The setting: About 1:00 AM on a rainy night in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I was new to the city, having moved to New York from Philadelphia a couple months ago, with my head still spinning with the idea of being a New Yorker. A series of strong thunderstorms had just moved through the region, and it was still raining heavily. I was working at my computer when I heard the gut-wrenching cry of a kitten somewhere outside, near my apartment. As opposed to the sound of a garden-variety cat meow, the sound of this kitten’s howling indicated that he was in serious trouble somewhere. It’s the type of howl that says Help me, I’m dying. This went on for several minutes and became impossible to ignore. I went to the front window and did’t see anything, but it’s a neighborhood of densely-spaced brownstone apartment buildings, so the kitten could be anywhere, and my view was obstructed by the trees in front of the window.
The cries continued. Being a good animal lover, I decided to do something. I saved whatever I was working on, put on my shoes, grabbed my umbrella, and headed out onto the street. A passing neighbor had also stopped to find out where this kitten was. After some searching around, we discovered that the kitten was stuck on the third-floor ledge of the building across the street from mine. Hell if we knew how he got there. The windows on that floor were dark, so we assumed nobody was home in that apartment.
What to do, what to do….
A guy came out of the building, but he lived on the ground floor and had no access to the top floor apartment. We noticed a large extension ladder propped up against the building next door, but as soon as we planned a rescue operation, we realized the ladder was chained to the adjacent window grate with a large padlock. Remembering there were a couple long ladders in the basement of my own building, I ran downstairs only to find that they were gone. A lady came out from the building where the ladder was chained, but she did’t know whose ladder it was, nor who had the key to the lock.
What to do, what to do…
It had now been nearly an hour since I first heard the kitten crying, and I figured it was time for some outside help. I grabbed my cell phone and called the ASPCA, but their offices were closed, and the voice mailbox for the emergency line wouldn’t even let me leave a message because the inbox was full. I then called 311, which is the city’s non-emergency help line. The guy at the other end said the department in charge of cat rescues (there is such a thing?) wouldn’t open until 8 AM, and suggested calling 911.
With some hesitation I called 911, hoping somebody would send a fire truck down to the place to rescue this kitten as a courtesy. (In retrospect, it’s pretty incredible how naive I was during my first few months in New York.) It was still pouring rain, and the kitten was still howling, obviously scared out of his mind. The ledge he was on was barely four inches wide, and was about thirty feet above the ground. After a few rings, the 911 operator told me this was not an emergency, and curtly directed me to call 311 before hanging up on me.
The lady from the building next door suggested walking to the fire station up the street and seeing if they can perhaps perform a rescue. Good idea. I walked up to the nearest firehouse, which is only about a block or so away, and rang the doorbell. A guy ran down the stairs and answered the door, and I explained the situation to him. He went on the loudspeaker, notified the dispatcher, and next thing I knew, it was a scene from the movie Backdraft. Within seconds, about a half-dozen of New York’s Bravest came running down the stairs, got suited up, and boarded the fire truck. The garage door opened, and the truck took off with sirens wailing and lights flashing. I’m thinking: This fucking cat better still be there when these guys arrive.
I ran down the street after them in the downpour, and got to the scene just a few seconds after them. They had their high-power flashlights out, and had located the kitten. The fire chief turned to me and said, with a thick Brooklyn accent, “A kitten? I thought you said there was a kid stuck on a ledge.”
At this point I felt a sudden and intense desire to legally change my name and move to the west coast.
Well, the cat was still there and still howling, so now what? Neighbors tend to get curious when they see a fire truck outside their apartment building with its lights flashing, so a guy on the second floor of the building poked his head out to see what was going on. He let the firefighters inside, and they marched up to the third floor to see if they could get inside the apartment to let the cat in.
Meanwhile, I remained outside with the chief and a few other firefighters. With the aid of the flashlights, we could now see that the window behind the cat was actually open a few inches and had no screen. And the kitten, after sitting on the ledge and howling for an hour and causing so much drama in the neighborhood, calmly turned around and went back inside the apartment.
The fire chief turned to me again and said, “You know, there’s a reason you never see a cat skeleton in a tree.”
With that, Ladder Company 114 was called down from red alert, and the firefighters got back into their truck and returned to the station. I went back to my apartment soaking wet and with my tail between my legs.
Ten minutes later, the kitten was back out on the ledge, howling as before.