Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Rescue

Clusters of brown leaves fell like rain each time the breeze picked up. They scuttled across the bed of leaves that had fallen earlier and lay on the gravel base of the camp site. I sipped on my coffee. It had been a long drive from New York to the Poconos.

“Brindle,” I called. That is the name my camping buddy had given to one of the two stray cats that had inhabited the campground all season. There was no sign of her. I began to worry that my trip would not result in a successful rescue. I didn’t want to think what would happen if I failed. The wind was cold already and it was only the beginning of November. With everyone gone, there would no longer be anyone to leave food out for her. I doubted that she would survive the winter.

The first time I saw the two abandoned cats was early in July. It had been midweek and the camp was relatively quiet. They were barely older than kittens. They sauntered over to my site and immediately tried to befriend my cat, Osito. But Osito was more fearful of them than curious. Each time I returned to the campground I would see them. They were having an idyllic life. The entire campground was theirs to roam. People left food out and there were streams and a lake for water. They frolicked and played with each other or curled up together under a tool shed for a nap. But that was summer.

I worried what would happen to them when the campground closed at the end of the season. Some people think stray cats can always survive. “They’ll hunt. They will be fine,” some of the other campers assured me. But it’s a myth that abandoned cats can survive on their own. If the mother does not teach them to hunt and eat prey, they can only eat scraps from garbage or handouts from sympathetic people. How would that happen in a remote camp devoid of humans for six months?

Last Sunday was the day the camp closed. Everyone had to vacate by six o’clock. If I were going to do anything, it had to be then. The two strays had been hanging around my camping buddy’s tent. They were even in his tent for a while. They were trying to befriend his dog. I think those two young cats really missed their mother. We decided to try to catch them.

Neither one of us had any experience rescuing animals. We had no plan and no equipment. I thought we might be able to use Osito’s carrying case as a trap. We would lure them into it with lunch meat, which we had discovered they craved. Brindle was the first to take the bait. I quickly closed the end of the carrier. We had one!

Now all we had to do is get the other. We decided to try the same technique. First we had to transfer Brindle into another container. That’s when we lost her. Frustrated, but determined, we kept at it for hours. Several times we almost had one or the other. We could sometimes get our hands on one of them but they always got away. Too fast. Too agile. My friend finally left for home but I felt I could not abandon these guys.

As the sky grew dimmer I began to despair. But then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Sunshine, the second cat, had jumped into the cab of my truck. I had left the door open by accident. As stealthily as my creaky old joints allowed, I sprung over and closed the door. Got her!

I tried for another hour to get Brindle but she wondered off. She was probably stuffed from all the ham and treats we had used. Reluctantly I called off the mission. At least one rescued cat was better than none.

Sunshine is now safely at home, in my New York apartment. She is still trying to befriend Osito who is still wary. Within 36 hours she has already allowed me to pet her. I think she will socialize well and be a very adoptable pet in no time. But I couldn’t bear the thought of her sister, now alone, back in the Poconos. I couldn’t give up on her. Not yet.

After a little networking with cat rescue people, I had a trap and some advice on how to proceed. I got permission from the camp owners to return for one day only and attempt to rescue Brindle. I headed out early this morning, confident that if I could find her, I could catch her. But would she still be there? After three days without food, and without her sister, she may have wandered away.

I first returned to the site where I had rescued Sunshine. I called and called, walking around, looking under trailers and sheds. No sign of her. So I canvassed the entire campground eventually returning to the site where Osito and I had first seen her. I called. She squeaked, then timidly approached. Her squeaking turned into a desperate wail. She was very, very hungry.

Moving quickly, I set up the trap, baiting it with tuna fish as the cat rescue people had recommended. The sent of tuna travels further than ham, they told me. She came to the trap but was afraid to enter it. She circled around, trying to get at the food, crying loudly the whole time.  I held my breath and dared not move a muscle. Desperation took over. She scurried inside.

Whack! The door of the trap slammed shut. She cried out in alarm and thrashed around inside the trap while I ran over to the truck to get the blanket that I had brought to put over the trap. Another tip from the rescue people. That calmed her down. I loaded the trap and Brindle into my truck. The adrenaline rush abated and I realized that my mission was successful. I’m not usually prone to displays of joy, but I think I let out a hoot and looked up at the sky and thanked the god that I don’t even believe in.

The drive back to New York was the calmest, most pleasant one I have ever experienced. It was a beautiful, sunny autumn day and Brindle and Sunshine would soon be reunited in the safety of my apartment.
Brindle and Sunshine on my bed.


  1. Bill, this was wonderful! You are at your finest when you write about love. Congrats!

  2. I just reread this story because it is hot and humid here in Brisbane and I miss you terribly. It is truly a wonderful story and worth reading several times. I know from experience how frustrating it is to rescue a cat and how rewarding it is to know that you have succeeded and saved a precious life. Do you remember Cujo? Well, of course you do!

  3. Bill!! I never saw this! You are my hero!

  4. Brindle, who I now call Brindie, still lives with me and Osito in New York. She has turned into a wonderful, loving companion. Sunshine was adopted by my camping buddy and now lives in New Jersey with Jack, the dog, and Duma, another cat. She was renamed Nyima.