The elevator sounds simple in principle, but is actually very challenging to accomplish. The idea is to use a rope to pull a box up to the cat, get him to step into it for the food you have placed there, and then lower him to the ground. It’s a challenging project, but many people have successfully rescued their cat this way while many others have tried and failed. If the tree is dead and unsafe to climb, or if the property owner will not allow anyone to climb the tree, then this may be the only rescue option available. The probability of success is reasonable as long as you do everything correctly and have a cooperative cat. However, do not attempt this method if there are power lines close to the tree.
The most difficult part of the elevator is getting a rope over a suitable limb. The rope needs to go over either the same limb on which the cat is resting or a limb directly above the cat. The length of your rope needs to be three times the height of the limb plus some more for rigging the elevator box, and the rope needs to be strong enough to hold at least twice the weight of your cat. Common paracord is suitable and available at most hardware stores, but a cord with a smoother surface will be better because it will slide over the limb with less friction. The importance of that friction will become clear when you throw the weight over a limb only to see it won't fall to the ground because it can't overcome the friction on the limb.
So how do you get the rope over that limb? If it is a light-weight rope and the height of the target branch is not too high, you can simply tie a weight to the end of the rope and toss it by hand. However, if the rope is too heavy to allow the weight to reach the height you need, then use twine in place of the rope, and, once it is in place, you can use the twine to pull your rope over the limb. Doing this in two steps using twine first is advisable because the twine will have much less friction over the limb than the rope, and you will have more success in getting the weight to fall back down to you.Before you throw the weight over the limb, however, you first need to uncoil and untwist the rope or twine and let it fall randomly in a loose pile. You should do this on a blanket or tarp or in a box so that the little sticks and twigs on the ground do not snag it and cause it to tangle. The idea is simply to let the twine fall loosely in whatever position it naturally falls. Do not try to force it to make neat coils; just let it fall however it wants. When you reach the end of the twine, tie the weight on that end and throw it. The motion of the weight will feed the twine out of the pile usually without any tangles.
You can throw the weight in one of two ways. The simplest is to throw the weight directly from your hand just like you would throw a baseball. You will be limited in how high you can throw it, but that may work in some cases, especially if there is a young baseball player available. If you need to reach a bit higher, then you can dangle the weight from roughly two or three feet of twine by your side and swing it back and forth in the direction you want to throw it while keeping your eyes focused just above the target limb. Once you have refined the direction and reached the level of momentum you need, fling it up over the limb. Of course, you need to be careful not to hit the cat, so it is best to practice first.
Another way to get the rope up even higher is to use a slingshot or a fishing rod and reel. In either case, use fishing line and a two-ounce weight to shoot or cast your line over the target limb. The fishing line can then be tied to your rope, and then you can pull the rope over the limb.
Once the twine is over your target limb, you will probably need to manipulate it so that at least one end will fall straight down to the ground without passing over other limbs. Take a look at both ends of your twine to see which one will be easier to manipulate into position. To manipulate the twine, tie a heavier weight on the end of the twine and then pull it toward your target limb until it passes over the unwanted limbs. Very important: when the weight falls free of a limb, immediately let it fall several feet toward the ground before trying to stop it so that the momentum of it swinging away from the limb does not cause it to wrap itself around another limb. Once the twine has a free path straight down from the target limb to the ground, let it fall there. Note, however, if the twine is on a limb above the cat, then the path of the twine needs to be touching, or close to touching, the cat’s limb, because, once you pull the elevator up to him, it will press the box against his limb and partly stabilize it. Once the path of the twine is where you want it, tie the end of the twine to the end of your rope and pull the rope over the limb.
If the target limb is too high to reach with any do-it-yourself method, then try calling some local tree services to see if they would be willing to come set the line for you. They have specialized tools for this and the skills for getting it done quickly. They may charge a fee, but it should be very reasonable and worth it for the time and frustration it saves you.
With the rope in place, now you can rig a box to use for the elevator. Plastic storage boxes are common and suitable if you have one the proper size to fit a cat without being too big to fit through the tree, but you can also use a clothes basket or other suitable container you have available. The box needs to be supported by a rope at each of the four corners to prevent the box from tipping to one side as the cat moves around, so drill a hole in each of the four corners for that purpose. The holes should be just slightly larger than your rope. Insert the end of your rope through one corner hole and tie a knot in the end being sure to leave a tail about two inches long for safety.
Stretch the rope from that corner high over the center of the box so that it leaves more than enough room for a cat to fit under it as he steps inside the box. While holding the rope there, use your other hand to stretch the rope down to the other corner of the box at the same end. Cut the rope roughly six inches below that corner, thread that end of the rope through the hole, and then tie a knot in the end leaving a two-inch tail. Now you should have a rope connecting one corner to the next.
Find the exact center of this rope by pulling it with a finger to where it hovers high over the center of the box. Pull both legs of the rope together from that point, think of it as the end of one thicker rope, and then tie a knot in the end of it so that the center loop is poking out the end. That loop needs to be at least big enough to fit your finger and will be used for attaching that end of the box to the hauling rope. This knot is important because it prevents the box from tilting excessively when the cat moves to one corner. Repeat this procedure for the other end of the box while adjusting the rope so that it is the mirror image of the first one and the center loops meet at the same position above the center of the box. Pull the two center loops together over a finger, lift the box, and check to see if the box hangs roughly level from that point. Make adjustments as needed.
It is very important that you tie one more rope to the box at any spot that is suitable for the purpose of pulling it down if it gets stuck. This rope needs to be long enough to reach all the way to the ground from the limb. Elevators often get stuck, and you will need a way to pull it back down. You also need this rope to help steer the box around other limbs as you haul it up and lower it to the ground. One of the main reasons people fail to rescue their cat with the elevator is because it got stuck, and they had no way to retrieve it. This rope needs to be tied to a sturdy place on the box so that the rope does not pull through if you need to pull it very hard. Here, I tied a loop of rope around the handle area, but you can choose any spot that is structurally strong enough.
In the event you need to leave the box in the tree for a long time while you wait for the cat to go inside it, it would be wise to drill some holes in the bottom corners for drainage in case it rains. If the box is made of a clear or translucent plastic, a cat may be hesitant to jump down into it, so it’s best to place a towel or newspaper on the bottom. That is a good idea even for opaque materials. Put the cat’s favorite food in one corner of the box, and then attach the box to your hauling rope. You can either tie the end of the hauling rope to the loops of the box rigging ropes, or you can tie it to a screw link and then attach the loops to that. It is best not to use a small carabiner, because those can get caught on small shoots or stubs.
It is very important that, when you pull the box up to the cat, you do so very slowly. Use the steering cord to pull it away from other limbs along the way so that you make as little commotion and noise as possible. Watch the cat to see how he is reacting to it. If he looks frightened, then stop and give him time to adjust to it. Some cats may get so frightened by it that they may either climb higher or jump out of the tree, so a slow approach is essential. If your rope is anchored over the cat’s limb, then pull the box up until it begins to tilt. The top of the box will be just below the cat’s limb, but that is still close enough.
If your rope is over a limb above the cat’s limb, then pull the box up until the top of the box is level with the cat’s limb and, hopefully, partly stabilized by the limb. The cat may have walked out the limb to stay a safe distance from it, so give him time to see that all the motion has stopped, and he will eventually come to it to investigate. Stubborn cats may need more time than you are willing to wait, so tie the rope to something secure and keep checking on him. Even if you fail to lower him to the ground, you can at least get him used to feeding there and feeling more comfortable with it until you can lower him. If it takes two or three days to make that happen, then that is still a great success.
When the cat does jump down into the box, do not start lowering him right away. Give him time to feel comfortable in it and start eating the food. Once he is eating and focused on that, gently lower him to the ground and strive to make the ride as gentle as possible while using the steering rope to guide him gently around obstacles. Some cats may become frightened and jump out of the box, so be prepared for that by having someone hold a tarp below to catch him.