'Habits of the Heart' and a rescued cat in Iowa

David Paulin

A cat stuck up a tree in Iowa City captivated residents during its miserable four-day ordeal -- clinging to a 30-foot-high branch over a residential street.

On Monday, the cat was rescued -- but not by city employees. It was two civic-minded volunteers who finally got the cat down, after borrowing a bucket-lift from a public-spirited local business.

The mini-drama's happy ending served as a parable about civic action verses government inaction in a story making headlines across the Midwest.

The cat, a female tabby, was first spotted on a branch last Thursday evening in the parking lot of LasanskyGallery. Gallery employees reported getting numerous visits by passers-by calling attention to the hapless feline. A college town, Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa.

The local media quickly picked up the story, stirring up public sympathy for the feline. While most people fretted over its well being, residents living near the cat grew increasingly annoyed over its howling. The racket kept them awake at night and annoyed their pets. Most everybody, it seemed, was frustrated over the city's inability to get the cat down. The story about the hapless feline was one of the most popular in the online edition of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, a daily newspaper.

Local officials quickly gave up on rescuing the cat, following an aborted attempt by an animal control officer aided by city firefighters and a forestry crew. After that, officials said the tabby should be left alone: It would come down on its own, they advised.

It never did.

Accordingly, residents grew increasingly alarmed. Some were upset over a fire official's claim that rescuing the cat would put firefighters in danger and tie up city resources.

Residents didn't buy it -- especially the part about the cat being able to take care of itself. "There's no reason she'd stay up in the tree and freeze if she could get down on her own," resident Arlene Donnelly told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

On Monday afternoon, two men finally decided enough was enough. Borrowing a bucket-lift from a local business, they went out and rescued the cat -- defying a sign posted below the tree by animal control. It warned people to leave the cat alone and noted it had bitten two would-be rescuers.

"(The cat) was pretty wiped out," Jeff Waite told the Gazette of his 20-minute rescue effort with Michael Matthess.

Waite called the rescue a "spooky" experience, saying that because he and Matthess each weigh 200-plus pounds, the bucket-lift was shaking as the squirming cat was grabbed by the scruff of the neck. Other than that, the rescue went smoothly.

The cat is now resting comfortably in an Iowa City animal shelter. "She's kind of like a little local celebrity right now," Willa Hamilton, an animal services officer, told the Gazette. The feline may be a feral, she added.

"Habits of the heart" was how French social theorist Alexis de Tocqueville described America's singularly unique virtues -- including the virtues of civic engagement and volunteerism. Both were on display in Iowa City this week, as two men with a borrowed bucket-lift accomplished in 20 minutes what city officials had been unable to do in four days.


A cat stuck up a tree in Iowa City captivated residents during its miserable four-day ordeal -- clinging to a 30-foot-high branch over a residential street.

On Monday, the cat was rescued -- but not by city employees. It was two civic-minded volunteers who finally got the cat down, after borrowing a bucket-lift from a public-spirited local business.

The mini-drama's happy ending served as a parable about civic action verses government inaction in a story making headlines across the Midwest.

The cat, a female tabby, was first spotted on a branch last Thursday evening in the parking lot of LasanskyGallery. Gallery employees reported getting numerous visits by passers-by calling attention to the hapless feline. A college town, Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa.

The local media quickly picked up the story, stirring up public sympathy for the feline. While most people fretted over its well being, residents living near the cat grew increasingly annoyed over its howling. The racket kept them awake at night and annoyed their pets. Most everybody, it seemed, was frustrated over the city's inability to get the cat down. The story about the hapless feline was one of the most popular in the online edition of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, a daily newspaper.

Local officials quickly gave up on rescuing the cat, following an aborted attempt by an animal control officer aided by city firefighters and a forestry crew. After that, officials said the tabby should be left alone: It would come down on its own, they advised.

It never did.

Accordingly, residents grew increasingly alarmed. Some were upset over a fire official's claim that rescuing the cat would put firefighters in danger and tie up city resources.

Residents didn't buy it -- especially the part about the cat being able to take care of itself. "There's no reason she'd stay up in the tree and freeze if she could get down on her own," resident Arlene Donnelly told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

On Monday afternoon, two men finally decided enough was enough. Borrowing a bucket-lift from a local business, they went out and rescued the cat -- defying a sign posted below the tree by animal control. It warned people to leave the cat alone and noted it had bitten two would-be rescuers.

"(The cat) was pretty wiped out," Jeff Waite told the Gazette of his 20-minute rescue effort with Michael Matthess.

Waite called the rescue a "spooky" experience, saying that because he and Matthess each weigh 200-plus pounds, the bucket-lift was shaking as the squirming cat was grabbed by the scruff of the neck. Other than that, the rescue went smoothly.

The cat is now resting comfortably in an Iowa City animal shelter. "She's kind of like a little local celebrity right now," Willa Hamilton, an animal services officer, told the Gazette. The feline may be a feral, she added.

"Habits of the heart" was how French social theorist Alexis de Tocqueville described America's singularly unique virtues -- including the virtues of civic engagement and volunteerism. Both were on display in Iowa City this week, as two men with a borrowed bucket-lift accomplished in 20 minutes what city officials had been unable to do in four days.