How to Rescue a Cat From a Tree
“Firefighters probably won’t help,” says Dan Kraus, an arborist from Everett, Wash., who has rescued more than a thousand cats from trees. Give the cat at least 24 hours to dismount on its own before going up after it. When you do, wear a hard hat, a harness and boots. Stay safely tied to the tree either by a top rope you’ve looped over sturdy branches above or with two ropes secured around the trunk. To avoid spooking the cat, climb quietly, without breaking dead branches or yelling progress reports to onlookers below.
Watch for signs you might be dealing with a jumper: Is the cat crawling dangerously far out on a branch, repeatedly looking at you and then down at the ground? In Kraus’s experience, about one in 15 cats will leap rather than be captured. All the jumpers he has witnessed hit some kind of soft vegetative surface and survived. “They just kind of bounce and run off,” he says. Sometimes he asks the pet’s owners to hold an outstretched sheet or tarp to catch the plunging cat. Bring along food — you may be able to coax a hungry cat from a dangerously high perch.
By the time you reach it, a cat may have been awake for days, clinging to a branch without food or water, enduring rain, wind and divebombing crows. “The cat isn’t always like the nice cat you remember in the house,” says Kraus, who made himself a protective cat bag by cutting a hole in the bottom of an Army surplus laundry sack and sewing a leather glove to it. Reassure the cat in a high-pitched, childlike, “Here kitty, kitty” tone. Even if the cat is purring, don’t pet it; it could change its mind, scramble away, jump, scratch or bite you. Grab the animal by the scruff of its neck, like a mother cat does. Once suspended, it will go still. Don’t release it until it’s in the bag and the drawstring has been pulled tight. Secure the bag to your harness to climb down.
Having put together an online directory of other arborists willing to extract felines from trees, Kraus is doing fewer rescues himself these days and misses that simple heroism. Trimming trees, he’s just a guy with a chain saw; climbing for pets, he’s a savior. “You get such a high coming down a tree with a cat,” he says.
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