that took only 10 minutes and some that have gone all day. He's even had a couple where the cat hopped out of the tree before he could even get all his equipment unpacked.
Sometimes the cats purr and rub against his shoulder when he saves them, but the owners are the ones who seem the most grateful. Like the time he hopped down from a poison ivy-covered tree with Elbow the cat in tow.
"Thank you so much!" the kitty's owner said. "That was amazing. You're a real-life superhero!"
"I get called a hero a lot and I've been called an angel," Adams admits, rather grudgingly. "People are terribly appreciative and that's what’s so gratifying about it. When people start crying when you bring their cat down, that's wonderful."