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Canopy Cat Rescue Is Here to Save the Day

Assuming you’re a cat and you’re stuck in a tree, Shaun Sears and Tom Otto are your best friends.

By Matthew Halverson January 25, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Tom Otto and Shaun Sears photographed in North Bend on December 19, 2015.

Image: Andrew Waits

Shaun Sears and Tom Otto rescue cats stuck in trees—like, a lot of cats stuck in trees. The certified arborists, who opened Canopy Cat Rescue seven years ago, reunited nearly 400 kitties with their freaked-out owners in 2015 alone. But then you already know that if you caught the first season of their reality show, Treetop Cat Rescue, last summer on Animal Planet. They’re still waiting to see if there will be a season two, but either way they’ll keep climbing. Because they don’t do this for the fame. (Or the money; they only accept donations for their services.) They do it for the felines and the feels. —Matthew Halverson

Shaun Sears: People call us and they’re desperate.
We hear that tone in their voice, and we’re like, “Let’s go.” We said it in the show: This isn’t a job. This is something we need to do.

Tom Otto: It was never part of our business plan—if we had one—to make money off of people’s misfortune. It’s not that either of us is Mr. Altruism. It just didn’t feel right to say, “If you can’t pay, we’re not coming.”

SS: Probably 35 percent of the rescues we do are indoor-only cats that escape out the door.

TO: And those are the most hopeless. They get up in the tree and they’re like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never even used my claws this way.”

SS: A cat is going to go where its front paws go. We realized early in our days of putting cats in something to bring them out of the tree—whether it was a rope bag or a small net—that you have to control their claws. So we just hold the cat like a football, grab both front paws with our fingers, open the bag, and then gently put it in. Sometimes it’s not so gentle. 

TO: Most dudes, if they’re cat lovers, don’t want to admit it. When they’re with their bros they’re like, “Stupid cat.” So you show up to a rescue and you can tell it’s this guy’s cat, but he’ll still try to sound indifferent. You go climb the tree and you can tell he’s freaking out, but then you bring the cat down and he tries to cover it up by going, “Whatever, go inside.”

SS: When I was a kid, probably six or seven years old, I had this outdoor-only cat. His name was Stomper. My family lived in an apartment, so we couldn’t keep him inside. It was rough for me, it was rough for the cat. He would disappear for a week at a time, probably being fed by somebody else in the neighborhood, but he was my cat. I got older and it came time for us to move, and it just happened to be during one of these periods that Stomper wasn’t around for six or seven or eight days. So I ended up moving without ever seeing the cat again. It was pretty traumatizing. Sometimes I drive around that neighborhood and wonder what happened to him.

TO: Being 100 feet up is no different from being 10 feet up. After 10 feet it doesn’t really matter. In fact, it’s nicer when you’re high in the tree and away from the commotion down on the ground.

SS: Oh, man, we deal with a lot of backseat driving. Sometimes we’ll be up in a tree and have some old, crotchety neighbor be like, “That cat will climb down when it’s good and hungry.”

TO: They say, “How many cat skeletons have you seen in a tree?” We’re so sick of that. It’s not about whether the cat will or won’t die in the tree. It’s about how inhumane it is to let it sit there and suffer. And it will absolutely die in the tree. Google it. You’ll find pictures of cat skeletons in trees.

SS: Weather can definitely deter us. If it’s superwindy or superwet, sometimes it’s just not safe for us to be up in these trees. Another factor is tree health. If you’re climbing and all of a sudden you see a big rotted-out section that’s 40 feet below the cat, you can’t risk your life knowing that the tree isn’t going to support you.

TO: At first when we got approached to do the show we were like, “Nah. Some Hollywood crew is going to come up and try to sensationalize something that we’re passionate about.” They did a good job, though. I mean, it’s guys rescuing cats out of trees.

SS: We can get a cat rescue done in 35 or 40 minutes. But to film a cat rescue, it can be as many as three hours. So that’s difficult. You’ve got this owner who’s totally frantic about their cat, and we’re like, “Hold on, ma’am. Can you answer some questions about how this cat makes you feel?”

TO: Animal Planet has until May or June to decide if they want a season two. Our ratings were right on the bubble. They didn’t suck. For a freshman show, we did really well.

SS: I’d say that 10 to 15 percent of our cats are repeat offenders. We tend to not post those rescues on our Facebook page because people will leave pretty bad comments, like, “I can’t believe the owner did this. Everybody knows that indoor cats are the safest.” We’re not going to sit there and judge somebody. They just want us to help them.

TO: We get made fun of all the time for talking to cats like they’re humans: “It’s time to go in the bag.”

SS: “It’s just you and me, kitty. How do you want to do this?”

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