In 2009, a man and his brother-in-law in Washington state took their expertise as professional tree climbers to start rescuing cats from trees.
Keep reading to discover how Shaun and Tom turned their day jobs into a life saving mission for cats!
How it All Started
The heroes of our story are Shaun Sears and Tom Otto, both of whom are certified arborists.
Before devoting their lives to rescuing cats from trees, they used their background in forestry and tree climbing to start a small business that offered services to biologists.
It was then that they started receiving the occasional call about cats stuck in trees.
The occasional call turned into several calls per week.
The men realized that there were limited options for people who needed their cats rescued from trees.
“People think the vet, fire department, or animal control get cats out trees, but they don’t,” Shaun explained. “They don’t have the resources to do it. It’s really people in the arbor industry that are best equipped to get cats out of trees.”
However, they noticed that others were charging an expensive fee to rescue cats from trees.
This was something many people couldn’t afford.
Shaun and Tom decided that they would rescue cats from trees in exchange for donations so they could continue to help more cats.
“We decided we were going to do this for donations and not try to make money off of it,” Shaun told National Kitty.
Devoted to Rescue
With the new publicity, they ended up getting more and more calls!
Shaun and Tom went from rescuing 3-4 cats per week to 70-80 cats a month.
As they rescued more cats, they had less time to make a living climbing trees for other purposes.
They realized they loved rescuing cats more than any other job that required their expertise.
“We love to do this work,” Tom shared. “So, we became a non-profit just so that we could keep the motives altruistic.”
Canopy Cats Rescue, the name of their organization, became a non-profit four years ago.
Up until that point, they had been rescuing cats as a state charity organization.
Shaun and Tom travel all over Washington State to rescue cats from trees.
They even help facilitate rescues in other states by directing concerned cat owners to the right people who can help.
Shaun says one of the most rewarding experiences is rescuing an unknown cat from a tree and reuniting it with its family.
“The moments that I love the most are when we scan for a microchip on an unknown cat we rescue from a tree and discover that the owners had been looking for their cat,” Shaun tells National Kitty.
Shaun says, “It’s such a heartwarming moment when the cat is reunited with its family after the family thought their cat was lost forever.”
How It Works
Shaun and Tom rescued over 600 cats from trees in 2019 and expect even more this year.
Because they have such a high volume of calls, every day brings a new adventure for them.
“At the beginning I would just take the phone call and we would just go,” Shaun shared. “As we gained experience, we learned to ask a lot of questions.”
With their experience, Shaun and Tom are able to ask the right questions to determine the urgency and details around the situation.
Some cats might need some time on their own before rescuers show up, otherwise they could get scared and jump.
Others must be rescued as soon as possible.
“We’re generally juggling around 5 or 6 rescue calls every day,” Tom said. “We try to play triage with those calls: which ones are the most urgent, which owners are the most concerned, what makes the most sense on how to respond for the day?”
While some cats are able to get down themselves, it isn’t uncommon for each of men to rescue 3-4 cats in a given day.
Once one of them actually gets onsite, they determine the best way to get a line set in the tree, climb up, and safely bring the cat down.
While this might sound simple, each case comes with its own challenges.
Both Shaun and Tom have cases that lasted up to three hours, some of which require them to revisit the scene multiple times.
They put their own safety at risk to rescue these cats. They are true heroes!
Real Life Superheroes
Shaun and Tom have reunited countless cats with their families.
Without their help, many cats wouldn’t have made it.
Their area of operation has grown to cover almost all of Western Washington, from the Canadian border to the Oregon border.
They have a huge rescue operation and it only continues to grow!
A huge part of Canopy Cats’s mission is to spread awareness and educate people.
Myth 1: “Cats eventually get down the tree.”
This is false.
“I remember there was a cat we rescued that had been stuck in a tree for 27 days. It’s a miracle she survived so long,” Shaun recalls.
Myth 2: “Putting food by the base of the tree will help lure the cat done.”
This is an especially dangerous myth.
“Don’t put food at the base of the tree. This will only attract predators and put the cat in more danger,” Shaun warns.
Myth 3: “After cats gets stuck in a tree once, they’ve learned their lesson and won’t do it again.”
Cats do not learn from getting stuck in a tree.
If cats feel like they are in danger, they will do it again.
“There was one case where we rescued the same cat from a tree seven times. People need to understand that cats hide in trees to escape from predators. If they are being chased, they will climb the tree for safety,” Shaun shares.
Shaun and Tom encourage people to keep their cats indoors to prevent them from getting stuck in trees.
For those who already have indoor/outdoor cats, Tom and Shaun encourage people to build outdoor enclosures for their cats.
These outdoor enclosures often called “catios” ensure cats can enjoy the outdoors while staying safe.
There are free blueprints available online with instructions on how to build an affordable and safe cat enclosure.
A Labor of Love
Shaun and Tom have been cat lovers their entire lives.
They treat each rescue case as if it was their own cat stuck in a tree.
This is what sets them apart from others. For them, rescuing cats from trees is a true labor of love.
It’s clear that their work is appreciated and needed, but how do they feel about it being such a big commitment?
“It’s awesome,” Tom said. “If somebody said, ‘hey here’s your skillset, you can go be a superhero’, wouldn’t you do that? We get to go do something good for somebody and help an animal.”
Tom and Shaun anticipate even more calls as more people learn about Canopy Cats Rescue.
If you would like make a donation towards their heroic mission, click here.