Near Catas­tro­phe

NewsChina - - ESSAY - By Kath­leen Na­day

I knew my Chi­nese New Year holiday wasn't go­ing to be ex­actly rest­ful – de­spite the fact that most ev­ery­thing is shut, I had to write a pro­posal for a re­search pro­ject, which ap­par­ently I should have started work­ing on the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber. Oh well.

So even though I vowed to go nowhere (I didn't) or watch movies or TV shows (I did), I thought I'd have more than enough time to fin­ish be­fore the dead­line. That is, be­fore the cat in­ci­dent. I've been res­cu­ing var­i­ous an­i­mals for a few years – it is an un­for­tu­nate fact of life in China that some peo­ple tend to dis­card an­i­mals as eas­ily as trash – quite lit­er­ally in some cases. Be­fore Christ­mas, I came home to find a month-old puppy in a box out­side my door. A cou­ple of weeks later, on a cold windy morn­ing, I was handed an­other tiny puppy by the se­cu­rity guards – she had been put in an Adi­das bag and thrown out with the trash. If I didn't take her, they said, they would put her in the garbage bin.

Mostly, it's be­cause of lack of ed­u­ca­tion in what it takes to look af­ter a pet. It's also be­cause there's no of­fi­cial an­i­mal res­cue net­work or shel­ters you can take aban­doned pets to. Of course, there are many pet lovers in China, and many groups of res­cuers, both Chi­nese and for­eign, but if you choose to res­cue an aban­doned stray, you are re­spon­si­ble for its med­i­cal care, board­ing and adop­tion.

Back to the cat. I also look af­ter some feral cats that live in my res­i­den­tial com­pound – putting food and wa­ter out for them, and ar­rang­ing for ster­il­iza­tion and vac­ci­na­tion. Some are very friendly, and come run­ning for food when I go out­side. But one day, I couldn't find Cracker, a small cal­ico girl. She had lately be­come quite ad­ven­tur­ous, and I sus­pected she had crossed the lane to the con­struc­tion site next door.

The de­vel­op­ment in­cludes some very up­scale apart­ment blocks – com­pletely swathed in black glass, they wouldn't look out of place in Star Wars – on the Em­pire side. Each apart­ment has a large bal­cony, and when I heard Cracker cry­ing plain­tively, I re­al­ized she was trapped on a sec­ond-floor bal­cony and was too fright­ened to jump down, even though there was a handy tree nearby. I called her, but she re­mained where she was. I de­cided to give her 24 hours, but on Day Two, I went to ask the se­cu­rity guards if I could try to coax her down from the in­side. They had heard the cry­ing, and were sym­pa­thetic.

They called the chief se­cu­rity of­fi­cer, Mr. Fang. He al­lowed me, un­der su­per­vi­sion, to go into the con­struc­tion site. We got the keys to the build­ings, but once in­side, we found there was no way up through the build­ing. The in­ter­nal doors had been nailed shut, or were locked, and they didn't have all the keys. The work­ers were all away for an ex­tended New Year break, as is the cus­tom in China, and were not ex­pected back for at least two or three weeks. I threw some chicken up there and left.

On Day Three, a Chi­nese friend came over, and I asked her to help me. We went back to the con­struc­tion site, with Mr. Fang, and tried to coax her down. My friend called the Bei­jing city hot­line. Call the po­lice or fire ser­vice, they sug­gested. We did. The fire ser­vice op­er­a­tor re­fused. We are only for hu­man emer­gen­cies, the op­er­a­tor said. But the po­lice agreed to in­spect the sit­u­a­tion. An­other call to the fire ser­vice was suc­cess­ful, and sud­denly, we had an ex­cess of emer­gency ser­vices. My friend sug­gested it was be­cause she told them it was a for­eigner's cat in trou­ble. I didn't dare men­tion she was an out­side cat.

An SUV of po­lice and a large fire truck ar­rived. Their oc­cu­pants were in a jovial mood. “We got an­other cat down from a bal­cony here once,” the fire­fight­ers said. We went to in­spect the bal­cony. There was a rick­ety bam­boo lad­der there, with the bot­tom rung bro­ken. A mid­dle-aged po­lice of­fi­cer de­cided not to wait for high-tech equip­ment, like a safe lad­der, and scram­bled up in his loafers, fol­lowed by a fire­fighter. “Noth­ing here,” they ex­claimed. It was pretty em­bar­rass­ing. They left.

Yet later on, there she was, still prowl­ing the bal­cony and cry­ing. On Day Four, Mr. Fang de­cided to go up him­self. We re­al­ized we couldn't call the fire ser­vice again. He saw un­cov­ered vents where she hid from her would-be res­cuers. I gave him food and wa­ter for her. On Day Five, my Rus­sian neigh­bors, also alarmed by her cry­ing, came to help. We went back again, but Cracker stub­bornly re­mained in the Death Star. I sug­gested putting a spe­cial cat trap up there, and Mr. Fang agreed.

It took an­other day be­fore hunger drove Cracker into the trap. On the morn­ing of Day Six, Mr. Fang called. He had her. A vet visit later, a clean bill of health, and Cracker is now in my apart­ment. She's liv­ing un­der the sofa, but that's an­other story.

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