Tree climbing can be a daunting but tempting activity. Cats are no exception to such a feat and despite supposedly having nine lives, cats can fall victim to getting stuck in trees that seem to have no way of getting down.
Fortunately for Asheville, Spence Cocanour, a retired Air Force colonel, is no stranger to rescuing cats from trees. Due to his training in the combat controller specialty, Cocanour harnesses all the right skills when it comes to climbing trees and safely returning felines to their owners at ground level.
“Part of my training was rock climbing, abseiling and tree climbing,” said Cocanour.
Cocanour said he used to watch a show on Discovery about cat rescue and always thought the idea was interesting.
“One day, Amy surprised me by bringing tree-climbing equipment to the house,” Cocanour said. “When she asked me why she had it, I told her that one day she would have to rescue a cat.”
In 2019, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue posted a message on Asheville Cat Weirdos, a website for emergency veterinary funds, saying they needed someone to rescue a cat from a tree and didn’t have the funds to pay someone.
“Amy came out and asked me if I wanted to rescue a cat and I said ‘absolutely,'” Cocanour said.
Since rescuing his first cat for Brother Wolf, Cocanour has rescued over 100 cats in the Asheville area.
“From that moment on, I was hooked,” Cocanor said.
No two cat rescues are the same. Cocanour said his most challenging cat rescue was with a cat named Snowball, who taunted two other tree climbers before Cocanour was able to come and rescue Snowball, who had been in the tree for more than seven days and about 80 to 90 feet tall.
“The trick is you have to get the wire loop behind the cat’s front legs or they won’t be able to move,” Cocanour said. “Snowball finally stepped in and I caught him.”
Clayton Jamison, the owner of a year-old cat named Boro, who has a penchant for chasing squirrels up trees, said he didn’t know what to do when his cat climbed a tree and couldn’t get down.
“There have been several times that he’s climbed the tree and usually I can get myself up and down, but this time he was too high up,” Jamison said.
When the wind started to pick up and the dark clouds rolled in, Clayton said she called anyone she could think of to rescue her cat before the storm hit.
“I tried to call the fire department but they would not help me and told me to wait for it to come down,” Jamison said.
Unable to let her cat sit during the storm, Clayton said she Googled cat rescue options and found a Facebook page and sent them a message.
“Within 15 minutes of sending a message to Asheville Tree-Top Cat Rescue, I got a response and luckily the guy only lived a few minutes from my house and was able to come right away,” Jamison said. “He surprised me how quickly he climbed the tree and was able to get Boro down in a net.”
Margaret Benfield, an employee of Brother Wolf for nearly four years, credits cats’ interest in climbing trees because it’s a good way to stalk prey, get away from potential predators and because it’s fun.
“Just like humans, cats need an outlet to have fun or get rich,” Benfield said. “Outdoor cats may engage in dangerous activities, like climbing a tree, simply because it’s fun. Many cats also climb to survey their immediate area, as perching is a natural behavior for them.”
Due to the natural hunting instincts of cats, squirrels and birds are often the target of cats more moved by their prey; these activities can be recreated indoors to allow cats to engage with their natural instincts in a safer way.
“Use a cat charmer or flirt post for your cat to chase after,” Benfield said. “This satisfies his hunting instinct and is also a wonderful way to bond with his kitten.”
Benfiel said cats can be easy targets for birds of prey when stuck in a tree and if your cat is reluctant to come down and shows signs of distress, you should seek help immediately. All cats have different abilities and motivations, and some may not be able to get down on their own.
“I would recommend checking every hour to monitor their behavior and location,” Benfield said.
While some cats benefit from time outdoors, the best way to prevent your cat from getting stuck in a tree is to keep her inside and supplement it with enrichment opportunities like hunting, hiding, scratching, and climbing to keep her happy and entertained.
“Most but not all cats can live happily indoors with proper indoor enrichment,” Benfeild said.