About two weeks ago, I noticed that the sound of a cat meowing outside my Brooklyn apartment had been going on for most of the day. I have a cat, Mimosa, and I’m used to the sound of the stray cats in the parking lot below conjuring up a fine cacophony of wails at times, but this meowing sounded a little more helpless.
I went outside to my building’s shared terrace, followed the sound, and realized that it was coming from the rooftop of a building on the next block over. I looked up and there, on the roof, was a tiny black kitten perched on the edge meowing. And meowing. And meowing.
It was funny at first, in an absurd way, and as there were some birds hanging out on a fire escape below I assumed the kitten had somehow gotten up there in an attempt to catch a pigeon. But the noise returned the next day and the kitten was still up there. It dawned on me that the kitten was stuck.
That afternoon, I walked around to the front of the building. The door was locked; none of the 10 apartments would even answer their buzzer, let alone buzz me in. (As a frame of reference, it looked like the sort of building where bad things happen in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.) I asked the guy in the hardware store that was also on the ground floor of the building if he had any access to the roof. He said he didn’t. He didn’t seem much fussed that there may be a kitten stuck up there. (Aside: He also did not have acceptable nuts and bolts when I built an Ikea cat tower. Probably a dog lover.)
With that I went back inside and texted a few people for ideas about how to possibly get the kitten down. The police? As their current focus seems to be moving a heroin-dealing racket over into the next neighborhood, I did not think they’d appreciate my kitten-on-the-roof call. The fire department? Nope, this only happens in quaint little towns in books set in the English countryside. So I called 311, New York City’s citizen helpline. The woman I spoke to there eventually deduced that Animal Control would assist, but only if the animal was a life-threatening danger to the public. I did not consider the kitten to be a menace.
In the esteemed fashion of cutting a long story short, I realized that I’d have to rescue the kitten myself or else it would likely starve and waste away. Forging ahead with the brevity — and mainly so you can get to the pictures of the kitten — this involved hanging around outside the building until someone came in or out, at which point I attempted to walk in casually, even though I looked like a cross between a crazed cat missionary and a really inept burglar.
The first time I lucked out and got inside the building, I made my way up to the top, unlocked the door to the roof, and was confronted with this fluffy furball:
What unraveled over the next 10 days was an often heartbreaking and frustrating cycle of going back to the building four or five times a day to try and sneak in and, if successful, attempting to lure the kitten into a cat carrier. (By this point I had given the kitten a name and a gender, and he was called JiJi Bear.)
I learned that kittens are not stupid, though — especially scared ones — and most times JiJi Bear would not entertain the idea of the cat carrier. Complicating the matter, the rooftop also housed a large AT&T communications station, which JiJi Bear was adept at hiding behind and under to make grabbing him impossible.
The most painful part of the process was realizing that on the days I could not get into the building, he would not get to eat. The weather was also beginning to change, and on a couple of nights there were freeze warnings. I left a blanket up there for JiJi Bear.
By now, I’d also started to call some local animal shelters and foster homes, but they all said they was no room at the moment. I suspect some of them were lying. Then I remembered that Steve Liu, who fostered the New York City subway kittens I’d written about for Catster, lived in the same area as me. I emailed him, telling him about the plight of the Bushwick rooftop kitten. He said he had room to take the kitten in if I could rescue it. Hurrah!
Steve also helped out on one occasion in an attempt to catch the skittish JiJi Bear and gave me general kitten-catching advice while I was on the roof. He told me to lay down and keep low, not look at the cat, and use peripheral vision to monitor JiJi Bear’s movements. To this, JiJi Bear largely patrolled the perimeter and looked at me like I was a lunatic. Occasionally he’d peek at me from behind the structure that housed the door to the roof.
And there I was, wearing dark jeans. Amateur hour.
I eventually rescued JiJi Bear on Monday, Nov. 4, in the late afternoon. The weather was getting frosty and I had not been able to get on the roof all weekend to feed JiJi Bear. I hung around outside the building’s front door for about 45 minutes, until a parent and a small child let themselves in, presumably having come from school. When I arrived on the rooftop, I noticed that Jiji Bear was sniffing around the cat carrier. (I’d left some dried food inside of it.) I set down a can of Fancy Feast (Gravy Lovers, of course) inside the carrier, sat by the side, and used my peripheral vision. This time the kitten went into the carrier — slowly at first, but eventually enough so I could slam the door shut. My heart was racing — if he backed out and escaped as I tried to shut it he might never muster up enough courage to come near the carrier again.
As I shut the door and locked it, a wave of relief came over me. I texted Steve and walked JiJi Bear the 10 blocks to his new foster home. His tried to claw his way out a little, and meowed a bit, but also ate some of the dried food. He seemed confused more than traumatized.
When I went back to see JiJi Bear two days later, he seemed content if still obviously scared. He had a warm cat bed and had checked out okay at the vet, except a bout of ear mites. He was also a she, and apparently four to six months old.
JiJi Bear was also much tinier than I had imagined. Steve mentioned that she really likes to be petted around his neck. When I did this, she purred louder than any cat I’d ever heard. She was like a little motorbike.
I noticed that JiJi Bear also has curious fur — if you push it back one way it’s almost white underneath, but black on the top!
When out of the cage, JiJi Bear happily scampers after treats!
Right now, JiJi Bear is living at the Scratching Pad in Bushwick, Brooklyn. There is a chance that my own cat, Mimosa, will soon be getting a friend, but I’ve also been a staunch one-cat advocate in the past. While JiJi Bear is adorable, I worry that bringing a new cat into the apartment might upset Mimosa — I wouldn’t want to risk bringing stress into her life. We’ll see.
Rescuing JiJi Bear, the little kitten who somehow found herself stuck atop a Brooklyn building, was an incredibly draining experience — I probably spent more than 24 hours either waiting outside the building to be let in or sitting on the roof hoping JiJi Bear would get more comfortable with me around. JiJi Bear’s antics also consumed me as the window where I work at home faces the roof where she was stuck; it was a daily reminder that she was up there cold and hungry. But whether I chose to adopt her or not, at least now I know JiJi Bear will be warm and safe for winter.
So, what do you think? Should I stick to my one-cat policy, or should I adopt JiJi Bear?