Site Management

As I inspect the site, I remove any hard objects under the tree which would be a hazard to the cat if he fell. If the object can't be moved, then I will cover it with something that will at least soften the impact. Even though I advise the cat owner to do this before I get there, I find that, most of the time, they don't. In some cases, the number of objects on the ground under the tree is so overwhelming that it's too much to ask. In that case, it may be better to install a tarp above it.

It is very unusual for me to install a tarp or net on the ground to catch a cat if he jumps or falls. If he intentionally jumps to the ground, I have found, in my limited experience, that he will do his best to miss the tarp. The cat doesn't understand a tarp or net. He wants to land on clear ground and will do his best to avoid anything else. He may jump to a roof or another tree, but I have not seen one jump on a tarp. I am not saying it will never happen, but it is most likely to happen only if the cat has no other choice.

If the cat falls, then I would like to have something to catch him softly. The problem is that I can't predict where he will fall. When a scared cat has settled at a precarious spot at the end of a long limb, then the probability is fairly high that, if he falls, it will be from that spot. However, it's also possible that he could move over to the other side of the tree and fall from there. Even if he falls from the predicted spot, the higher he is, the harder it is to place the tarp in the precise position directly under him, and there is still the possibility that he can glance off to the side if he hits or grabs another limb along the way. Some situations have a higher chance of a successful catch than others, but even in the low-probability cases, a tarp can be a lucky life-saver.

There have been a few situations in which I intentionally dropped a cat into a tarp below or forced the cat to fall into one. In those cases, I had people on the ground holding a tarp to catch the cat, and they had been given instructions beforehand. If you think a handheld tarp or net may be necessary, and if there are enough people on hand who are willing and able to hold it, then you should have a tarp or net ready and explain how to use it. They need to hold it at shoulder height and hold it tightly. When the cat hits the tarp, or when a tarp-holder moves, it can easily jerk the tarp out of their hands. Their arms should act as shock absorbers and allow the cat to fall close to the ground without hitting it. If the cat needs to be secured, they should all come together immediately to collect the tops and sides of the tarp to secure the cat inside. This is very difficult to accomplish, especially without practice, so a perfect execution cannot be expected. As long as it prevents an injury to the cat, then it's considered a success.

Before you begin to install your rope, let the cat owner know what you are doing and how it sometimes frightens cats enough to cause them to climb down or fall down. If that happens, the cat owner needs to know in advance to stay calm and not chase the cat. If the site is close to home, they may even want to open the door so the cat can run straight inside.

Make sure all people are out of the way when you launch a throw-bag into the tree, and then you can install your rope, test your tie-in point, and prepare all the gear you will need. If you anticipate needing additional gear if the cat proves to be less cooperative than expected, then prepare it on the ground to pull up to you in the tree when needed. Before you climb, double-check all your connections to the rope, including the hitch or climbing device, verify all carabiners are locked closed, check your rope bridge, make sure all the waist and legs straps of your harness are connected securely, and make sure all the gear you intend to bring with you is attached to your harness.

Before you begin to climb, give instructions about what to do and what not to do to all the people on the ground. Tell them that it is important that they remain calm and relaxed at all times, even if the cat is doing something terrifying. It's fine for them to talk to the cat and each other, but do so in a calm manner. Remind them not to chase the cat if he jumps or falls. They also need to be told to stay out from under the tree for their safety. If there are times when you need someone to do something under the tree while you are aloft, it is a good idea to have extra helmets available for them to use.

One of your jobs as a rescuer is to control the environment as much as possible so that it is conducive to a safe and successful rescue. While this is not likely to be a common problem, you may encounter some occasions when unruly children or adults repeatedly run under the tree or cause loud disturbances which make the cat more nervous. If you are unable to gain their cooperation, you may need to decide if you want to proceed with the rescue or return later when the environment is better suited for a successful rescue. With children, whether they are unruly or not, I often remind the parents that the cat could fall and get hurt or killed, and some parents do not want their children to see that. I am very happy to have children there watching, and I think it can be very valuable for them to see a successful rescue, but I need them to stay out from under the tree and not do anything to make the cat more nervous. I am not concerned about their busy and noisy activity away from the tree if the cat has lived in that environment daily and adapted to it.

Some rescues, especially in public places, may attract a crowd, and that can put more pressure on you. You still need to give your pre-climbing instructions to them, and some of them will actually help you enforce your requests to stay away from the tree and to minimize the disturbances. The presence of a crowd should not change what you do or the decisions you make during the rescue. You are not there to entertain them, so be professional, proceed as usual, and tune them out so you can keep your focus where it needs to be.

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