Getting Started

Image by Paul Kadair
This guide is directed toward only those who are already proficient tree-climbers. There are no instructions here regarding tree-climbing techniques, and those who wish to learn how to climb trees are advised to look elsewhere before returning here to learn about rescuing cats. Qualified instruction and plenty of practice are essential before attempting to rescue a cat in a tree. You will need to be proficient in both moving rope (MRS, also called doubled-rope) and stationary rope (SRS, also called single-rope) systems, and you will also need to know an efficient pole-climbing technique.

Beginning tree-climbers should practice by creating imaginary rescue scenarios. If the cat is in this spot in this tree, how will you reach him? Decide how you will climb the tree and then perform the imaginary rescue. Do the same in other types of trees and in more difficult spots. After that, imagine climbing up to the cat only to have the cat climb higher or walk out to the end of a limb. You will often need to advance your tie-in point (TIP) and convert your climbing system from stationary (SRS) to moving (MRS) rope and the reverse, so be sure to practice those tasks until you are very comfortable with them. You should also practice ascending with a pole-climbing technique and converting to an MRS or SRS system for descent. Other skills to develop include limb-walking, traversing to another tree, and redirects.

While you may already have all the tree-climbing gear you need, you should consider the cat-handling equipment you may need as well. Few cats will come down on your lap, so you need to have a way to capture and secure both cooperative and uncooperative cats, including those who are beyond your reach. Study the following section on cat-handling equipment to learn what you may need as well as how and when to use it.

Once you feel ready to begin rescuing real cats, you have some business decisions to make. Do you plan to charge for your service? How much? Is the price fixed or will you take variable donations instead? What about those who are too poor to pay anything? What about those cases for unknown cats where the caller feels morally obligated to report it but not financially responsible for it? Is your service an extension of an existing business, a new business, a non-profit, or a private service?

It would also be wise to talk to a lawyer about any legal forms you may need. You may want to have a service agreement form for the cat owner to sign which lets them know the terms of your service and protects you from liability if the rescue goes badly. While I have never had a cat owner even mention the possibility of a lawsuit, I have heard of cases where the cat owner sued the rescuer, so it is wise to protect yourself as best you can. It can happen. I always advise avoiding the possibility first by being the most competent, professional rescuer you can be, establishing a friendly and trusting relationship with the cat owner from the start, informing the owner in advance of all the risks, and involving the cat owner in all the critical decisions about the rescue. For those cases where the cat is on a neighbor's property, you may also want to have a liability waiver to sign for the property owner to ease his concerns about being sued by you in the event of an accident. I have run into several cases where this was necessary in order to gain the property owner's permission.

Insurance is another important matter to consider. If you are a tree-climber with a licensed tree service, you probably already have the liability insurance you need to cover you in a cat rescue as well, but you should verify that with your insurance agent to be sure. Otherwise, you should investigate the matter to see what you can find for your particular situation. Some property owners, especially when the cat is stuck in a tree on business property, will not give you permission to climb the tree unless you can prove you have liability insurance.

Once you have practiced your climbing, collected your gear, settled the business matters, and fully educated yourself in the art and science of rescuing cats in trees, it's time to make your service known. First, however, decide exactly how well you want your service to be known. How busy do you want to be? Do you want only a few rescues per month or are you ready for full-time demand? Do you want to serve only your surrounding neighborhoods, the whole city, or anyone within a one-hour driving radius? It may be best to start slow and announce your availability only to one source of referrals. Getting yourself listed in the online directory of cat rescuers is a good place to start. You may also want to contact your local Animal Control office and let them know they can refer calls about a cat stuck in a tree to you. They should be able to tell you how often they get such calls so you will have an idea how busy you may be. You may want to start with a local cat rescue organization, veterinarians, police and sheriff dispatch, or the fire department. All these organizations get calls for a cat stuck in a tree at one time or another, and all may be willing to refer those callers to you. You can also make a pre-printed postcard with all the relevant information and mail that card to them. Eventually, more and more people will become familiar with your service and spread the word through social media. If you have some business cards to give to the cat owners and property owners, they will have the necessary contact information to spread the word about your service. It's also a good idea to have an online presence so people can link to that as well as find you through an internet search.

If you are seriously inclined, I recommend creating a spreadsheet to keep track of the rescues you do. Give some thought to the information that you would like to record for analysis later. In addition to the basic information such as date, cat's name, breed, color, age, gender, length of time in the tree, rescue method used, and contact information of the owner, you may also be interested in the cat's height in the tree (whether initial, final, or maximum), cat's status as indoor-only or outdoor-access, reason for climbing the tree, type of tree, and any other information of interest to you. When you are eventually asked to rescue a pet bird or iguana in a tree, you might even want a column for the species so you can separate the cats from the others. It is much easier to collect more information than you need from the start than it is to retroactively add information to past rescues from memory.

Cat-Handling Gear:  Cat Bag   >>>