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A stranded cat, a noble rescuer, a bad idea

An effort to help a feline out of a tree leads to a crash of falling bodies. One still has nine lives, another is lucky he still has one.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published March 8, 2006


TAMPA - Brad Meyer, animal lover and feeder of strays, noticed on Monday night that a black cat with a white nose was stuck 20 feet up an oak tree in his front yard.

The 59-year-old Brooksville man - often seen feeding squirrels, horses and other things four-legged - figured the cat climbed up to escape a cattle-chasing dog he had seen romping earlier on the 12 acres he owns with his wife, Jeannine, at 19174 Powell Road.

Give it time, he thought. See if it comes down on its own. He vowed to rescue the cat if it was still branch-bound on Tuesday.

Bad idea.

Tuesday morning, the furball was still there and didn't come down for the Meyer's 7 a.m. ritual feeding of strays. So, Meyer tried the obvious tactics - the things anyone would do when trying to save the life of a cat from the horrors of a high-up tree branch.

"Kitty, kitty!" he called.

Not a budge.

Tactic No. 2: He grabbed a 20-foot-ladder, leaned it against the tree and called again.

The cat couldn't have been less impressed.

Meyer wouldn't give up.

At 8 a.m., with his wife, Jeannine, 58, standing on the second rung of the extension ladder, he tried tactic No. 3. Tuna fish.

The kitty came near. Meyer grabbed it. But balance escaped.

The cat slipped from his hands, the ladder toppled backward and Meyer, Jeannine and the cat all came crashing to earth.

Only the cat landed on its feet.

Jeannine Meyer landed with a ladder rung smashed into her nose. She scraped her arm and forehead and had to push the ladder off of her body.

By the time she did, Brad Meyer had somehow turned onto his stomach. He couldn't move, he told her. Call for help. The worst thoughts flashed through Jeannine's head.

A helicopter took him to St. Joseph's Hospital, where doctors told Meyer he escaped paralysis by a hair. He dislocated and fractured his C5 vertebra. Blood began to surround his spinal cord.

But as far as doctors can say, Meyer should be able to walk and move. He was in traction Tuesday night, talking, sleeping and waiting to find out if surgery will be necessary, his family said.

"He's very lucky," Dr. Charles Sand said. "Cats have nine lives. Humans only have one. . . . I'd take a hose and spray it down, if you ask me."

Indeed, it could have been much worse. In January 2000, Lonnie Napier, a 48-year-old Tampa man, died after he tried to rescue a cat in Town 'N Country that had been up a tree for six days, and fell about 40 feet.

Marti Ryan, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Animal Services, said cats are generally adept at climbing up and getting down on their own.

"I don't think he'll do it again," Jeannine Meyer said.

The Meyers are praying Brad's injuries aren't bad enough to keep him from working as a mechanic. A newcomer to Hernando County from Margate, Meyer had just placed job applications with the school district and county government.

Now, they're not sure how the injury will affect their income.

As for the cat, Jeannine Meyer reported, it was seen later Tuesday roaming the neighborhood.

Times staff writer Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler contributed to this report.