Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Post Apocolypse

It's not really over, but...it's gone. Sandy, that is. I can't adequately describe the emotions that have accompanied living through this storm, in this regional area, as a citizen of Jersey City. But, I'll make an oblique attempt.

Admittedly, I'm not a good planner. I have no true disaster kit, no disaster blueprint in place. I made the requisite purchases of a few non perishables (Pop-Tarts), water, and batteries. Didn't have enough flashlights really to sustain myself for days in the dark. I had one cat carrier for five cats, and no idea how I'd evacuate if necessary. As the storm approached, and the warnings escalated, my anxiety went right along with it. I feared being cold, hungry and without help.

What do I do if the wind is so strong it breaks windows? What will I do with five cats who will try to escape because they are freaked out? I live on the the 9th floor and there is nowhere for them to go but straight down once they make it to the ledge--if they make it to the ledge. I was a nervous wreck.

My car was an easy fix: parking garage. Fifth floor. High winds could have resulted in debris hitting the car but that was a smaller risk than flooding, given the history with Irene last year. Secured.

The worst thought: our feral cat populations. Three colonies. All live at ground level. A few kitties live in a lot with huge steel pipes. Another group live in a small lot under a condo building, surrounded by commercial buildings with people who are not cat fans. The lot is slated for construction any week now. The third live behind a paid parking lot, between two residential buildings and have been there for years. Most of those cats have been TNR'd so they are a happy colony with some drop ins, but a fairly stable population.

If my mind could have imagined the flooding we ultimately experienced, I like to think we would have crafted some sort of plan for our beloved cats. We have names for them, we follow their paths and know a lot--not all but a lot--of their patterns and habits. And they know us well enough to watch for us at feeding time, to take a bath or sit with patience and excitement as we prepare their supper bowls.

The storm skies and winds started early in the day on Monday the 29th of October. The water from the Hudson started to spill onto the plaza at Exchange Place. This was a foreshadow of the evening's events, although my concern was heavy downpours resulting in leaking through my ceiling.

There are several stories here. The days post storm, and living in what felt like a police state, piecing together information about the damage and destruction in New Jersey, Staten Island, downtown Manhattan, and the LI area. Curfews. Looting. And walking the flood ravaged streets, looking for feral kitties.

For now, I'll share the photo of the courtyard at 150 Bay Street, when the water was below 5 feet but on it's way up, over the steps and into our lobby where it would do significant damage.


Note that any cars that normally would appear in this photo were underwater. Some of them even floated down the street....

I'll write a post about our kitties, about life for a few days of minor inconveniences, and listening to reports of complete destruction from the surge this storm waged on so many treasured homes, landmarks, and lives.

No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood...

The Perfect Storm

Some sayings I've heard, and even used, throughout my life with little context to back up the reference. The Perfect Storm is one such expression. Until now. I finally have a story for The Perfect Storm. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time, in October of 2011, my dear cat rescuer partner-in-crime, Nat, rescued a mama kitty and two kittens. This was three months after the rescue of Bessie, Lulu and The Captain. (Bessie and Lulu live with me now, The Captain lives with a feline "brother" and a wonderful human mama in central NJ). Because we were on overload in terms of places to keep kitties, Nat searched for and found a great foster home for them, here in Jersey City. The couple have cats and were willing to help out by providing temporary housing for these three ferals.

Sadly, one kitten died suddenly--we think as a reaction to vaccinations. This left Mama Domino and baby Prince.

Nat received regular texts and emails about the cats. Their habits, the trouble the couple had with integrating them with their house cats...and understandably, requests on the progress of finding a permanent home for them. We desperately wanted to place Domino and Prince together. Eventually, the couple decided that while Domino is very friendly and loving, they only wanted to keep Prince--believing that Domino was teaching Prince not to interact with their cats. Given that I have a mama and kitten in my apartment, and had to integrate them with my existing trio, I could see the foster couple's concerns. And I also knew there were things I needed to do to help the situation. So, I worked with a cat behaviorist and started watching My Cat From Hell regularly, which helped me shift my thinking. I can now see things more from a cat's perspective and less from my own, limited human perspective. We were not successful in helping shift the couple's views but they gave a wonderful home and lots of love to both kitties throughout the year.

Cut to Fall, 2012: My long time friend Jon texted and asked if I had any kitties needing a home. He and his wife, life long cat lovers, decided they wanted to bring two felines into their family. This meant two kitties who could interact with three young boys. We just found yet another litter of kittens, and together with another rescuer in JC, had scooped up one baby and placed her with a couple in my building. I told Jon I had several options: two of five feral baby kittens; two of four feral kittens who are closer to the 1 year mark, and...Domino and Prince. After good consideration and information, J and his wife decided that Domino and Prince would be the best fit. And so starts the drama. (Cue: light dramatic music)...

First, we had to gain approval from the fosters that they would part with both kitties, for their benefit. They agreed.

Then we set the week to put everything into motion. Prince, now a year old, had not been neutered. The foster family felt that neutering the boy was "cruel". We tried to explain that some behavioral issues would be resolved if he were neutered. Nat made numerous attempts to collect him for the surgery, and each failed. So, arrangements were made to collect him on a Tuesday, he would undergo surgery and stay in the vet hospital til Friday to recover. On Thursday evening, Natalie was to collect Domino from the foster home, keep her in P's (her boyfriend) warehouse, reunite Prince w/Domino Friday evening and then I would drive to MD on Saturday to deliver them to their new family.

Seemed like a good plan, with some room for error. We had no way of knowing just how much. Tuesday: Prince collected, with some muscle. Surgery complete, resting comfortably. Wed and Thursday, Nat checks on and visits Prince. All is well. Thursday she picks up Domino, puts her in a kitty playpen in the warehouse for the evening....Then Friday. The Friday before Hurricane Sandy....can you hear the music crescendo?

Foster couple decides to visit Prince at the vet. Big, major mistake. The vet on staff was not friendly, and gave them a bunch of scary words about Prince not eating since his surgery (uh, could someone have said he was in danger before now?) and that he had to be released immediately. The couple had no  cell phones on them, no way to port him out of the hospital. Frantic calls to P (who was in the middle of a major delivery in the warehouse that morning) and to Nat (who was in meetings w/clients). The vet techs had to put the poor baby in his trap (huge drama), and foster parents bring him to the warehouse. They are convinced he's in major danger and come up with all sorts of plans to bring him to MD on their own.

Cue the weather reports in the background: Major storm heading for the east coast, high winds, lots of rain. Prepare yourselves. 

I was able to bring temporary calm to the couple, and they left. Cut to early Saturday morning. A text from Natalie:

We have a major problem. Domino ate through the playpen, and was able to get out of the locked bathroom. The cats are loose in the warehouse. Come over immediately.

[Note: old warehouse, lots of holes and places for feral cats to hide...and the warehouse holds wool flokati rugs imported from Greece....hundreds of bags and shelves of them....]

Operation Drive to MD Aborts and Operation Find the Cats in the Maze begins.

Ultimately, Nat set a trap to catch Domino. That happened around 3:30P in the afternoon. Prince was still on the loose. Set a trap for him. No dice.

2A Sunday, Nat, unable to sleep, enters the warehouse and decides she is not leaving until she finds and catches the loose cat. I receive a text around 3:30, Operation Find the Cats in the Maze complete. It turns out, Prince had wedged himself in the tool room of the warehouse, under a shelf and hidden by all sorts of things--bags, rope, you name it.

6A, she enters the warehouse again, Prince has eaten his food (this time each were kept in a crate) so the "danger" was past. 6:45A, Operation Drive to MD resumes with the following weather warnings:

Heavy rains to commence in DC/MD late Sunday or early Monday, heading toward NYC area. The drive was ominous but safe. I made it to DE where Jon met me and we did the kitty exchange.

Domino and Prince have a great new home. They are eating and playing, but keeping to themselves for the time being. Domino has sought some attention from Jon's wife when she has been in their room (which doubles as her office...) We know that it is a matter of time before they both start to show their full personalities. After all, we did put them through quite a traumatic week.

What we didn't know when we hatched the plan was how devastating Sandy would really be for us here in the Jersey and NYC area. More on that next post.

I learned again that cats are superior in their intellect, that they can't be contained. And we humans have to work hard to keep up with them...some positive forces were with us to ensure they were ushered safely to their final destination. I would do it all again, although I hope we can avoid the unnecessary drama. And yes, we will be writing a nasty-gram to the vet who was so insensitive to discharge a cat she thought was in danger. Uh, if I'm not mistaken--YOUR job is to help animals in distress...so DON'T do that again. EVER.

Natalie, October 2011, on her mission to rescue Domino and her two kittens from this warehouse in Jersey City, NJ.
We really think we have a reality show here...anyone interested in filming?