In Praise of the NYPD (And the MTA, and a Few Other People…)

IMG_3364Have you heard about Subway Dunford? He’s my little kitty celebrity, the cat who stopped the 6 train. He’s had TV news stories about him and has even made the Huffington Post. But there are a few people involved in his rescue who I think are under-recognized (and I’ve certainly been over-recognized, probably because he’s my foster!) and I’d like to make sure they get the credit they really deserve.

I arrived at a subway grate on 138th St a week ago not knowing much. A local rescue that I sometimes volunteer for, Magnificat, had asked me to come down and check out a cat stuck in the subway. I arrived on a motorcycle, determined what we’d need, and quickly popped home to grab a trap and some supplies.

imageThe cat was stuck in an airway under a sidewalk grate. You see these grates all over New York City, they lead to large open airways that ventilate the subway system. Volunteer Nancy Giron had beat me there and had brought supplies as well. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was just the latest person to show up in a process that had lasted days. Another person turned up, Angela Dawn. Angela and her husband Ian Dunford, whom the cat was eventually named after, had discovered the trapped cat days ago and had been desperately trying to find help – she had called, tweeted, begged every agency she could find and the cat was still there. Passers-by had kept him alive for weeks by dropping food through the grate to him. After a few days of dead ends, she encouraged her social media followers to make his story viral to try to find someone who could help him, and that’s when Magnificat found out.

cat22n-1-web (1)I also didn’t know at the time that there was also a small army of highly connected people working their phones and personal contacts at the NYPD and MTA to try to get help. I know that Kylie Edmond, Sharon Renay, Linda Gage of Best Friends and Joyce Friedman of the HSUS were instrumental in that, and I’m sure there were more people I don’t know about.

Not knowing any of this at the time and with the approval of the NYPD officer on the scene, I took a crowbar and started to hunt for a loose grate to lower a baited trap into the airway. These grates are usually cemented down but they typically leave one or more loose for access. Then a 3-man MTA crew showed up, and instead of yelling at me, they got their tools to pull the grate. Two MTA supervisors came as well.

12734089_10100352433487607_2337591795388870176_nMore NYPD had arrived by this time: NYPD Transit District 12 was on the scene and NYPD ESU (Emergency Services Unit) pulled up. The MTA crew got a grate loose and lowered a ladder from their truck, but we had a stroke of bad luck: as they were climbing down into the airway, a dog owned by a curious passer-by barked and spooked the cat, who took off running.

NYPD had a special access key to a pop-up sidewalk hatch near the airway that was for an emergency subway exit. There was a large gap between the access stairway and the airway that we didn’t think the cat could jump, but he had. NYPD went down to take a look (ESU carries catch poles) and he’d made his way onto the tracks.

That’s when something happened that really amazed me. The ranking NYPD officer on the scene immediately asked the MTA supervisor to cut the power to the third rail so that the officers could check the tracks for the cat, even though that would interrupt subway service. Power cut, the officers went down to search the tracks but the cat was now frantic. Fortunately, he had circled back to the emergency exit stairway.

A new plan was formed: we knew where he was, but he was too worked up to catch. I loaned the officers a humane trap and showed them how to bait it. The trap would sit in the stairwell, and the officers of Transit District 12 would use their special key to check the trap every few hours. I’m sure someone will be chiming in here to say you should never leave a trap unattended, which is generally true, but in this case it was the lesser of two evils: he was very much in danger if he found his way to the tracks again, and absolutely no one had access to this area except the NYPD and MTA.

IMG_3291After 24 hours, Subway Dunford hit the trap. I immediately got a call from the officers who found him and went to pick him up, and he’s now in foster with me for Magnificat until he finds a home. He is fantastic – he is affectionate and loves attention and he’s getting along well with all of my many dogs and cats.

My contribution to all of this was actually rather small – I just brought a trap. For safety reasons (which is totally understandable), civilians aren’t generally allowed down in the subway tunnels. I just wanted to say that while I am grateful for every single person who assisted in the rescue, I am especially thankful to the officers of NYPD Transit District 12. Unfortunately the only names I got were of officers Yates And Daly, who found Subway Dunford the cat in the trap, and Deputy Inspector Wynn. But there were many more officers on the scene that evening, and they were genuinely concerned for the welfare of this animal. A few told me about their own cats at home and how much they wanted to save him. Without them going above and beyond the call of duty, because they genuinely cared, he would not be safe today. I am very grateful.

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