When I arrive at the site, I want first to meet all the people involved and know who everyone is. Who is the cat owner, who is the cat's favorite person, who is the property owner, who is the concerned neighbor, etc. I especially want to spend some attention and praise on the property owner to thank him for his cooperation. I explain to them that I will put everything back where I found it and clean up any mess I may make. If they have any concerns, I will listen and do my best to address them. If they want a liability waiver, I will sign the form and hand it to them.

Site Inspection

With all the introductions completed, it's time to inspect the site. After the tree and cat are pointed out to me, I like to watch the cat for a minute to see how he appears, and then my focus is on the tree and any hazards that may be present. The primary focus of the people is the cat, so they often tell me to come over here or move over there where I can see the cat better. I have to explain to them that I am more interested in the tree at this moment and how I plan to climb it. Some people are more talkative than others, but this site inspection is very important, so I usually tune them out or explain that I need to focus for a few minutes on my safety and climbing plan.

As a tree climber, you already know the importance of inspecting the tree for hazards, so take as much time as you need to be thorough. In addition to the health and structural integrity of the tree itself, you should also consider other trees nearby or overhanging it. Be sure to notice any electrical wires, and, since wires can be hard to see, look for the poles which hold them instead. Also make a deliberate effort to look for bee and hornet nests. Pay attention to flying insects and watch where they go. Using binoculars can be especially helpful.

Climbing Plan

Once you know which parts of the tree are safe and which parts are not, you can determine your climbing options. There may be only one way to reach the cat in this tree, or you may have several choices. You may have a choice of several tie-in points (TIPs) above the cat, or you may need to set it below the cat. You may need to pole-climb the tree or climb a different tree and traverse to the cat. Make a mental list of your options while noting the advantages and disadvantages of each, especially as they relate to the likely reaction of the cat and the ways in which you may need to adapt if the cat moves higher or farther away.

To help me choose which climbing option is best for this specific cat, I talk to the cat owner to learn about the cat's disposition so I can predict his reaction to my various approaches. Even though I may have already asked on the phone how the cat reacts to strangers, I may ask again to verify and get more clarity. I weigh their answer against my observations of the cat's behavior and attitude in the tree at the moment, because cats sometimes surprise us with an unexpected response which could be better or worse.

Rescue Strategy

If the cat is not expected to allow me to get close, I want to know how best to attract him to me. I ask what kinds of food he likes and what sounds cause him to come running to you. I want to know if he recognizes the sound of a can opening or shaking a bag of treats or bowl of dry food. Is there any other sound or something they say that excites him.

Once I am near the cat, I want to know how best to handle or not handle him and which rescue method is best suited for him. I want to know if the cat is comfortable being picked up and held or if there are any places he likes or hates to be touched. Does he like to sit on the owner's lap. Do they ever handle him by the scruff, and, if so, how does he react to that. To help me decide on the best ways to secure the cat, I want to know how he feels about carriers. If his last carrier experience was an unpleasant one, then I will ask if it was a hard or soft carrier, how he handled it, how many times, and how long ago.

The answers to all these questions inform my expectations and shape my choices, and they help me design a climbing plan and approach that has the best chance of success. The rescue does not always go according to my expectations and plan, but I still have the information I need to know what my best options may be for a backup plan.

Once you have settled on a rescue strategy and climbing plan, talk to the people to let them know what you are doing and what to expect. If the situation is especially risky, talk to the owner about all the risks and give them a choice about what you will do. Don't force your plans on them, and don't do something risky without asking them if they want you to proceed. If anything goes wrong, everyone needs to know that the cat owner had a voice in the decisions. If you have a rescue agreement form for the cat owner to sign, this is the time to present it to them.

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