Rescue Methods

Once you have approached or enticed the cat as close as possible and have a clear understanding of the situation, it’s time to select a suitable method to secure the cat for rescue. Based on the information you learned from the owner and your own observations, you should have already had a rescue method in mind before you started climbing, but plans can change depending on the cat’s final position and demeanor. If you planned for those unexpected developments, then you will already be prepared with the gear you need. Either the needed rescue gear will already be with you or on the ground ready to be retrieved. If not, you will need to go back down to retrieve it, and, when you return, the cat’s position and demeanor may have changed yet again for better or worse.

There are several rescue methods from which you can choose, and these are discussed in detail in the following pages. You may want to tailor these methods to your own liking, and you may also develop methods of your own which suit you better. However, it would be wise to benefit from the experience of others and carefully consider the contingencies, disadvantages, and risks that have been noted. There is no one perfect method that works successfully for all cats in all situations, so be prepared to learn and be flexible in this last crucial step of your cat management skills.

Ideally, for every rescue you do, the cat should be secured, that is, he should be brought back down to the ground in a bag, net, carrier, trap, or some other kind of container from which he cannot escape. However, there are some cases where securing the cat may not be required, such as an outdoor cat already in its own familiar territory, and there are some cases where it is absolutely essential, such as any cat who is displaced in unfamiliar territory.

Displaced cats are those who escape when far from their home territory, usually during transport. They commonly escape at a veterinarian’s office or highway rest stop, but I am also finding an increasing frequency of cases where the cat escapes when the owner takes his cat on an adventure outing away from home. Many people see popular videos of adorable cats on outdoor adventures, such as hiking, biking, boating, surfing, etc., and think it would be fun to do something similar with their own cat, and they discover, instead, that their cat, whether harnessed or not, gets spooked or terrified and escapes. Even an indoor-only cat who is stuck in a tree in his own back yard can be considered displaced. Even though he likely knows where home is, if he comes down during the night when no one is present and the door is not open, he may not have a safe and familiar place to go.

Many displaced cats will run away and hide and, possibly, be forever lost, but some will climb a tree. Even if the cat knows how to climb down, he will probably choose not to do so because he feels safer in the tree than on the ground in unfamiliar territory, especially if another creature chased him up there. However, some cats will either climb down or fall down, and, once on the ground, they are likely to run and hide where the owner may never find him. This is why it is critical to rescue and secure a displaced cat as soon as possible. If your normal policy is to give the cat one or two nights in the tree before attempting to rescue it, this is one time you should consider an exception.

Every rescuer is different. We all will have different preferences for rescue methods, and our preferences may change over time as we gain more experience with them. We all have different capabilities, psychology, philosophy, and comfort levels that affect our preferences and choices, but I think it would be wise to develop at least a basic level of competency with all of them so that you will have all the tools you might need to resolve those difficult cases. You might even get creative and develop new methods that suit you better.

In most cases, you will have multiple suitable rescue methods from which to choose, but the most appropriate method will vary depending on all the circumstances of the current situation including the cat’s demeanor, position, age, size, history, the tree’s structure, density, hazards, the environmental conditions, weather, your current capabilities and preferences, and other factors that may be relevant to the case at hand. It’s also important to consider the risks involved with each rescue method since not all rescue methods have a 100% success rate, especially when circumstances are less than ideal. Whichever method you choose, prepare for it, pre-visualize it, and practice it before handling the cat.

With each rescue scenario with which I am presented, I simply go down my list of rescue methods in order of preference until I find one that is best suited for this particular case. My preferred order of rescue methods, listed below, is from gentlest to most forceful, that is, most pleasant to least pleasant from the cat’s perspective.

I commonly use the first six methods and rarely use the last four. Note that the cat is secured in all of the first eight methods except the lap. The last two methods, ramp and elevator, are used only in rare circumstances, and both do not secure the cat. I rarely use the net method simply because I am terrible at it, and my success rate is abysmal. Otherwise, I would move it higher up the list.

Certain scenarios, of course, automatically eliminate certain rescue methods. For example, if I am unable to climb within reach of the cat, then my first four rescue methods are not possible. Even if I am able to climb within easy reach of the cat, it is only the friendliest cats that might be willing to step on my lap for a lap or lap-bag rescue. If the tree is too dense to make it possible to climb with a carrier, or if there is no suitable place to install a trap, then those methods can’t be utilized. Sometimes, none of these methods is suitable, and I am forced to resort to techniques described in the Exceptional Cases page.

Your list and order of methods will likely be different, but I would advise the beginning rescuer to study each method to understand the reasoning and risks associated with each so you can make an informed decision and increase your chance of success.

Cat Handling

Generally, it is better to handle the cat as little as necessary before securing him. Certainly, some cats are very docile and receptive and will allow you to hold them or set them on your lap for a long visit with no trouble, and it is very tempting to take advantage of that. However, some cats who are receptive at first will become more agitated and suspicious of your attempt to control their movement and location. The longer you attempt to control them, the higher the risk that they will lose their trust in you and attempt to escape. If that happens and you are not prepared to secure them, you will lose control of them and have a harder time earning their trust again. Before handling a cat, have a plan in place to secure him if he should revolt, that is, have a cat bag or carrier already prepared.

Some cats should not be handled at all. This includes feral cats, of course, but also some tame cats who are too afraid or fractious to be trusted to resign themselves to your handling. These cats will fight, and you will get clawed and bit. Do not take that risk. Select a rescue method that keeps you a safe distance from the cat. I once had success luring a hostile cat into a carrier, but that was exceptional. A trap is a much better solution, but you may choose to use a catch-pole. If the latter, expect the cat to fight it violently and give you difficulty in transferring him to a net, so have a backup plan available.

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