Some cats are not cooperative, and you can’t get close to them or get them to come to you. If they are out of reach of your catch-pole and net, then you don’t have many options. You can try leaving and returning later hoping the situation improves, you can have people below catch the cat in a tarp or net when you force it to fall, or you can set a trap for the cat in the tree.

Some trees and situations are more conducive to staging a trap than others. I typically use a trap when a cat is at the end of a long limb that is generally horizontal and there is a reasonably level portion of that limb that is long enough to fit the trap within my reach. Sometimes the trap may be butted against the trunk, and other times, it may be several feet out the limb. You also need to consider the shape of the limb where the trap door is open to make sure there is enough room for the cat to walk under the open door without touching it and possibly triggering it closed. While the trap does not need to be perfectly level, it can’t be angled very steeply either. You should experiment with your trap at home to learn how well it functions at various angles and know what the limits are. Also consider how difficult it may be for some cats to walk down a steep angle head-first. For this reason, as well as the cat's comfort, I attach a piece of thick, rubbery shelf or toolbox liner to the floor of the trap from the entrance to the trailing edge of the trigger plate. This gives the cat something to grab with his claws and is much more comfortable than the hard wire mesh.

In cases where the cat is far out on a manageable limb, it is reasonable to assume the cat will walk back along the limb toward the trap whenever he feels it is safe to do so, but consider the case where a cat is in the skinny top of a tree, and the best you can do is set a trap several feet directly below him. In that case, the cat will need to climb straight down to reach the trap, and that is something you may not expect from a cat who has already proven his inability to climb down. Yet, many cats have done exactly that, so do not rule out a trap in those situations. Even when a cat will not climb all the way down to the ground on his own, he is usually willing to go down at least a small distance when he feels it is safe to do so, especially if he sees or smells food.

My trap-staging skills are fairly limited. I set a trap only when it can be placed directly on a reasonably level limb, but some rescuers, such as Andrew Joslin of Massachusetts, have demonstrated exceptional staging skills by creating elaborate platforms for the trap and the cat including situations where I would not have thought it possible to place a trap. Every rescuer must decide just how much trouble and time he is willing to spend in order to place the trap, and that investment can often be substantial.

When you set a trap in the tree, you are committing to returning to the ground and climbing back up to retrieve it without knowing when that will be. Sometimes the cat will go in the trap within minutes, and sometimes it may be hours or even days, but you won’t know in advance just how long it will take. Consequently, the distance of the site from home becomes relevant to your choice of using the trap, since you will not likely want to drive a long distance home and return that distance the next day. If the site is only fifteen minutes away, then it won’t likely be a hardship for you, but you will need to decide just how far you are willing to go to retrieve the trap before it does become a hardship and affects your decision to use the trap.

Some rescuers prefer to install the trap with a cover over it, and some prefer to install it uncovered. Both are valid options. The advantage to a covered trap is that it shelters, hides, and calms the cat once he is inside. A covered trap may be especially appropriate when the cat could benefit from some protection from the weather. The disadvantage is that an observer on the ground may not be able to see if the cat is actually inside the trap or not. Also, some cats may be more reluctant to enter a covered trap where they can't fully see their surroundings. It’s also true that some may be more likely to enter it if it's covered. I can't predict an individual cat's preference, but, generally, I think most cats are more comfortable entering an uncovered trap because they feel safer and less confined when they have a clear view of their surroundings. The first priority is getting the cat into the trap, so it's more important that the cat have no reason to avoid it than it is to make sure the cat is comfortable once he is inside. The cat is certainly no worse off in an uncovered trap than he was when loose in the tree. Once the cat is trapped, however, it is very clear that they are more comfortable being covered and hidden from view. Where it is most important that the trap be covered is when lowering the cat to the ground. The descent is particularly frightening to the cat, and covering the trap dramatically lessens his fear.

For trap-wary cats, you may want to try the trap both covered and uncovered. You may also want to consider using a clear back door so that the trap appears more open and less confining to the cat. The back door on some traps is not removeable, but some traps are designed to allow the back door to be completely removed and replaced with an optional clear one.

I will describe my process for placing the trap in position, but I don’t suggest that this is the perfect model to follow for the task. You will need to develop your own process which works best for you, but my process may give you ideas and point to matters you may not have considered.

I always start with a clean trap, so, after every use, I wash the trap to remove the cat's scent. The floor of the trap is also prepared ahead of time with heavy-duty wire ties in each corner to hold the floor in place while making sure the wire ties do not interfere with the operation of the trap. To speed the installation, the trap is also prepared with two lashing straps that are already partially installed at each end of the trap. The straps enter one side of the trap from the bottom corner, thread through the top corner, over the top, thread through the other corner, down the other side, and thread through the bottom corner. I pull the strap all the way through until the cam buckle is jammed against the bottom edge of the trap. The excess strap at the other end is wrapped around the trap and tied loosely to itself for easy release once I pull it up to me in the tree. If the trap is to be covered, I will secure the cover with cord or bungee cords to prevent it from flapping in the wind.

Before I climb, I place the trap on the ground and attach a rope to it and my harness so I can pull it up to me when I am ready. I keep a separate "trap-kit" bag of all the items I may need for the trap and attach that bag to my harness. This bag contains lashing straps, bungee cords, food for bait, a bowl and spoon for the food, a trap cover, and a cord that attaches to both ends of the trap and has a center attachment point for lowering the trap to the ground.

Once I am in the tree, I make sure I am in a solid position where I can comfortably reach all sides of the trap. I pull the trap up and place it on the limb while making sure that the excess lashing strap falls freely to one side, and I use bungee cords to hold the trap in place temporarily. With both hands now free, I run both lashing straps under the limb and through the cam buckle at the other side and tighten them.

At this point, the trap is secure but not quite stable enough. Theoretically, the trap could rotate upside down beneath the limb with enough force. It won’t fall, but I don’t want it to move at all. I have some experience trapping feral cats for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) purposes, and I have seen some cats react very violently when the trap door closes, so I want to be sure the trap is secure enough to handle that. To further secure it, I use a third lashing strap to connect the handle on top of the trap to a limb above the trap, if one is available. Sometimes you must adapt to whatever the tree gives you so be prepared to improvise and have extra straps available. Test the trap to make sure it does not slip or wobble once a cat puts his weight inside it, since movement of the trap may cause some cats to back out and refuse to enter. Also test the trigger mechanism to be sure it still works since over tightening the straps can sometimes interfere with the trigger.

With the trap securely in place, place your food bait in the back corner on the same side as the trigger mechanism and make sure it does not interfere with the movement of the trigger plate. Also ensure that there are no stubs or twigs sticking through the bottom of the trap under the trigger plate that may prevent it from being pressed all the way down. Attach whatever hardware is needed to lock the back door closed. Make a trail of food leading from outside the trap toward the bait end of the trap. Place a tiny glob of food starting directly under the leading edge of the open trap door. The purpose of this is to keep the cat’s head down low to prevent him from touching the trap door and causing it to close while he is still outside. Place a trail of tiny globs of food every four-to-six inches apart leading into the trap, but never place any food on the trigger plate. The trail of food should stop before that point. Open the trap door and make sure that there are no twigs or foliage blocking its travel path. Set the trigger bar so that very little effort is required to trigger the trap door, but it should not be so sensitive that the wind or a mild bump by the cat will trigger it. With that done, you’re ready to go back down to the ground.

If you are trapping a small kitten and are concerned that he may not be heavy enough to trigger the trap, you can place a throw-bag on the trigger plate to pre-weight it. You should experiment with this on the ground first. Usually an 8-ounce throw-bag is all that is needed, and its effect can be varied by placing it higher or lower on the trigger plate or on one side or the other. It has more effect high on the trailing edge and on the same side as the trigger mechanism, and it has less effect on the opposite side and low on the leading edge of the trigger plate.

When you get back on the ground, take note of the places where you can see the trap so you know where to look even after dark. You especially need to be able to see the open trap door so you can determine if it is open or closed. Point out that detail to the cat owner so she can report back to you later if the cat does not go in the trap while you are still there. At this point, it is important that you move out of the cat’s sight and range of hearing. If other people are there, they should also leave the area so that the cat feels as safe as possible and is not distracted by activity on the ground. Once the environment is quiet, the cat will likely go investigate the trap, so you can improve your chance of a quick capture by calming the environment as much as you can. You should wait a minimum of fifteen minutes before checking on the cat the first time and do so in a way in which you will not likely be noticed. When you see the cat in the trap, check the trap door to see if it is open or closed. The cat is not trapped until that door is closed.

In my experience, with some exceptions, the cat typically goes into the trap within thirty minutes after everyone is out of his sight. Consequently, I always wait at least thirty minutes before deciding to leave, since I would prefer to finish the rescue in one trip and get the cat down sooner. The farther away I am from home, the longer I am willing to wait. If the cat appears perfectly comfortable and is napping, then I may leave sooner. Sometimes, I leave the trap in the tree overnight and hope the cat becomes more active during the quiet of the night.

When I am ready to retrieve the cat, I climb back up to him carrying my bag of trap-related items, a figure-8 type device, and a separate rope to lower the trap and cat to the ground. When I reach the trap, one of the first things I want to do is cover the trap to help calm the cat. Once I remove the lashing strap attached to the trap handle, I cover the entire trap and then make sure that both doors to the trap are securely latched. Some traps automatically lock the trap door when it closes, but some need small carabiners, string, twist-ties or some other hardware to make sure the doors cannot be opened even if the trap is turned upside-down. I then attach the lowering rope to the center of the short cord which connects to both ends of the trap. This short cord is attached to the diagonally opposed top corners of the trap and holds the trap level during lowering. If there is not enough room to lower the trap in its horizontal orientation, then the trap can be lowered vertically by simply attaching the lowering rope to one end of the trap frame, but you should remove the food first. The lowering rope is run through a figure-8 which, depending on the circumstances, is hung either from my harness or from a sturdy limb above the trap. The figure-8 allows me to lower the cat smoothly and safely without fear of dropping him. With the lowering rope in place, I then remove the lashing straps at each end of the trap. The bungee cords are still in place to help hold the trap in position, and those can be easily removed with one hand while holding the trap in place with the other. I can then lift the trap and hold it with the lowering rope and begin gently lowering the cat to the ground.

If there is no one on the ground who is able to move the cat out from under you, then take care to place the cat in a clear, stable place on the ground away from your gear, especially your climbing rope. If the trap is placed on top of your excess climbing rope, and you are descending with a moving rope system (MRS), the excess rope on the ground will be pulled up into the tree as you descend and possibly overturn the trap or get tangled with the lowering rope.

As long as it is possible for the cat to move to the trap, traps are very effective. My success rate with traps is 100% except for one special situation in which my success rate is zero. I have had three cases where a cat escaped during transport to a veterinarian and climbed a nearby tree. All three cats were displaced, that is, far away from their own familiar territory, all were naturally frightened, and all had been in the tree only a few hours when I was called. Once I entered the tree, all of the cats went to the extreme ends of a very long limb to get away from me and were well out of my reach. These cats needed to be secured, and I thought that the safest and surest way to do that was to set a trap for them. I knew they were too stressed to be hungry, but I thought they would calm down during the night and then find the food in the trap more attractive. I set the trap and left the area. All three cats waited for a quiet time and then exited the tree unseen without triggering the trap. One of the cats was found safe on the ground the next day, but the other two were never seen again.

These cases trouble me and haunt me. I don’t know what I will do the next time this happens, but I will remember some important lessons learned from these cases. First, a displaced cat is much more stressed than our usual rescue cat and may not have an interest in food for days. Without an attraction to the food, the cat has little interest in the trap. Secondly, since the cat climbed the tree for safety, it’s likely that my entry in the tree with him that same day made it an unsafe place to be and motivated him to look elsewhere for a place that is safer. You can’t assume the cat is stuck in the tree in the usual sense. He may already know how to climb down but is in the tree because he wants to be there for his own safety. Consequently, if you wait till the next day hoping he will be calmer, then he may climb down during the quiet of the night and you will have missed your opportunity. In these cases, it is best to keep eyes on the cat the entire time.

Since the trap method has failed three out of three times in these situations, I am not inclined to try it again except as a backup. Now I am more inclined to try much harder to secure the cat with a catch-pole or net if at all possible. I would also insist on having people below holding a large net – not a tarp – to catch the cat if he falls. I might even find it necessary to push the cat out of the tree. A net with a mesh size made for baseballs would make it difficult for the cat to walk across it to escape and give the people time to come together to contain him. The next time you encounter a case like this, my advice is to discuss the options and risks thoroughly with the cat owner and let them decide what to do.

Rescue Methods:  Catch-Pole   >>>