Initial Contact

Case management begins with the initial contact. Whoever calls you, whether it is the cat owner, the property owner, or a concerned neighbor, will ask if you can help or advise, and you need not only to learn all that you can about the case, but also educate the caller about what to expect and possibly counsel them to ease their mind or reduce their anxiety.

Some callers are very worried that their cat is going to die after one or two nights in the tree, but you can set their mind at ease by calmly telling them about cats who routinely survive much longer stays in the tree and how common it is. Reassuring the caller is as essential and valuable as rescuing the cat, so be sure to spend some time doing so. Once they begin to feel reassured and relaxed, you can ask questions to gather the information that you need.


One of the first things I want to know is the city where this cat is stuck and how long he has been stuck. If they are not within my range of travel, then I will do my best to advise them and refer them to someone else who may be able to help them. If they are within my range but still a long distance, then I need to determine the priority relative to any other rescues I may have on schedule. I can do two or three rescues close to home in the time I can do one rescue far away, but if the cat far away has been stuck for two weeks, and the local cats have been stuck only one night, then I will assign a higher priority to the far away cat.

I often get calls to rescue a cat who has been stuck in the tree only two or three hours or even as little as thirty minutes. For routine rescue cases, I normally like to give the cat at least one night in the tree to see if he can learn how to climb down on his own. I explain to the caller that it is to their advantage as well as the cat's advantage to give him that chance so that he can rescue himself if this happens again in the future. Everyone will be better served if he learns the skill of climbing down on his own, and being stuck in a tree is the time when cats either learn it or not. Some callers understand and agree with that, but some can't tolerate waiting that long in spite of the reassurance I gave them earlier. The rescue is as much for the cat owner as it is for the cat, so I weigh their anxiety level into my decision about when to go.

From the beginning of the call, I listen carefully for signs that the cat could be physically stuck in a tight, vertical fork. It's rare, but it's an emergency when it happens. From the way the caller describes what the cat is doing in the tree, I can usually tell that it is not an emergency. If the cat is walking, standing, or sitting, then I am not worried about it, and I don't alarm the caller by bringing up the topic. If they talk about how the cat's legs are dangling, then I must press them for more information. Most people do not recognize the urgency of the situation, so I must ask them for more details about the cat's position in the tree. I need to know if the cat's body is tightly wedged into a vertical fork of the tree, and if all four legs of the cat are dangling freely. Sometimes, the forks of the tree are small and squeezing the cat so tightly, that his body wraps around them making them difficult to see. I also ask if they have ever seen the cat stand up or move from that spot in the tree. If they have a picture, I ask them to send it to me to help verify the situation. If it's clear that this cat is stuck in a tight, vertical fork, then I tell the caller that this is an emergency and that they need to do whatever they can to push the cat up high out of the fork. If they can reach the cat with a rake, pool net, or a long pipe with a 90-degree elbow and short piece of pipe on the end, they should use it to push the cat out of the fork even if he falls. He has a much better chance of surviving a fall to the ground than he does staying where he is. Usually, there is nothing they can do, and I will rush over there if at all possible.

Site Information

The next piece of information I want to know is whether the cat is in familiar territory or not. I am concerned about cats who are displaced far from their own territory and do not know their way home. If that cat comes down when no one is present, the cat will be lost and may possibly never be seen again. This happens most commonly when the cat is being transported and escapes at some point along the way. A displaced cat is a high priority to me, so I am not concerned about how little time he has been in the tree. Inside-only cats who escape and are stuck in a tree close to home could possibly be considered displaced as well, but they have a much better chance of getting home on their own.

If the cat is in a tree on someone else's property, I generally need to have the property owner's permission to be on their property and to climb the tree. I ask the caller to get that permission for me, and a verbal response to the caller is all I usually need. It's rare that I have any difficulty getting the neighbor's cooperation, but some property owners have some understandable concerns, and I do my best to address those concerns directly with them. I have always managed to work it out, though there was one case where the cat owner had to call the police to get them to mediate between us and the property owner. That case, too, also worked out, and I was allowed to proceed.

While talking about the site, I will ask about access to the property and whether I need to cross any fences or wade across a creek or through a swamp or any other special circumstances. If there are any dogs in the yard, I need to know if the owner will be willing to keep them inside or some place out of the way during the rescue. I also want to know about the presence of any power lines close to the tree.

It is not essential, but if the caller can send a picture of the site to me easily, then I will ask for one that shows the entire tree, if that is possible. I am interested in seeing how climbable the tree is, whether this is a pole-climbing situation, if I need to climb a nearby tree, if the tree is covered with vines or surrounded by dense vegetation, if power lines are close and what kind of lines they are, and even if the tree is alive or dead. I usually can't see where the cat is in the picture, but they can either tell me verbally or circle it in the picture. Unfortunately, pictures can be very deceiving. I am often surprised to see how small, large, or different the tree is once I see it in person.

Cat Information

Many of the questions I have about the cat can wait till I get there, but, before I leave, I want to know something about the cat's age and his disposition, especially toward strangers. I will ask how the cat reacts to strangers on a quiet, normal day at home. I want to know if he goes toward a stranger, runs away from him, or just sits still and watches. The answer lets me know what to expect from the cat in the tree, assuming I approach him properly. If the cat normally sits still and watches, then I ask if a stranger can make friends with the cat if they approach him properly. If the cat is friendly, then I may be more willing to do the rescue in the dark or when I don't have much available time before a storm, but, if the cat is fearful, then I may not even want to start it until I have daylight and a window of time that is long enough to complete the rescue.

If the cat is unknown, then I will ask if he is crying in the tree, and, if so, if he looks at people on the ground when he cries or if he is crying while facing off into the distance. A feral cat typically will stay very quiet in a tree since he does not want to attract attention, but a tame cat will cry, especially toward people below. All kittens, tame or feral, will cry and cry loudly, but if they are crying off into the distance, they are crying for their mama, not people.

If the cat is unknown, I will ask if the caller recognizes the cat. If the cat is a regular resident of the neighborhood, then I feel much better about releasing him on the ground after the rescue even without knowing the owner. If the caller has never seen the cat before, or if he has seen it only the past few days, then I get more concerned about what to do with the cat after the rescue. This cat could belong to a neighbor or it could be a lost cat. Some callers or their neighbors are willing to take responsibility for the cat and keep it until they can find the owner, and I am always very grateful for those people. I ask them to start the process of finding the owner by knocking on a few doors around them and searching the Lost Pets pages and Nextdoor posts for notices about this cat. Ideally, I want to find the owner before I bring the cat down so I can turn the cat over to them at that moment, and the sooner the search process begins, the better. If the cat has an identifying collar or microchip, then I can begin the process of reuniting the cat with the owner once we are on the ground.

Especially when talking about unknown cats, many callers will misuse the term "feral" to describe them. A feral cat is one that is completely wild and living on its own, but many people use the term to describe a cat that is simply unknown or appears to be homeless. It may be sweet or have a wild disposition, so I always ask for more information about how the cat interacts with people. Some of these cats, even if very fearful, are simply lost or abandoned cats that belong, or once belonged, to someone and can respond nicely to people they trust, so it is best not to pre-judge a cat just because the caller called it feral. I often hear the term "stray" used as well, and that is meaningless and tells me nothing about the cat. I just mentally substitute the word "unknown" for the term and ask more questions about the cat.

Schedule and Risks

After I get the address and see how long it will take me to drive there, I can use all the information I have gathered to determine how difficult and long the rescue is expected to take and determine when to schedule it. The weather forecast will also play a role in that decision, especially if the site is far away. After we set a time, I tell them to keep checking on the cat and let me know if he comes down or falls down. If the rescue is scheduled for the next morning, I ask for confirmation that the cat is still there before I leave.

Since cats often fall out of the tree, I always advise the caller to remove or cover all hard objects under the tree for the cat's safety. If the cat lands on flat, soft ground, he will likely survive the fall fine, but if he lands on any kind of hard object such as a flower pot, bird bath, lawn furniture, or fence, he could be seriously injured. Few people actually act on that advice, but at least I have done my duty to warn them. I also tell them that the cat could show up at the door at any moment, so keep checking on him.

I also use this opportunity to warn them that there is always a risk that the cat could get hurt during a rescue attempt, especially if he jumps or falls, and I make sure they understand and accept that risk. I tell them how many rescues I have done without any injury to the cat so they know that the odds are strongly favorable, but I still can't guarantee a happy outcome. I also explain that there is risk in doing nothing as well. So far, I have not encountered anyone who hesitated to accept that risk, but it needs to be aired and possibly put in writing to protect yourself in the event something does go wrong.

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