Happy news about animals
WHITE PLAINS – When he was 2 years old, Todd O’Neill’s mom remembers, he clambered out of his playpen and disappeared.
“I was frantic,” Dolores O’Neill recalled. “I even called the police.”
Before they arrived however, a neighbor came over with the toddler in hand. He had climbed over the fence into the yard next door.
O’Neill, now 39, has been climbing ever since.
“I’m pretty good at it,” he said, which is a good thing. As a tree surgeon, O’Neill climbs trees that tower above the largest homes, taking down dead limbs and branches. In the past 10 years he’s put his skill to another use, rescuing live cats from lofty heights in and around White Plains.
“I’ve rescued about 40 or 50 cats from trees, and one pit bull puppy,” he said with a grin. “Most people don’t know that pit bulls can climb. This guy was about 20 feet up.”
O’Neill was born and raised in White Plains. His heroics began when a neighbor’s cat was stuck about 50 feet up a 90-foot-tall oak tree.
“He’d been up there a couple of days, and they’d called the Fire Department but were told that they don’t rescue cats,” he said. “So they asked me if I’d give it a try.”
O’Neill put on his climbing harness, tossed a rope over a tree branch, grabbed a pillowcase and started climbing. Minutes later, the cat was in the bag and O’Neill was heading back to earth.
“He was pretty friendly, which was good because it was my first rescue,” the White Plains man said. “About 30 people were watching me, and they all cheered when we came down. I felt like Spider-Man.”
Since, then, largely through word-of-mouth, the man his friends call “Todd the Tree Guy” has been rescuing frantic felines. “I charge for tree work, but not for saving cats,” he said. “Sometimes people bake you a cake or give you cookies or something like that, but to me it’s just a way to help out. It gives me a sense of neighborliness.”
He’s rescued cats that were as high as 60 feet up, which to a cat, he figures, “would be like a 30-story building.”
When the Yonkers Fire Department blasted Treetop the tiger cat out of a tree with a high pressure hose last week, O’Neill was not especially impressed.
“That was a very barbaric way of dealing with the issue,” he said.
Cats usually will come down by themselves, O’Neill said, but if they’ve been in a tree for three days it’s time to go get them.
“They get dehydrated and disoriented and lose their sense of balance. Sometimes they holler because they’re excited or hungry,” he said. “Usually though, the owner is more frantic than the cat. A couple of times I’ve brought a cat down and when the owner let them loose they ran right back up the tree.”
Most of the time the cats are pretty easy to handle, he said, but “sometimes they get scared and flail around.”
“I’ve been clawed, scratched and bitten a few times,” he said. “Once I caught a claw right in the mouth. I just keep my vaccinations up-to-date and don’t worry about it.”
Obviously, he likes cats.
“Sure I do,” he said. “I have a cat – Simon. He’s just like me. He climbs the curtains, wicker chairs, whatever he sees.”