Thursday, December 09, 2004

Cat on a Cold, Wet Roof

This is a story of a multinational cat rescue attempt. Don’t worry; it ends well: the kitty in distress ended up rescuing herself, and she’s fine.

The office of one of the jobs where I work is located in downtown Jerusalem, and many people of many different nationalities work there. Quite a few of them are cat-lovers, including the security guard, Itzik, who feeds the small group of cats who hang out near the front door. Like the biblical Adam, he has given all of them names. He knows the age and personality of each cat and can tell you how long a particular cat has been part of the group. I arrive for work about an hour before Itzik does and always see the cats waiting for him at the top of the stairs. I usually greet them by saying, “Hi, cats. Don’t worry; Itzik will be here soon.” (As if they didn’t know.)

Last week we had some high drama of the feline kind. Just as I completed my work for the day, I heard the mewing of a cat in distress in the stairwell. It turned out that one of the gang, Lady, a feral, pregnant tabby-and-white cat, had gotten into the building—and into a total panic. Though Lady comes willingly enough to eat the food that Itzik and the other workers bring for her and her friends, she is absolutely terrified of humans and won’t let anyone near her. Once she got into the building, rather than risk contact with a human she ran all the way up the stairs to the top floor, seeking a way out, and ended up on a window ledge four stories above ground level. (Fortunately the building has wide ledges, so there is plenty of room for cats to shelter outside the windows in the unlikely event that they should need to.)

What followed was the most multinational cat rescue attempt I have ever witnessed. “Lady, come here,” the Arab custodian called. “Careful, she may jump if we press her too closely,” an American translator warned. “She’s pregnant,” observed a journalist from the UK, as a Canadian office manager went out to see what he could do to help. Itzik, the Israeli security guard, couldn’t leave his post, but he kept up with all the details and told me the end of the story a few days later.

Lady had stayed on the roof for the better part of three days, mewing in desperate panic while stubbornly resisting all attempts by humans to rescue her. Finally, when Muhammad, the custodian, went back to the roof to try once more to approach her, in an attempt to avoid him she descended the outside of the building floor by floor, using the air conditioners as stepping stones. “She reached the ground safely,” Itzik told me, “and came to eat this morning with the other cats as though nothing had happened. Everyone was so relieved that she was safe.”

This gives me an idea. Maybe, when national leaders sit down to negotiate, there should be at least one cat in the room.

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