Mebanite Patrick Brandt’s day job is fairly ordinary; he works at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the career services office. But what he does after hours as a hobby-turned-do-gooding mission is anything but.
Brandt rescues cats from the heights of North Carolina’s pine trees. He uses arborist equipment to hoist himself up -- as high as 80 feet or so -- and has saved 77 cats as of Wednesday, Jan. 13 when the Enterprise visited him on the site of Nala the cat’s rescue in Durham.
“I’ve been climbing trees since 2011,” Brandt said before Nala’s rescue. “I did my first cat rescue in 2012.”
“I use the same techniques as an arborist would use if they are climbing a tree to prune it,” he said. “I just really like being outdoors, and I love cats. Once I started climbing, it made sense to branch out into cat rescues too.”
Brandt said he was first intrigued by the idea of climbing trees through an activity called geocaching, which he described as “a game where people hide something; sometimes it’s in the woods or sometimes it’s in an urban setting” and they release the GPS coordinates online for people to find. Brandt said he always wondered how they got the geocaches into trees, and how someone would climb the tree to retrieve it.
“That’s what led me to tree climbing,” he said. “It sounded cool, so I basically learned from a DVD how to do it and got the gear. I have since gotten training from other sources to make sure I’m doing it correctly.”
As he has gone along, Brandt has learned techniques and developed gear for rescues.
When asked how he avoids getting bit or scratched, he said he has experienced such issues before, but “I’ve learned a lot since then about not making quick movements and talking to the cat.”
“I’ve been scratched by accident, but I’ve only been bitten once,” he said.
If the cat comes to Brandt after he has hoisted himself up to their level in the tree, Brandt said he then just picks the cat up from under its belly. “Cats usually prefer that,” he said, “but if it’s out far away from me or if it’s kind of being difficult, then I scruff it. I have a bag that I use to put the cat in.”
The bag Brandt referred to is of his own design, specifically for cat rescues. He has sewn a glove into the bottom of a laundry bag, “so if I need to scruff the cat, then I can grab it [with the glove from the inside] and pull the bag over it, then cinch the bag down.”
And that is exactly the technique he used for Nala’s rescue on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
“Nala's rescue was more challenging than the average [rescue],” Brandt said in an email after the fact. “She was so high in the tree that there weren't any branches above her that were strong enough on their own to hold my weight. I had to tie in to two different branches above in order to distribute my weight.”
And Nala herself was very scared, Brandt said, “which made the rescue unpredictable.”
“There was a time when I thought Nala was going to either jump or climb higher to get away from me.”
But she didn’t. Brandt used his calming techniques, petting her from the branch and making her feel comfortable. He was eventually able to grab her with his gloved bag, attach the bag to his body with climbing clips, and work his way back down the tree, where she was returned to her grateful owners.
To raise awareness of his rescue services, Brandt started recording his experiences using a camera attached to his helmet, to provide a unique perspective of the rescue from his position in the tree with the cat.
To watch Nala’s rescue, check out this link to Brandt’s youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNgizZUJC1c.
“Each rescue has its own unique story, and I have met many really neat people through this work,” Brandt said.
Other stories and videos can be found on his website www.rescuemycat.org.
With such ease, Brandt climbs 80 feet up into trees, bending with the wind. It is a remarkable sight. Perhaps what is more remarkable, however, is what Brandt asks for in return for his rescues: nothing.
“I will rescue anyone's cat regardless of their [owner’s] ability to pay,” Brandt said. “I love doing cat rescues, because I love trees and cats and I love being able to use my unique skills to reunite a family with their beloved pet.”
“I leave it up to each owner to decide how much they want to/are able to pay, and I count on good hearted people to help me help others who may not be in position to pay.”
“I have done lots of rescues for free or for $10 or $20,” he said. “Professional arborists often rescue cats, but because tree work is their livelihood, they usually charge $200-300 for a rescue.”
“That is out of the reach of most people,” Brandt said. “I keep meticulous records of all my rescues and donations,” which Brandt admitted are pretty rare. “I was averaging about $70 per rescue until last year when a very grateful woman, whose cat I rescued, gave me a thank you card with a check for $1000 in it! I was astounded! Donations like that help to pay for the expensive gear I use.”
Brandt said a quick estimate of the cost of the climbing gear that he used for Nala's rescue easily surpasses $1600. “The gear is deceptively expensive since it all has to be rated for life support,” he said.
For those who find themselves with a cat stranded in a tree, Brandt recommends that they wait 24 hours to see if their cat will come down on its own before giving him a call.
“I estimate that about 80-90% of cats who climb a tree come down on their own,” he said.
But after the 24 hours, Brandt is happy to make the rescue.
“Just like us,” Brandt said, “cats can be so scared in a situation like that they do nothing and just get weaker and weaker from exposure and dehydration.”
“I suspect that many cats jump or fall from trees as they become too weak or tired to hold on. Sometimes they survive, but we can't know for sure how many die as a result of such a fall.”
“I have rescued cats that were in the tree for seven and even eight days with no food or water,” Brandt said, “A fellow cat rescuer reported to me that he rescued a cat who had been stuck in a tree for 18 days. Unfortunately the cat died -- probably of dehydration -- a couple of days later.”
Brandt said he rescues about two to three cats per month, but for every rescue he does, “I probably get three phone calls where I can help the person figure out a way to get their cat down on their own, or it comes down on its own before I am able to get there,” he said.
Brandt has lived in Mebane with his family and his two indoor cats Snowy and Heber since 2007 and said his family moved here for the smaller-town feel. “We’re not really big city people,” he said.
Brandt is on call for the Mebane fire department as well as the Orange, Alamance, and Durham County animal control divisions and fire departments. He has rescued cats as far away as Fayetteville.
Besides cats, Brandt has also rescued a parrot stuck in a tree and will retrieve drones, model airplanes, and rockets stuck in trees as well.
For those interested in donating to Brandt’s organization Rescue My Cat, they can make a donation online by visiting this site, http://www.rescuemycat.org/p/donate.html, or contact Brandt directly using the information below.
“I would be grateful for any donation amount,” Brandt said.
Those interested in reaching out to Brandt for more information about his rescues are encouraged to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text him at 919.928.4230.