2016-04-27 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

We were asked to rescue two cats left behind in an apartment more than a month after their owner took her own life. Of course, this was quite upsetting. The task turned out to be much more than we ever imagined, while the future of each cat is still uncertain.

Someday I may turn the rescue escapade that ensued into a screenplay with the help of the late owner’s brother, an Emmy-winning comedy writer. He offered to help. It would read like a Stephen King novel mixed with Jerry Seinfeld remarks. We have the setting of a Cujo-style strange Maine town, although it’s an apartment complex right here on Long Island; a cast of peculiar characters; a cosmic coincidence but no real plot yet. The plot, perhaps fiction wrapped in reality, would have to be compelling to make my screenplay work.

For now, several names have been changed for privacy.

Everything you read here is true but toned down.


Angel, aptly named, deserves a loving home. Angel, aptly named, deserves a loving home. Several weeks ago we got a hotline call from a Florida friend of the late owner (Gloria, a social worker and life coach) to take her two cats living alone in her Ronkonkoma apartment. He said the cats—Angel and Taffy—were about seven or eight years old. He sent a photo of them lying next to each other on a bed. It must have been an old photo because we never saw a bed—just futons piled so high they were unrecognizable.

The superintendent was feeding the cats and leaving tubs of water. It seems their owner used to cook for them. It took several days to get in touch with one of Gloria’s brothers, both of whom lived in Manhattan. When we finally did, one brother thought Islip Shelter had taken the cats that day. He was wrong. He hadn’t sent them a notarized surrender.

Five days later, the brothers drove to the apartment so I could take the cats. Both cats were in sight briefly. Capture was not so simple. Every nook and cranny of the apartment was stuffed with belongings. For starters—angels, crystals, mystical items everywhere; more paper than in the New York Public Library; more clothes and costume jewelry than at Macy’s; more holistic pills, remedies, books and gadgets than in Whole Foods and the Mayo Clinic combined.

I tried to scruff Taffy hiding in a closet and met roaring resistance; then attempted to corner Angel in the kitchen but he pushed open an accordion door. Both vanished under the piles.

I called Bonnie, Babylon Shelter-retired, to bring Have- A- Heart traps, heavy gloves and fishing net. We offered to help the brothers bring bags of trash they sorted to the dumpster, but they said they couldn’t. We realized how distraught and overwhelmed they were by their sister’s suicide and the scene. They took what they wanted and were going to walk away from the rest.

That’s when we offered to help clean out some while we were trapping. We’d give clothes to charity, put important discoveries and papers aside for them and gather costume jewelry and novelties for Last Hope flea markets. The brothers were thrilled. They felt, as a social worker, Gloria’s spirit would be comforted knowing her belongings would help others. They signed all her possessions over to Last Hope, and made us a key. By the time we were done, we’d lugged several hundred huge trash bags to the dumpster. It didn’t look like we had done anything.

Before setting traps, we had to remove the automatic feeder and lots of dry cat food littering the floors. Angel, an orange tabby, cooperated. He was waiting patiently in the trap the next day. Friendly but frightened, Angel is very dear and loves to sit on a lap for petting, but his appetite remains poor. Even after Xrays and full blood work, no one is sure if he is depressed, mourning or ill, especially after the Florida friend found their vet. Turns out Angel is 13; while Taffy is 15, which eliminated a potential home we had for both.

During rescue and recovery, we began meeting macabre neighbors, including the lady with her hand over her trach who wanted to move here from another apartment in the complex. Why? She’d sit outside with her service dog and aide going through the gifts we handed her. Worse was Gloria’s friend who introduced herself with a glint in her eye: “I found her. Do you want to see where and hear the story?” I exited stage left before she got a chance. Next day she came over while Bonnie and her friend Jenny were sorting, opened the putrid refrigerator and started pointing out which juices she bought for Gloria until Bonnie gently showed her the door.

It took over a week before we were able to trap Taffy. Unlike Angel, she stays completely freaked, lashing out like a mountain lion. No one has been able to touch her. A woman who worked for Gloria in the apartment told me Angel was in-your-face friendly and Taffy sometimes watched from a distance. It seems inhumane to stress a 15-year-old cat much longer.

After we trapped Taffy, we discovered the secret closet, which contained family heirlooms taken from their mother without permission plus two safes. The apartment manager began harassing us about changing the locks so Bonnie and Jenny removed the safes for the brothers. It remains to be seen if these are Geraldo’s vaults.

As for the cosmic coincidence-—there are 35 buildings with 500 apartments in this Ronkonkoma complex. A Facebook post requested help for an orange Mama and four tabby kittens in a window well. Linda, Last Hope president, texted: “Isn’t that where you are?” Yes, precisely. They had been spotted in Gloria’s window well but moved before Christine from the rescue RSVP got there the next morning to trap her. Food dishes were still in the window well.

That evening at the Islip Town Board meeting as public comments about the lack of a feral cat program were about to begin, Christine texted: “Got them. Cornered the whole family in a nearby stairwell and grabbed them with a towel.”

Photos of the Islip feral family became my Exhibit A when I spoke at the podium. Had Gloria sent us a sign to fortify our TNR plea to the Islip Town Board? Even the colors matched Angel and Taffy.

Epilogue: Susan from RSVP fostered the feline family until the weekend. Linda from Last Hope has them now. Just love when animal rescues work together.

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