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Local tree care company owner Dante Hibbard talks about the free service he performs to rescue cats from trees


  Editor’s Note: For this week’s interview, we sat down with Dante Hibbard, president of ASAP Tree Care, Inc., of Saugus, to talk about his latest rescue of a cat from a tree – a service he periodically performs at no cost. Hibbard, 39, grew up in Revere and is a 2003 graduate of Revere High School. He served for four years in the Army National Guard. His wife, Jessica, is a Saugus native who graduated from Saugus High School in 2006. They moved to Saugus about seven years ago. Their 13-year-old daughter Ayla is a sixth-grader at the Saugus Middle School. Last week (Wednesday, Jan. 31), the town’s Animal Control Officer, Darren McCullough, said he got a call from Warren Road residents about a cat stuck up in a tree. He requested help from the Fire Department and Department of Public Works to get the cat down. But they couldn’t reach the location with their equipment. The next day, Hibbard responded with his Spider Lift and was able to rescue the cat. McCullough went door-to-door to locate the cat’s owner, and the cat was reunited with its family on nearby Greenwood Avenue. Highlights from this week’s interview follow.


  Q: I hear you are a pretty big cat lover, and that’s why you go rescuing them out of trees. And you never charge people for your expenses.

  A: Yep. I’m a big cat lover, actually a big animal lover.

  Q: How many cats do you own?

  A: Two: Rose, a hairless Sphynx cat, and Raymond, an American short-haired cat. He was in an auto parts place when I found him. He had a bunch of problems. It cost about $1,600 to deal with his problems. He’s a great cat and he loves to sleep on my wife’s head.

  Q: Please tell me about the cat rescue last Thursday (Feb. 1). How did that go down?

  A: I got a call from my stepmom saying there was a cat in a tree and she asked me to come help. And I said, “Sure, I’ll come in a little bit.” And then she sent me a video of it, and I guess it was up there for two days, screaming, so I just took the equipment from my work site and went over to get it.

  Q: I understand that the Fire Department and the DPW had responded, but couldn’t do anything to get the cat because of the location of the tree near the houses in between Warren Road and Greenwood Avenue.

  A: Yeah. I can get into difficult locations where they can’t. The Spider Lift fits in a 36-inch gate. You can drive it right into the backyard.

  Q: How long did it take you to get it?

  A: Maybe an hour – well, we had to take a fence down, get the equipment off the trailer and get the equipment next to the tree. But once I went up on the lift, it wasn’t even five minutes before I got to the cat.

  Q: The cat was crying the whole time?

  A: The whole time – screaming, like it wanted help.

  Q: So, there was no resistance when you got closer to the cat?

  A: No. It actually came right to me; it was so happy to see me. Then after I saved it, it was rubbing its face.

  Q: Was it purring?

  A: No, it was still meowing, but it was rubbing its face all over me. It was grateful. He knew I had helped him.

  Q: How many times before have you used this equipment to rescue a cat from a tree?

  A: Probably three times since I’ve had this machine – the Spider Lift – probably over a year now.

  Q: So, you usually get a call from the Animal Control Officer or the cat owner? How does that work?

  A: It’s usually the cat owner.

  Q: And this is like a public service that you do? Some of the companies would charge like 15 hundred bucks just to bring your rig to a place.

  A: A minimum of four hours would be about 15 hundred bucks.

  Q: The Animal Control Officer Darren McCullough said he gave a number of another company to the cat’s owner, but apparently they wanted to charge for the service of coming to help out.

  A: Some people charge. Yeah. But I want to be able to sleep at night, so I don’t charge.

  Q: Was there any challenge for this particular rescue?

  A: Not at all. It was pretty easy. Darren helped me take the fence down; a neighbor gave us a drill, and we took the fence down. The whole neighborhood kind of helped, actually. Then we got the equipment in, we set it up and went up and grabbed the cat, and that was it. And I think they found the owner of the cat.

  Q: Yes, they did. Darren said he went door-to-door in the neighborhood to locate the owner. How high was it where the cat was?

  A: About 60 feet maybe. It wasn’t that high. The Spider Lift goes about 90 feet, and it wasn’t even close to being fully extended.

  Q: Now, if you didn’t rescue the cat, what would happen?

A: I don’t know. That’s why I rescue them, because I don’t know what’s going to happen if I don’t.

  Q: I guess in the area where the tree was, there were picket fences and other pointed structures in that area, so that if it fell, the cat could get hurt.

  A: I’ve never seen one fall. I’ve been lucky because I’ve gotten every one of them that I went after. But, I’m assuming it would probably perish in the worst case. Sixty feet is far, even for a feline.

  Q: But cats have been known to drop five stories or more and live.

  A: Yeah, but it can still get hurt. I’ve seen a squirrel jump a hundred feet or more and live. They can fly a little bit, believe it or not. But a cat – it’s still got some weight to it and could hurt itself. If we didn’t get to it, the cat would probably perish. I’m not sure. I didn’t want to take that chance.

  Q: And the cat acknowledged your rescue?

  A: Oh yeah. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they attack me. They can get pretty rough. There’s been a couple, I’d put them in a pillowcase.

I’ve got a bunch of scars on my hand from one of them that attacked me. There were some kids watching me. I had to climb next to it and it didn’t want me there, so I climbed above it and I was probably there for three hours trying to get it. I just rappelled down really fast. I grabbed it and it bit me, and I just held it by its face, and I came down as fast as I could to let it go. That was a cat that nobody owned. It attacked me pretty good and ripped my glove to shreds.

Q: A feral cat?

A: Yeah. And they can do some real damage.

Q: Now, in this recent rescue, Darren said he offered you some gloves, but you said “No.”

A: Yeah. I didn’t want to scare him. If he was going to go after me, I would have used the gloves. But I wanted to give it a shot and see what he would do.

I’ve tried using treats before. Treats never work.

Q: You go to work prepared with equipment in your rig in case you need to rescue a cat?

A: Yeah, I have some gear. I have it in my office at home – some nice thick gloves – I have a cat carrier if I need it. I try not to use it.

Q: In this case, was there a cat carrier involved?

A: No. I was on a job site and I had to take the machine off of the job site, so I didn’t have anything with me. But they said the cat was in the tree for two days, so I came right away.

Q: After you rescued the cat, you returned to the job site?

A: Yeah, I went back to finish the job.

Q: Over the years, about how many cats have you rescued?

A: About 15.

Q: Up in high places where they couldn’t get down?

A: Yeah. Sometimes when I respond to a call, the cat is already down when I get there, which sucks. There was a time I drove two and a half hours and when I got there, the cat was already down. It was 11 o’clock at night. The owner didn’t even call me. My wife came with me and then we had to drive home.

Q: Was this somebody you knew or a friend?

A: No, I didn’t know them at all. They called everybody. It was late at night and nobody wanted to do it.

Q: So, would you have charged them?

A: No.

Q: That was two and a half hours, though.

A: Yeah, I was pretty upset. At least the cat got down. It was down on the South Shore, somewhere past Braintree.

Q: When do you get called by cat owners on rescue requests?

A: The owners will call after a day. They usually give it a day to see if the cat comes down.

Q: Did you encounter any desperate situations?

A: We got one call for a cat that was up in the tree for three days. The owners thought a hawk was going to get to it. That one was scary. The cat was up about 80 feet in a big oak tree. You could tell by looking at it that the cat hadn’t slept for three days. And it wanted me to come get it.

Q: Do you get contacted by the people thanking you when you rescue their cat?

A: All of the time.

Q: How about this recent one?

A: No. I don’t think they know I saved it. I’m sure they’re thankful, as most of the people are. Sometimes they try to pay me, but I never accept it. It feels wrong. I always say “No.”

Q: You’ve been into cats for a long time?

A: Yes, forever.

Q: Since childhood?

A: Yeah. We grew up with Great Danes and cats. We had everything.

Q: Do you have any advice for people whose cats are stuck in a tree?

A: Yeah. Don’t try and get it yourself; it’s very dangerous, and it doesn’t take much to get hurt.

Q: What’s the motivation for you to go out and rescue a cat at personal expense?

A: I don’t want to have a situation where people won’t call me because they don’t want to pay. If nobody responds to help, it’s bad news for everybody. There could be a kid who loves that cat. If one of my animals was in trouble, I’d hope that somebody would help out.

I remember a cat we had, named Cuddles, that had some problems. My stepdad paid $3,000 for surgery for the cat. It only lasted six months. But I didn’t want that cat to die.

I love all animals – not just cats. I’ve rescued baby raccoons and squirrels from trees I’ve cut down or worked on in Saugus. When I find baby squirrels, I usually put them in a box and the mother usually comes back to get them.

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