The Reasons Why Fire Departments Don’t Rescue Cats

Fire departments usually don’t rescue cats from trees because:

  1. They need to be available for human emergencies
  2. The loud truck and ladder may alarm the cat, so it falls

Some fire departments will rescue cats from trees if they are not busy.

First people to try are tree service providers.

It’s a scene that we’ve seen time and time again in the movies — a cat, being chased by a dog, runs up a tree and is unable to get down. All the while, a panicked owner looks on, unsure of how to get their beloved cat to come down.

If your first instinct is to reach for the phone to call the fire department, you’re not alone. But most fire departments won’t actually rescue a cat from a tree.


Why Won’t Fire Departments Rescue Cats From a Tree?

If your cat finds itself in this predicament, unfortunately there is not much that the fire department can do for you. The reason for this is simply that, in most cities, the fire department has to be ready and available for human emergencies.

Other smaller reasons that contribute to fire department’s hesitancy to rescue a cat may be that your cat is in a tree that is too high for a ladder to reach, or the fact that the presence of a loud truck and ladder may alarm your cat, causing it to fall down from the tree and harming itself.


Will Some Fire Departments Rescue Your Cat From a Tree?

Although we cannot in good conscience recommend that you call on your local firefighters if you have a cat in an unwanted arboreal predicament, there are reports online that certain fire departments will actually rescue cats in trees in certain circumstances.

In fact, there are reports online of fire departments in places such as New York State and Winnipeg, Canada.

The chances are that the probability of a cat being rescued by a firefighter depends on the volume of calls being received, and the geographic location.


Why Do Cats Climb Up Trees?

If you’re a cat owner, you may have noticed that your cat is quite the acrobat. But what business would a cat have up in a tree?

It turns out there is some reasoning behind the popular movie trope. As you know, cats are natural-born hunters, and as much as they love to go after birds, they also appreciate a bird’s eye view. Standing upon the high vantage point that a tree offers allows cats to have an overall view of their surroundings, which helps them to seek out their prey.

It’s also possible that some cats are more prone to climbing up trees than others. As behaviorist Jackson Galaxy explains, most cats generally fit into one of two categories: bush dwellers and tree dwellers.

If your cat is a tree dweller, i.e. they prefer to be up high rather than down low, chances are they find the prospect of climbing up a tree too enticing to ignore.

There is another more scientific explanation for why cats like trees. If traced back far enough, it is said that all felines share a common ancestor called Proailur lemanesis. These ancient cats were very adept tree climbers, and it’s possible that the modern day house cat inherited this vertical hobby.


So Cats Can Climb Trees, But They Can’t Climb Down?

It may seem strange that a creature that is skilled enough to make it up a tree on its own accord cannot get itself down from the tree. After all, if you live in any suburban neighborhood, watching a squirrel climb down a tree is probably a common occurrence.

Unlike squirrels, cats lack the ability to climb down a tree head-first.

The explanation for this is simple: when they are ascending the tree, cats have their sharp front claws to assist them. When it comes time to climb down the tree, however, gravity is no longer working in their favor, and their front claws are unable to provide the same grip.

Of course, cats always have the option of climbing down backward (butt first). While this may seem obvious to our human brains, it’s simply not evident for many cats, who then find themselves stuck.


Can a Tree Service Help My Cat Out of a Tree?

Depending on where you live, chances are that your city or town has services that have equipment that can reach trees.

Although these services do not exist solely to rescue cats down from trees, the answer to whether or not tree care services will rescue your cat from a tree is harder to answer. It most likely depends on the individual service provider. As many do not consider cat rescue to be part of their repertoire, some will be happy to take a stab at it.

Luckily for cat owners, there exists a directory of tree service providers who double as a feline retrieval service.


How Can I Get My Cat Down a Tree?

Although we’ve covered how fire departments do not welcome calls for cats stuck in trees, the good news is that there are many things you can try yourself if you ever find your cat stuck in a tree.

Firstly, you can try luring your cat down from its position by placing a can of their favorite food at the bottom of the tree. Its scent may be too alluring for your cat to ignore, especially as the hours go on.

This can be a worrisome option, as loving cat owners may understandably worry if their cat may hurt themselves while attempting to descend. However, cats are agile creatures and natural acrobats — most likely, your cat will devise a way to safely climb down tail-first.

Another possible option, depending on the situation, is to go up and rescue your cat by placing a ladder on the tree.

While this may also seem harrowing, it probably poses more of a risk to you than to your cat. If you are concerned about your cat scratching you, you can be prepared with thick gloves and long sleeves.

Another suggestion is to use something like a laundry basket to hold up for your cat to jump into, instead of reaching for your cat yourself. 

Lastly, another option is to wait. Although it is hard to stand by and do nothing while you know your cat is in possible danger, the chances are that your cat will find its own way down from the tree eventually.


Where Does the Movie Trope Come From?

So where does this idea of a firefighter helping a cat down from a tree come from, anyway? According to the comprehensive website TV Tropes, the idea of a cat climbing up a tree only to get itself stuck is not actually as widespread as one may be led to think.

The chances are that it has its roots in Looney Toon style cartoons, where the common scene is that a frazzled cat is called down from a tree, then pounces on the head of their owner.

Another possibility is that the image of a cat stuck in a tree is slightly tongue-of-cheek, as its notability suggests that this is the most important thing that happens in a movie or TV show’s setting.


Writer: Rachel Cribby

rachel cribby

Read about me