Good and Bad

Most rescues are straight-forward. Most situations are, by definition, routine. The cat owner and property owner are nice, the tree is climbable, the cat is reasonable, the rescue goes as expected, it's all done in a reasonable amount of time, and everyone is happy.

Some rescues, however, are difficult. Either the tree is overwhelmed with poison ivy, the cat is stubborn and uncooperative, there is a beehive beneath the cat, power lines are above the cat, the site is a muddy junkyard, mosquitoes are swarming, the weather is hot and humid, storms are approaching, the cat owner is obnoxious, the property owner is a jerk, all the close neighbors are mowing their yard at that moment, several dogs nearby are barking non-stop, someone nearby is shooting a gun, or any combination of all those things. On days like that, I ask myself, "Why am I doing this?"

There are times during a rescue when I think there is no way I am going to be able to rescue this cat, and this will be the first cat I will have to leave in the tree. Yet, somehow, so far, I have not had to do that. There have been several occasions during a rescue when I decided it was time to quit. Not just this rescue, but all rescues. I often tell myself, "I'm getting too old for this, and I don't want to do this anymore."

I have found those extreme rescues to be challenging, both physically and mentally. It's hard during the misery of the moment to put my mind back in a place where I can solve this impossible problem or, at least, decide to go home and return the next day with a fresh mind and body. So far, I have managed to push through it all and come back down safely with the cat on the ground, but I dread the day when I feel forced to leave the cat in the tree. I am a very patient and persistent rescuer, but I have my mental and physical limits.

Fortunately, most rescues are not difficult, and the next one is likely to be one that is enjoyable and rewarding. I have learned to appreciate those easy, fun rescues with a sweet cat, but, strangely, I have also found it enjoyable to remember and re-tell the stories of those difficult rescues. Those extreme rescues may have been miserable at that moment, but, afterward, they are a source of pride and enjoyment. It becomes a fun story to tell, and the misery of that moment becomes a memory. I am sure to have more difficult rescues in the future, but they don't last forever, and the fact is that most rescues truly are enjoyable.

One of my most enjoyable rescues was for a cat named Buttons. She was stuck in a tree which had a dead top which concerned me. I wanted to be sure she did not go higher into that dead top, so I climbed up above her and then came down toward her. That approach from above is frightening to most cats, and Buttons didn't need another reason to be afraid of me. She hissed and spit at me so forcefully that I found it very intimidating. I was actually afraid of her, but I slowly and calmly worked my way closer to her and worked with her to prove my friendly intentions. It took a long time to earn her trust, but, in the end, she relaxed, allowed me to get close to her, and she voluntarily stepped on my lap for an easy rescue. Those kinds of rescues are very satisfying and rewarding. What is even doubly rewarding is rescuing an unknown cat, learning through his collar or microchip that he has been missing for several days, and then reuniting him with the owner. That's fun.

Perhaps the most miserable rescue I have done was for a sweet cat that was stuck in a tree near a pond in the swampy woods behind his house. Just getting to the tree was a struggle since we had to clear a path through the jungle of bushes, vines, and briers. The weather was hot and humid, and by the time I reached the tree, I was already dehydrated. The tree was a nightmare. I assume there was a tree in there, but I could not actually see it because it was thoroughly enveloped in a mixture of vines, predominantly poison ivy. The tree was close to a pond, and there were several harmless water snakes around, including in the vines surrounding the tree. One fell out of the vines above me and landed in the vines at face height. I left them alone, and they left me alone, but we didn't enjoy each other. There was no way to shoot a line into this tree lest I torture myself with stuck throw-bags that I would never see again. I don't have climbing spikes, but I could not have used them here because the trunk of the tree was completely hidden behind thick vine stems. The only thing I knew to do was to pole-climb the tree, and the trunk was large enough that I could just barely reach around it to hand the end of the rope to the other hand. Throwing the rope around the tree was not possible because of the vines. I always wear long sleeves, even during the summer, because I am almost always climbing trees with poison ivy. This time, I had to hug the tree and press my arms against the tree in order to reach the rope around it, and the poison ivy oil actually went through my sleeves and gave me a rash on my arms. My pole-climbing technique was very inefficient, and my progress was very slow, tedious, and strenuous. I was dehydrated before I started, and I was exhausted before I got halfway up to the cat. I am so grateful that the cat was friendly and cooperative and did not climb higher in the tree, or I would have died there. When I got back down to the ground with the cat, I was truly exhausted. I had to rest just to begin packing my gear. I would pack an item, and then I had to rest again. Another item, more rest. I simply could not force my body to move. It took me a long time to pack up with so many stops for rests, and I am grateful that the cat owner was a young, strong man who was there to help me haul the gear out of the woods. That was the most exhausted I have ever been.

Cat Owners

Almost every cat owner I have encountered has been very reasonable and appreciative, and most have been exceptionally gracious, generous, and grateful. There have been a few I did not like, those who had no understanding of cats at all, those who had no interest in the cat or the rescue, those who never expressed thanks even if they privately felt thankful, and those who were borderline hysterical. I treat them all the same. I am there because they cared enough to go to the trouble of finding and calling me and because I care enough about them and their cat to help.

I approach the cat owners much like I do the cats: with calmness. Calmness is especially important and effective with agitated, distressed, or hysterical cat owners. I have had calls from people in tears over their concern for their cat and their frustration in their inability to help him. I listen to them, I address their concerns, I remain calm, gentle, and confident, and I always enjoy sensing them relax as they realize that their cat is not going to die and will be safely back down on the ground soon. I don't make promises, but they understand that.

It's impossible to know what is happening in the lives of the cat owners at the time of the rescue unless they volunteer that information, so I am usually blind to the full meaning that the cat and his rescue have to them. Two particular rescue cases taught that lesson to me. One was a simple, easy rescue where the cat was not very high and came down on his own when I climbed up to him. It wasn't until I was packing my gear into my vehicle when the woman told me that her husband had died a few days before. Then I painfully understood her concern. She had just suffered a major loss and was now afraid of losing another member of her family. The other case was for a woman whose cat had been stuck in a tree for nine, long, stressful days. The cat originally belonged to her adult son who had recently died in a tragic accident. That cat was her only remaining connection to her son, and she could not bear the thought of losing him too. Being able to restore that connection was a beautiful and powerful honor.

I don't charge for rescues, but many cat owners are so grateful that they insist on giving me money. I always refuse, but there have been a few cases where it became very clear to me that it was extremely important to them to be able to give that money to me, and it would be wrong for me to deny their gift. Some have been very clever about hiding money in my gear or even in my car when I am not looking. I have also been showered with gifts such as original artwork, food, homemade preserves, produce from their garden, fresh eggs from their own chickens, jewelry for my wife, gift cards to restaurants, and even marriage proposals. I am grateful for them all.

Property Owners

While cats have great awareness of the territory of their own kind, they don't have an ounce of respect or concern for the property of people. Cats often wander into the yards of neighbors and are sometimes chased up a tree by the neighbor's dog or cat. When that happens, I need the permission and cooperation of the neighbor in order to rescue the cat. So far, I have been very pleased to enjoy the full cooperation, and even gratitude, of almost all the property owners. There have been a few property owners who were understandably concerned about their liability in the event of an accident, but they were all reasonable. However, I have also run into a few who were exceptionally difficult.

After one property owner refused to cooperate, the cat owner called the local police and asked them to intervene. The officer served as a mediator between us and eventually gained the property owner's permission, and I was allowed to rescue the cat without any difficulty.

On another occasion, when I arrived at the property owner's home, she immediately came out of the house talking on her phone and started grilling me with questions. I gave her my business card with all my contact information on it. She took it, took a picture of it and then continued her already-in-progress phone call by spelling out my name and information and told whoever was at the other end of the line to let her know what they find out. I don't know if she was truly getting someone to do a background check on me, or if she was faking it. She wanted to see my drivers license, so I showed it to her. She took a picture of it and then walked to my truck to take a picture of it and the license plate. The entire time she is talking constantly mentioning death threats against her and telling other outrageous stories that I can't remember any longer. There was no opening for discussion. I signed my liability waiver and handed that to her, and then she finally stopped talking so she could take a picture of the form and then read every word. After my interview was finally finished, she allowed me to do the rescue. I remained calm, cooperative, and respectful the entire time. I did not want to do anything to upset her because I was afraid she would refuse to allow me to do the rescue. The goal here is to rescue the cat, and I find it best simply to accept and respect people as they are and adapt as needed. Challenging and arguing would have been ineffective and also prevented the rescue. Even after the rescue was all over, I thanked her and remained polite because I never know if I may need to return to rescue this cat again.


When I first began rescuing cats in trees, I did not think about the impact it would have on my schedule. Rescues are never scheduled weeks or days in advance. While they are rarely an emergency, they are always urgent to the cat and its owner if not to me. I never know when the phone is going to ring, and I never know if my day is free. Planning for tomorrow gets complicated and uncertain.

As the only rescuer in my area, I can't refer the caller to another rescuer when I am unavailable. Sometimes, I must decide if the rescue is more important than my plan to go to an event, a family gathering, my appointment, or if I should delay the rescue until the next day. I am even more reluctant to make plans to go on a trip because I worry what will happen while I am away. Yes, I have gotten over that for the most part, but it would help greatly to know that there is someone who will be my backup. If there are other rescuers in your area, then this won't be as serious an issue, and even if you are the only rescuer, some people are more comfortable than I am at saying, "Sorry."

The matter seems rather easy to decide when thinking of it only in the abstract. Sure, you go to that event or on that trip, and don't worry about the rescue calls. Just say you're sorry or do it later. However, when you talk to the cat owner, hear the distress in her voice as well as the cat's voice crying in the background, learn how long the cat has been stuck and how stressful this is for everyone, and see the pictures, it's much harder to ignore. It's not abstract anymore. This is real, it's now, and it's important.


People are not attracted to this kind of service for the money. You will not get rich rescuing cats in trees. That is a good thing in that it filters out those people who have less than altruistic motives, but it is bad in terms of recruiting an adequate number of rescuers to meet the demand.

If money isn't your motive, then what is? We all have our own personal reasons. I'm sure to some extent we all enjoy being the admired and celebrated hero of the day, but that is unlikely to be the primary and sustaining motive. I think we all simply love and enjoy cats, feel great sympathy for them when they get stuck in a tree, appreciate the unique skill it requires to reach them in the tree, and are touched by the loving gesture of a rescue. But there is more to it than that.

When I do a rescue, especially an easy, feel-good rescue without the complications of a difficult tree, difficult cat, or difficult people polluting my feelings of accomplishment, I leave the rescue with a glowing satisfaction in my heart, and it's a difficult feeling to understand or describe. It's not just fulfilling, comforting, or rewarding. It's a sense that I have done something very valuable and meaningful. I'm not just taking up space and wasting the air I breathe. I feel useful, even valuable. I am contributing to the relief of suffering. It may be very small in the world of suffering, but it means the world to that one cat and his owner. It's a very satisfying feeling, and it's one of the reasons I so enjoy what I do.

When you complete a rescue, pat yourself on the back. You did something hard that very few people can do. You relieved suffering and made a huge difference in the lives of the cat and his owner. That's not bad for a day's work. You did good. Enjoy the glow.