The voice on Habitat for Cats’ answering machine pleaded, “They bulldozed the field, the cats are trapped in the crawl space. Please help me get them out or they’ll die!” The field was an abandoned lumber mill and home to 10 cats that lived among the shrubs and construction debris. Now it was being cleared. In the chaos of the bulldozing, the cats ran into an opening leading to the crawl space of an old building to hide and stay safe. At some point, the building owner boarded up the entrance to the crawl space and the cats had no way to get out.
It was the middle of the night when Habitat for Cats volunteers met Maria, the colony caretaker and feeder at the lumber mill. We heard the faint meows and cries of the cats trapped inside the building’s crawl space. The Animal Control Officer and the Police Department were notified, but no one responded. We knew we had to try to get the cats out of there or they would die of starvation. The crawl space was covered with heavy plywood which was screwed into the cement foundation. Using a crowbar, we were able to pry open the bottom corner of the wooden barricade to get just enough space for a cat to get out. A large rock was used to hold the barricade open. Hopefully, in the quiet and light of the early morning some of the cats would be able to escape.
We went back early the next morning to check on the cats and to put the plywood back in its place, but the property owner had already noticed the barricade had been tampered with and he secured the opening with even more screws. Maria pleaded with him that there were cats trapped inside the crawl space, but he was uncooperative.
Later that same day, we returned. We called out to the cats and soon saw a little orange and white nose of a cat poking out the bottom of the barricade. He was meowing pitifully while digging at the dirt at the bottom of the plywood, but he couldn’t dig his way out because of roots and rocks. We called the Police and the Animal Control Officer several times again, but there was still no response.
It was getting darker, so we decided to unscrew the entire barricade to get into the crawl space to look for the cats. We had to drag ourselves on our belly along the dirt and rocky floor to search the space. One volunteer stood outside shining flashlights in the crawl space because it was so dark inside. The space was only 2-3 feet high. This adventure was scary, but the risks seemed worth while to rescue these cats. The floor rafters and foundation holes provided plenty of hiding spots for the terrified cats.
We heard them moving but we couldn’t see them right away. Finally, the flashlight caught the reflection of his eyes and we saw a big orange & white cat hiding on a floor rafter. He was frightened and ran from us at first. With some coaxing and food, he finally came down close enough for Maria to grab him. He was scared but co-operated as Maria held him and crawled back out and placed him safely in a pet carrier. We were certain that there was at least one more cat in the space so we left a humane trap with food inside the crawl space and boarded up the entrance again. The next day a black & white cat was found in the trap and brought to safety. We repeated this process for the next 3 days and trapped 1 more cat on the fourth day.
Years passed and nothing got built on the cleared field. The cats who frequented that spot disappeared in time. Hopefully they’ve moved on to another location.
The rescued orange and white cat, eventually named Bobby, turned out to be a tame cat and was placed in foster care. Bobby has a neurological condition, perhaps from an old injury which meant he would not be easily adopted, so his foster mom kept him. He is a sweet, unassuming cat that seems so grateful for his new home. The other cat, Archer was feral and was taken in to live at the Habitat Sanctuary.
This rescue story resulted in a happy ending for Bobby and Archer, due in great part to the colony s feeder, Maria.
Sadly, Maria passed away September 17, 2003 due to a long illness. She had devoted over 10 years to feeding feral cat colonies throughout the city. Her devotion and love for these cats was undeniable and the animal community lost a dear friend. This story is dedicated to her memory.
Epiloque – Bobby passed away April 2009, due to congestion heart failure. Although his life was short, he lived the majority of it in a loving home. He will be remembered for many things – enjoying a spot in the sun, drooling as he purred, and for his cute wobble. (A. Correia)