2017-12-13 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Houdini is a feline magician- a lifesaving, feline magician; although her next magic trick- a disappearing act- lasted a bit too long. Even Christmas miracles have a time limit.

Exactly a month ago, at 1 a.m., Houdini alerted her sleeping family that the house was ablaze. Her people and their pup escaped to safety, but Houdini vanished. The flames were so fast-moving, her family feared the worst. They presumed their 11-year-old black cat perished in the rubble.

This Massapequa house is on a canal. Five years ago Houdini and her family rode out Sandy, sheltered together on the second floor. They suffered destruction from the storm’s severe flooding, and rebuilt like so many in their neighborhood have done or are still doing.

The Nov. 14 fire began on the garage side of the home where the most damage took place. Two cars and their boat were also destroyed. Her owners Peter and Sue were awaken by Houdini’s plaintive and persistent wailing. She wouldn’t stop until she got a response. “Something,” Peter said, “Houdini never does.” They grabbed their two young children and puppy sleeping nearby, and rushed out of the burning house in their pajamas.

Houdini the hero cat reunited with her family after their home fire Houdini the hero cat reunited with her family after their home fire Two neighbors saw the flames and heard popping explosions. One called 911, while the family’s next door neighbor helped the family climb over their mutual fence. Two local TV channels covered the fire story the next day. Houdini was praised for her heroics and reported missing.

The house was boarded up and a high, locked cyclone fence put up around the property. The family is renting a house in the area. Several days later Peter visited his property and caught a glimpse of a black cat that resembled his Houdini. Could it be her? Might she be alive? During the evening he began leaving cat food and water on the upstairs back deck where the cat was accustomed to going in and out of her home. He didn’t see that black cat again but “someone” was neatly eating the meals he left out. Chances are a raccoon or possum would not be as dainty.

Many Massapequa neighbors began assisting the family in any way they could. The TV news story spread the word Houdini was gone. No one wanted to believe she was dead. Peter and Sue would get reports of any black cat sighted in the area. Well-meaning people were chasing and trying to tackle any dark stray cats they saw. Unfortunately, unless you are a professional NFL player, this tactic is not going to work.

The family adopted Houdini in 2006 when she was a young kitten. She belonged to a litter of five born to a feral Mama that Peter’s mother had rescued. Houdini got her name because she was always a bit skittish. If that black cat he saw once did happen to be Houdini, Peter doubted she would come to him. She was always a bit evasive, and the fire trauma plus her time outdoors would spook her more.

Houdini was an indoor/outdoor cat. She wasn’t enamored with the new Puggle puppy because most of her life she didn’t have a dog in her life. She wanted to spend more time outdoors. This makes it more astounding she alerted her owners when the fire broke out.

I got a call exactly a week ago from Jane who lives around the block from the fire. We became friends when she worked in the office at my vet. She wanted to borrow a trap. She is a devoted animal lover who’s cared for quite a few feral cats but she’d never used a humane trap. This was the first I’d heard of the sad situation. I kept thinking, “I wish I knew sooner. I never go away but I’ll be gone all next week on our annual Afghan pilgrimage to the Birmingham Ballet so our Hounds can dance in The Muttcracker.”

Early Saturday evening, I delivered a Babylon Shelter humane trap at Last Hope to the house and also grabbed two cans of salmon cat food because fish flavor or Kentucky Fried Chicken original recipe make the most enticing bait foods. At dusk during the snowstorm, I gave Peter, Jane and Laura (also a neighbor) a crash course in cat trapping. We used the back of Peter’s Jeep as the classroom and Jane’s phone for light. Plan A was to wire the trap open so the Houdini-hopeful would get accustomed to eating in the back of the trap. I thought success would take several attempts.

Peter aced the practical exam of finding the tiny J-hook and setting the trap. Jane and Laura lined the trap floor with cardboard so Houdini wouldn’t step on slush and wire. Plan B was more practical. They’d set the trap with succulent salmon on the upstairs deck of the house where Peter had been leaving cat food. He would check it after going out to dinner.

I fell asleep on the couch and didn’t see Peter’s wonderful 11 p.m. text until after 1 a.m.: “She’s here in the new house. She’s very happy to be with familiar faces. Still checking out the new pad though. Thanks everybody.”

Heroes come in many forms. Who still believes black cats are bad luck? There’s no better siren than the wail of a persistent cat. Houdini’s cries brought her family out of harm’s way. Despite the fire turmoil, Houdini is safe after missing 26 days, and the whole family’s been re-united in time for the holidays.

Waiting for Homes at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St., W. Babylon: “Princess” 7-385 is so sad because she raised seven kittens at the shelter. They have homes, yet no one seems to want their sweet, fluffy Mom. “Dewey” 17-676 is a Cairn Terrier found in Amityville. He’s friendly but would do best in an only dog household.

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