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Is that Shaun's impression of a happy cat ... or Nosferatu?

Hello and welcome to the second installment of the “Hang in There” series, wherein Seattle Met recaps Treetop Cat Rescue, a reality show about grown men who climb trees to make kissing noises at cats and record the whole thing with a GoPro.

But first, we gotta talk about something semirelated. You know that thing that cats do where they knead on you with their front paws and they start purring and their eyes glaze over and you can’t tell if they’re happy or, uh, happy? (Who am I kidding? The only reason you’re reading this is because you love cats so much that you’ll spend your Saturday nights watching a reality show about them getting pulled out of trees; of course you know that thing.) This week in a brief interstitial Shaun—one half of the Puget Sound–based feline-rescuing team this show follows and a dude who I’m now positive danced to Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” at his wedding—announced that one of his favorite things about cats “is the massages.” And then he proceeded to paw at his partner, Tom, to demonstrate. This, it should go without saying, is not something a sane human would do. However, it inspired me to ask a couple cat-owning coworkers what they called that uniquely feline behavior.

See, it’s with no small amount of shame that for the last decade I’ve called it “making muffins” because that’s what my ex-wife and her mom called it and I didn’t care enough to come up with anything that made more sense. (Yes, you could argue that when cats do this they look like they’re kneading dough, but muffins are made with batter. “Making biscuits” would even make more sense. And…I’ve already given this too much thought.) Coworker One said she usually goes with “some variation of ‘kneading.’” But then Coworker Two said, with the kind of confidence befitting a woman who has decorated her office with cat calendars and pictures of Morrissey, “It’s called making muffins.” And then she sent me a gif of a cat making muffins.

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The room began to spin and my vision blurred. Could it be? Yes, it could, and Urban Dictionary proved it. “Making muffins” is a thing. It was like learning that Jack and Tyler Durden were the same person or that Katherine Mulwray was Evelyn Mulwray’s sister and her daughter. Nothing will ever be the same again. Seriously, cat people, is this what you call it?

Anyway, back to the show! Like last week, we got two episodes for the price of one. And like last week, the second was the far stronger entry into the series. The first is only notable for the moment when Shaun practices his method for calming scared kitties—consisting of baby talk and loving clucks—while Tom plays the part of a cat. “It’s going to be okay,” Shaun coos, and Tom meows tentatively in response. “When I get to you I’m going to gently lift you up,” Shaun says soothingly, and Tom meows a little quizzically. “Once we get in the bag, we’ll head down,” Shaun purrs, and Tom meows as if he’s being scratched behind the ears. I missed what happened next because my cat, Parker, was hacking up a hairball and I was scrambling to get him off of the living room rug.

Episode four opens with Tom, alone in the Canopy Cat Rescue headquarters (aka his garage in Olympia?), as he takes a call from a woman in Black Lake. It’s just down the road, and Shaun is more than an hour away, so Tom decides to fly solo. And when he arrives he learns (from a woman whose husband is wearing A BOSTON RED SOX HAT) that Earl is an indoor cat who snuck out and was subsequently chased up a tree by a neighbor's dog. And that he’s not very nice to strangers. And that he weighs nearly 20 pounds.

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Cat not drawn to scale.

Now, unfortunately, we have to talk about Treetop Cat Rescue’s fat-shaming problem. During each rescue, before Tom or Shaun ascends a tree, the producers illustrate the pair’s plan of attack, in case we can’t visualize the rather straightforward process of climbing a tree to grab a cat. (Of note: No matter where the rescue takes place, the Space Needle is always drawn into the background.) Usually the cartoon cat’s head is significantly bigger than its body. This time, however, not only does Earl look like a dumbbell with eyes and a tail, but the branch he’s sitting on is colored orange—to signify the possibility that it might collapse under his weight.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Next Tom worries aloud that Earl might not fit in the nylon bag he uses to carry rescued cats back down to earth, and then, upon reaching the tree’s upper branches, he has the nerve to look surprised when Earl takes a swing at him and climbs up another 15 feet. What did you expect him to do, Tom? Crawl into your arms and thank you for giving him just the motivation he needed to start a diet? He probably ran up that tree to get away from judgmental people like you. Or dogs. Whatever!

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The author's cat, who shows no shame. Ever.

And then, as if all of that weren’t enough, Tom actually bails on the job for “safety reasons.” “He’s so big I felt the tree move,” he says after Earl bolts to the top. It’s presented as an excuse to climb down, but it doesn’t take a Seattle native to know it’s actually a passive-aggressive swipe at Earl’s weight. I’ll be honest, this segment made me really uncomfortable, partly because I watched it with Parker, who weighs at least 20 pounds, and partly because he was sitting in my lap and my legs had fallen asleep.

I considered luring Parker out of the room with food so he wouldn’t internalize Tom’s comments, but I’m glad I didn’t. Because just as Tom gets back to his truck, we hear a thud and the camera spins around to show Earl on the ground. Determined to prove to his so-called rescuer that he wouldn’t be defined by his weight, the heroic cat had leapt from the tree and back down to safety. (Or maybe the branch he was standing on broke. Does it really matter?) Earl rescued himself, from the literal tree he’d been trapped in and from the metaphorical one that fat shamers like Tom have no doubt repeatedly forced him into. It was a lesson in self-respect that I was sure would resonate with Parker, until I looked down to see him busy bathing his crotch. Maybe next time.

Until next week!

More Treetop Cat Rescue:

Week 1 Recap