In the hollow of a maple tree not far from the road, Ron Venden has made a cozy dwelling for the 7-month-old cat he swears has never left its tree home.
"It was a little feisty at first," said Venden, 66, a retired carpenter, of the cat, which a neighbor has named Almond. "(But) now it's a pretty big cat and it's just loving to see me."
How is Venden certain the cat never leaves? Mostly because there are never any paw prints around the tree when it snows, Venden explains — something a State Journal reporter confirmed Wednesday. Relatives corroborate the story, saying they've never seen it anywhere other than in the tree.
Almond doesn't seem fazed by snow or single-digit temperatures. He sits proudly in his roost, warm in a thick fur coat, surveying nearby Highway X and Venden's driveway, about five miles south of Belleville in Green County.
To Venden's knowledge, Almond has no other home outside his maple. The cat was born there in June, and while the mother and the other kittens left, Almond stuck around. Venden has been feeding it ever since.
So why does Almond stay?
"I think it's because I'm treating it too good," said Venden, who at least twice a day climbs a ladder about 12 feet up to check on and feed Almond. He's also made a protected straw bed for the cat in a hollow of the tree, set up a dry cat food feeder and provides daily deliveries of fresh food, which Wednesday morning included a bowl of salami, meatloaf and milk.
"I kind of enjoy it," Venden said of caring for Almond, although he admits: "The neighbors think I'm goofy."
Patrick Comfert, Dane County's lead animal services officer, said Almond's habits are unusual.
"We have all gotten our share of cat-in-a-tree calls, but we've never known one to stay up there forever," he said.
Those concerned for Almond's welfare can rest assured: Because the cat is grown, has a space where it can be protected from wind, and is fed regularly, "it should be fine" even in frigid conditions, Comfert said.
And Almond doesn't seem keen to relinquish his tree-living tendencies.
"I've tried to bring it down a couple times and it starts scratching," Venden said.
Venden, who raises chickens on his hobby farm south of Belleville in Green County, was never a big cat lover before Almond.
"In his younger days, I would have never, ever, ever pictured him getting so attached (to a cat) in my life," said Tammy Sias, Venden's daughter, who helps feed Almond when her parents are away.
"It's an amazing story," she said. "(The cat) actually has no desire to come out of that tree."
Sias, who lives outside of Belleville in the town of Primrose, said the tale of her dad and Almond is known throughout town, where people will often ask, "How's your tree cat today?"
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