OPINION: “Cat’s in the bag!” Rescuer fetches nearly 1,000 cats from trees

Credit: Courtesy of Normer Adams

Credit: Courtesy of Normer Adams

In early 2019, I wrote a heartwarming, strange-but-true tale about Normer Adams, a retired child advocate who had climbed 90-something trees to rescue cats.

Last week, I revisited Adams because in the next few days the 70-year-old is set to conduct his 1,000th tree rescue.

That’s right, a thousand rescues, with 900 coming in the past three years. That means he climbs a tree nearly every day on strangers’ behalf.

I might be a bit misleading. The 1,000 number contains 40 drones and perhaps five birds. Still, it’s an impressive body of work, an enthusiastic and public-spirited obsession.

It’s one that has drawn media attention, like a recent stint on The Ellen DeGeneres Show or an article in People magazine. It goes to show that folks just seem to love a selfless septuagenarian who bags terrified cats out of trees.

When I checked in the other day, Adams — who calls himself Cat Man Do Rescue — was finishing Rescue #994 in Woodstock, 60 miles north of his Fayetteville home. It’s beyond the one-hour radius he prefers, but it’s hard to say no to frazzled cat owners.

Credit: Courtesy of Normer Adams

Credit: Courtesy of Normer Adams

In this case, “Tom” was a 25-pound whopper stranded overnight 60 feet above ground. Adams rescued him with a “short-pole grab,” an aluminum pole with a lasso he places around the animal’s body. He also employs the “long-pole grab” for tabbies venturing way out on a limb. Asked why he went with the pole-grab rather than the “bag grab,” (a nylon bag he has created with a net to snag cats), he responded, “You ever try to scruff a 25-pound cat?”

No. And certainly not while dangling 60 feet in the air.

Each rescue has him arrive on the scene, survey the tree and the cat’s predicament, while getting a quick sense of its mental state (he’s a certified marriage counselor, so he has experience). Adams uses a tall slingshot to launch a weight attached to the rope over a branch and then “walks” up the rope using knee and foot ascenders.

For years, as head of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children, Adams toiled to save abused and neglected kids. In late 2018, I interviewed a retired Adams for a story about the state’s child welfare bureaucracy and he told me about his new mission. He had originally taken up tree climbing as a hobby to overcome a fear of heights. He rescued a cat because of his new skill, then another and then...

He charges nothing for rescues. The payment is the grateful looks on the faces of the owners. Not once, he said, has he failed to safely retrieve the cat from a tree.

After the original story in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, the calls picked up. People found him while Googling “cat tree rescue” or by word of mouth. Social media has cranked up that word-of-mouth.

In the recent Woodstock rescue, the desperate owners went to Facebook for help and several people mentioned Adams. If he performs a rescue somewhere, he’ll find himself returning to that area often. Decatur, Woodstock and East Atlanta seem to be rescue hotspots.

I interviewed him Tuesday, a day he got three calls. Rescue #997 came shortly after our talk.

A couple of months after the original story, a former AJC coworker appealed on Facebook on behalf of her daughter’s pet Macaw, a big colorful tropical bird. The bird had escaped and flown 80 feet up into a pine tree in a freezing and driving rain. The situation was grim.

I called her to say “I got a guy,” and then Normer, who was getting out of church. Hours later, I saw a photo of Adams, the bird and a happy teen standing on terra firma. Birds are tougher to rescue, he said, “because they can fly.”

For three hours, Adams chased the bird around a magnolia tree and into another tree and then back to the magnolia tree. With nightfall approaching and the rain picking up, Adams finally knocked the water-soaked fowl from a branch and it fluttered safely to the ground.

It’s not only birds that take to the air. Cats, he said, sometimes leap from their wooded perches — even from as high as 100 feet — and are adept at landing unhurt. “They’re like flying squirrels,” he said. Naturally, one of the videos he shot from the GoPro camera he wears on his excursions, captured such a moment. His wife, Pamela, often accompanies him and shoots video from the ground. He then posts his rescues on a YouTube channel.

Credit: Courtesy of Normer Adams

Credit: Courtesy of Normer Adams

The tapes capture a kindly man with a soft voice coaxing cats, calling them “Pumpkin” and “Sweetie.” He clearly enjoys what he does and has remained as enthusiastic and altruistic as ever. It’s simply heartening to see someone as genuinely good natured as he.

Pamela said they have taken to making the rescues a couple’s outing, allowing them to stop at nearby farmers’ markets, restaurants or to drop in on friends. While we were talking, she asked if Normer had mentioned his hospital stay. He had not.

It turns out that in July while performing Rescue #865, a cat bit him in the hand after he carried it to the ground. The infection caused his hand swell like a ham, hospitalizing him for a week with a severe infection. “We thought we’d lose his hand,” she told me.

Two weeks later, the indefatigable Adams was ascending in a tree, coaxing a tabby towards him. It was Rescue #866, taped (naturally), with it ending with familiar cry of “cat’s in the bag!” And a joyful Adams lowering himself to earth.