It takes guts to climb 100 feet up a tree.
Braver yet is the person who climbs that distance to rescue a cat, which may or may not bite the helping hand.
Meet Shaun Sears.
The 35-year-old and his brother-in-law, Tom Otto, started Canopy Cat Rescue in 2009 intending to use their skills as certified arborists to rescue felines.
There are a handful of similar operations, but Canopy Cat differs from most in that it operates on donations. Sears and Otto don’t charge for their services, sometimes driving great distances to help pet owners in need.
Sears might be especially qualified to handle the difficult cats he encounters: He has two feral rescues of his own.
He and Otto post videos and photos of their rescues on their Facebook page.
The reunions between owner and cat often are tearful, and sometimes there’s an audience to applaud when rescuer and cat make it safely to the ground.
Q: Why do you do this?
A: We realized we needed to modify the whole thought process behind how people call an arborist to climb a tree to rescue their kitty. All those folks will charge you a pretty steep fee, depending on how far they have to drive, and honestly, depending on how ornery the cat is, and I think it’s asinine. People don’t budget for pet emergencies.
Q: How far will you travel to help a cat?
A: We will travel pretty much anywhere in Western Washington for little or no donation, simply because some folks are out of work.
The farthest I’ve gone is all the way over to Sequim. We’ve gone almost all the way up to Bellingham, and as far south as Vancouver. We’re still waiting for the Eastern Washington phone call. I live in North Bend, and Tom lives in Olympia.
Q: How much do people tend to give?
A: People usually donate something. Maybe $20, $50. Some people do donate $150.
Q: How many cats do you rescue?
A: Last year, we rescued 250 cats out of trees, I would say at least 100 (of those) in Pierce County. So far this month (January), we’ve done 20 rescues.
Q: One of you was bit recently, right?
A: It was me. We get bit every once in a while, and for the most part cat bites aren’t the greatest thing, but as long as you’re diligent about cleaning them out, they’re OK. I had to get antibiotics. They’re usually very receptive to our help in the tree. Every cat rescue is a judgment call.
Q: Is this a full-time thing?
A: I have a 4-year-old, so I stay home with her quite a bit. When she’s in school, I’m able to go out, and I have a few folks who help me watch her if I have to go out. Sometimes she comes with me. I’ll say: “Do you want to rescue a kitty with me?” Cat rescue definitely takes a big chunk of our lives.
We pretty much break even. We do try to sell T-shirts, and we made a calendar this year. That’s a way we’ve tried to make a little bit of money to support our rescues. We’ve had folks around the country who haven’t needed our service, but love what we do, and donate randomly to our website.
We definitely don’t make money at it yet, but we’re trying to figure out a way to do that. To make money at rescuing cats without having to charge the people that need the service is one of our end goals.
Q: Have any good cat rescue stories?
A: One of the big things we get a kick out of is the cat names. There’s usually a pretty good story.
I had one cat up north, the cat’s name was ‘Killer.’ I was just like: “... how did Killer get his name?” And the owner was like: “You’ll know when you get up there.” I was nervous. He was the exact opposite of killer. He almost jumped into my arms. It’s the first fresh face they’ve seen in a few days.
One cat in Eatonville was reportedly stuck up in the tree for three weeks. Some cats, they see you coming, and they want to get to you, because they know you’re their way down. Some cats climb higher, some jump down.
Some folks have feral kitties. In those cases, we prepare for the jump. We’ll have the owners get ready with a sheet. If it’s silent and not making eye contact with you, that’s not a good sign.
Q: How do you get the cats down the trees?
A: Sometimes if it’s a cold and wet and a small cat, we’ll just stuff it in our jacket. They’re happy to be in there, because it’s warm. It’s either the net, the bag, the jacket or sometimes just our arms.