Exceptional Cases

There will always be a few exceptional cases where the usual rescue methods are not suitable, advisable, or even possible, and, sometimes, it is best to think beyond your usual methods and create a solution that is suited to the specific circumstances of the case.

In some cases where the cat does not need to be secured, instead of climbing up to rescue the cat, it might be better simply to give the cat a way to rescue himself. For those cats who are on a low limb or roof of a one-story building, a ramp or platform may be suitable. I have even used a ramp to help a cat come down from a second-floor roof to the first-floor roof and to the ground from there. For higher cats or cats in unclimbable trees, an elevator is often suitable and effective. These methods require the cooperation of the cat whose timing cannot be predicted, so, sometimes, two trips may be necessary. Once the elevator is installed, however, the cat owner can usually lower the cat himself at an appropriate time and save the rescuer a return trip. For this reason, I keep two complete elevator kits in my vehicle, and each one is cheap enough that I can leave it on site without being concerned about recovering it, especially on those long-distance cases.

When you have a feral or unsocialized cat that is certain to be terrified of you, you know he will not let you get close to him when he sees you climbing up to him. If it is possible to climb up above him without being seen, then you can make an appearance above him and motivate him to climb down on his own. Of course, his position in the tree, and the size of the tree will determine if that is possible, and, since he will not be secured, he needs to be in his own home territory. It is also advised to prepare the ground beneath the tree for a possible, if not likely, fall.

When the cat is perched next to the trunk and the trunk is large enough, you can climb on the opposite side of the trunk where he can’t see you. You normally don’t even need to be especially quiet, since I have often noticed that cats don’t seem to hear me when they are not expecting me to be there. Sometimes, I can’t get their attention even when I want them to see me. If the tree or the cat’s position makes it impossible to climb without being seen, you still have a chance to climb above the cat if you climb several feet away from him instead of directly below him and turn your back to him as you climb. Once you are high enough, you can then move into position directly above him. Now you should look at him and move slowly in his direction in small increments. Do not move or stare in a way that causes him to panic. Move slowly toward him until he begins to climb down, and then you should stop. He might even learn how to climb down backwards. If he stops, give him time to figure out how he will go down before you move toward him any farther. If necessary, use your arms to block any upward escape path so he must go downward.

The video below is an example of this technique. The cat, Nash, was mostly feral and would not allow even his own caretakers to touch him, so I knew I had no chance getting close to him in the tree. He was only 20 feet high, and I didn't want him to go any higher in this large tree where his rescue would become much more difficult and risky, so I climbed up out of sight on the opposite side of the trunk from him and appeared above him. He reacted exactly as expected and climbed down eventually landing on the old mattress that had been placed on the ground for him in case of a fall.

Some cats will get in extreme positions in the tree where you can’t go, and the cat either can’t or won’t come to you. First, make sure all your climbing options are exhausted. Can you get closer to the cat by climbing a different stem or different tree? Can the cat’s stem be pulled closer to you? Can you get creative and devise a new and unique method, even it if is suitable only for this one case? In the video below, this cat, Mittens, was stuck 40 feet high in a skinny, unclimbable Tallow tree in the woods. I climbed a larger tree near it and was able to use a climbing hook to pull her tree close enough to me that I could reach her.

If all your usual remedies and methods have been exhausted, then you don’t have many options left. You may decide to leave and return the next day in the hope that the cat will be either in a different place or more cooperative or both. That can happen. In fact, it can happen even if you go back to the ground and climb back up within minutes. You can also try the patience game to see if the cat will eventually come to you. That can happen too as it did for me with Anastasia who was perched 90 feet high at the lonely, exposed tip of a limb far beyond my reach. It took a long time, and she almost won the patience game, but she did eventually come to me for rescue.

In some of the following cases, you may need to cut a limb or even cut off the top of the tree, so it is best to make sure you have the property owner’s permission before doing so. I have yet to find a property owner who expressed any concern for the tree, but it is still wise not to make any assumptions on their part. If they object to any damage to their tree, then you will need to rule out any rescue solutions that involve cutting it.

When cutting any part of the tree on which the cat is resting, it would be wise to install a net or tarp on the ground below the cat in case he falls. Even when you do not intend for the cat to fall, it is often very difficult to predict or control how the tree reacts to a cut. Limbs can suddenly snap with little or no warning, and even when they do not fall free, the sudden jerky movements can cause the cat to fall.

Since these extreme cases involve a higher risk of the cat falling, it is best to discuss all the options and risks with the cat owner beforehand. Know what their risk tolerances are before proceeding, and let them know what you are doing as you proceed. It is best to let them be the ones making the decisions about what risks you take with the cat and let them stop you at any point. Your responsibility is to make sure they are fully informed beforehand and have a voice in the rescue decisions.

If the cat would be willing to come to you if the limb he was on was not so steeply sloped up away from you, then you can help him by leveling the limb. Depending on the size of the limb, you can use your handsaw to cut multiple shallow "V" kerfs in the bottom of the limb every inch or so to allow the limb slowly to bend just enough that it is more level and easily managed by the cat. Cut the kerfs slowly, remove your saw, and wait to give the limb time to react before cutting the next one or cutting deeper. When cutting the underside of a limb, there is a high risk of getting your saw stuck in the kerf as the limb sags and pinches it in the kerf. Cut very little at a time, and when you want to deepen a kerf, cut it wider as well. It is very easy to get overly confident and cut too much too quickly with no apparent effect only to find your saw stuck in a kerf. Also be aware that the limb may start sagging slowly but accelerate quickly until it breaks free, so don’t over do it.

If the cat is in the skinny top of a tree acting like the star of a Christmas tree or close to it, and you are unable to capture it with a net or catch-pole, you may have no choice but to cut the top of the tree and lower it down to you. To do so, make two cuts in the stem in a V shape but do not cut it quite all the way through. Leave a narrow connection at the bottom of the V that you can easily break by hand. This gives you time to put your saw away with one hand while the other one holds onto the top. Use both hands to break the connection and lower the top to you while keeping it in the same vertical orientation. If one hand is already prepared with a scruff bag, you can bag him or you might be able to scoop him into a hard carrier. Patrick Brandt demonstrates this technique in the video below:

If the cat is at the end of a very long limb and has no intention of ever coming near you, you may be at the point where the only option you have left is to cause him to fall. If the cat is not very high or can be easily caught in a large net held by people on the ground, it might be best simply to force him to fall by using your body weight to shake the limb. That can be harder to do than it sounds but it can be done. If the cat can be reached by your long-handle net, then you can use that to shove him off the end of the limb while also having at least a chance of catching him in the net. If you can gently shove him off so that he is hanging by his front paws, you can place the net beneath him and catch him.

If that is not an option, you still have one more trick up your sleeve that may save a fall. If you can cut the limb in a way that causes it to slowly sag until it is hanging vertically but is still attached, the cat will hang onto the limb and then climb straight up the limb to you. If you are prepared for this, you can either bag him or scoop him up into a carrier from the back end. It can be tricky to cut the limb in this manner, however. Some species will bend well, and some will snap without warning. Success by cutting alone cannot be guaranteed, so it's best to back it up with some rigging. If you girth hitch two webbing loops to the limb, connect them with a carabiner, and then cut the limb between them, the limb will not fall to the ground, but it will likely jerk the cat off the limb if the limb snaps free. You can lessen the jerk by taking out as much slack as possible between the webbing loops. The best way to cut the limb so that it will sag without breaking is to cut multiple, shallow, V-shaped kerfs on the underside as explained above. If you don’t want to risk getting your saw stuck, you can make cuts on the upper side of the limb but there will be a much higher risk that the limb will suddenly snap free.

I have had one case where none of these options was suitable. Instead, I went back down to the ground, shot a throw-line over the cat's limb, and used that line to shake his limb until he fell out of the tree while other people were below and ready to catch him in a tarp or net. That worked well in that one case, but that may not always be suitable.

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