Part III: Rescuing a Kitten
This series of posts is mostly a way for me to process the trauma of going through this. If you’re expecting happy travel content, this ain’t it. This story is number 3 in a series of 5. Here you can find Part I and Part II. Here you can find the subsequent stories about rescuing a kitten from the void in Porto, Portugal: Part IV and Part V.
Spotting the Culprit (Sunday 15th of July, contd.)
We return home from the animal shelter Midas, fully knowing this time that it is our responsibility to save that kitten. And we are running out of time.
The desperate meowing continues.
I start taking photos of the situation for documentation. I use my old hitchhiking signs and my pocket knife to make a cardboard ‘cat ladder’, which I have no clue how to place in the right corner. We try the bucket-on-a-rope-on-a-mop thing again, with chorizo sausage in there as a lure. The adult cats go wild over the smell. We’re hungry, so we hang the contraption between the clotheslines in the corner, so that the kitten can just step in anytime. All eight mature cats and the one other kitten watch as we do our thing.
Then, we see crumbs falling past our window down into the shaft. I go to the balcony to spot the culprit. Old hands are shaking a plastic bag empty onto a higher rooftop. A fuckton of pigeons and a random seagull fly to the roof to munch it all. Every crumb that misses the roof falls onto the cat roof or into the abyss, where our kitten is still meowing.
I become fucking mad and shout some things. She shuts the window.
Stairway into the Void
The bucket bait isn’t working. I need new ideas that don’t involve convincing a terrified kitten to enter a slippery plastic bucket. So I go up and down the stairs of our Airbnb building; the whole building has about 3 or 4 apartments for rent, all by the same owner. I find more mop buckets, a vacuum, and some other random stuff, but nothing that gives me reach. Then I walk down the stairs to the front door, and see a big wooden ladder stuffed behind the door we always come through.
I grab it and carry it two floors up. It’s heavy but I know it’s what we need. Jonas opens the front door to me with a look of what the?? and isn’t sure whether to stop me or move out of the way. “What are you planning to do with that?” he asks. “Climb down onto the rooftop” I respond, “And then what?” he retorts. “Then I can move the bucket closer to the kitten” is the best I can say right now. I just want to see what things look like from there.
Getting the giant ladder through the building and the apartment without damaging anything is a big effort. On the balcony, I get a little stuck with it and need Jonas’ help to perform some diagonal maneuvers to place the ladder onto the rooftop below. That rooftop is also under an angle, so the ladder can’t stand stably. I grab some backpack straps and shoelaces to fix the ladder to the balcony. Jonas looks concerned as heck.
A New Point of View
I climb over the balcony’s fence onto the ladder and go down. The adult cats on the rooftop are looking at me like I performed a miracle. They’re curious whether I brought any edible gifts with me, but alas, I just smell funky. I also see the other tiny kitten up close for the first time, and it’s even more adorable up close. But I’m here to rescue its sibling.
I walk to the edge of the roof and the gap. On the one side, there’s someone else’s shallow balcony, on the other, there’s the abyss with the kitten. I feel weird about hanging about someone’s apartment so closely, but they’re not home anyway. So I lower myself onto my belly and get the full aroma of cat piss and pigeon shit smell. I gag audibly.
The kitten is at the intermediate level of the 5m abyss. I reach my shorty short arm towards it, as if it can humanely grab my hand. I know it does nothing. For comfort, I need to move some of the spiky things that are on the wall that ‘protects’ the lower balcony from cat and pigeon invasion. My actions draw the attention of the rooftop cats, who seem to have no issue with invading my personal space to rescue one of their peers.
I ask Jonas to hand me the bucket contraption. He passes it down to me and I carefully lower it into the gap, as to not scare the kitten. I’m a lot closer than before, but still manage to scare the fluffy little creature. It seems so inelegant that I got this much closer to the kitten, but I’m still not taking any actions that are different than before.
Then an old lady appears in front of a window. Not the window that the food is thrown down from, but the same building nonetheless. She angrily knocks at the window, then shakes her finger to say I should stop doing what I’m doing. I try to explain to her with gestures that there’s a small cat trapped in the hole, and that it needs rescuing. She repeats her angry gestures and then leaves. I’m still not sure if this is the lady who throws the food or her downstairs neighbor.
Jonas Enters the Scene
Following my example, Jonas also put on his shittiest clothes and descends the ladder onto the rooftop. I’m happy he’s here, and ask if he’s brought his phone in case he needs to call emergency services if I hurt myself. “Please don’t get hurt” he says, “I won’t. But I think I can stand on the intermediate level of the abyss, so can you help me get down there?” In his presence, I fling a leg off the safety of the rooftop, and wrap my arm around the freshy de-spiked wall between a pleasant vacation rental and the kitten trap. Once my feet are stable, I hold onto the wall with my right hand while I reach with the left for the kitten, who of course ran off into the opposite corner. “Here kitty kitty!” – and I cannot stress this enough – “HERE kitty kitty!”
All I get are a lousy bunch of meows and zero cooperation. The problem is also that even if I bent through my knees completely, my free left hand can’t reach the floor for shit. So what if the kitten comes to me? I still can’t pick it up. So I stand up and ask Jonas to do it, citing previously mentioned reasons.
Jonas climbs down the edge the same way, except like a tall person who is used to having things in reach. When he does the same method of holding on with his right hand, bending through his knees, and reaching with his freed left hand, it looks so elegant. He can reach for the kitten! He’s like, so close! But the kitten doesn’t move, and the sun is setting.
We move back onto the rooftop and pet the other kitten and tell it not to do stupid shit like its sibling did. I put my homemade cardboard cat ladder in the corner and attach it to the wall, so the kitten might be able to climb out by itself. Then we go back up the ladder onto our balcony and put the ladder back inside where it was, for the night. Jonas asks in the WhatsApp group of his event whether anybody can help or has a smart plan. Both of us needed to shower.
Monday 16th of July: The Neighbor with Cat Food
At night, I had a vision of how to rescue the kitten. First, I would get the ladder back on the balcony. Then, I’d free the ladder and slide it down into the abyss. I would be able to go down into the deepest level of the abyss, grab the kitten from wherever then put it back onto the rooftop. I was mentally prepared for all the clawing I’d have to endure.
So when I woke up to the first meows – the cardboard cat ladder hadn’t accomplished anything – I put on my rooftop clothes and grabbed the wooden ladder from downstairs. Jonas was already up and not amused that his tranquil workplace got turned into a construction site. His WhatsApp group yielded an unexpected response: the guy who rents the Airbnb below us is also attending the conference, and offers his help and cat food.
His name is Jan, and I meet him for the first time after climbing down onto the rooftop via the ladder, staring onto his balcony. Assuming I’m also part of the event, he starts speaking German to me. I answer in English and ask Jonas to come down. It’s kind of weird to meet people in such a place as a filthy rooftop. Jan offers us to use his balcony to enter and leave more easily, and gives us his package of cat snacks as a lure. That’s great because we’ve almost run out of chorizo, which we doubt is good for cats.
Attempt 1: Lowering the Ladder into the Void
I tell Jonas and Jan about my dream, in which I lower the ladder into the abyss and we’d be able to go all the way down to the bottom. I release the ladder from our balcony. The adult cats scurry away as I swoop the ladder into the direction of the shaft. I attach my backpack strap to the highest step so I can lower it deeper, but the abyss is too deep for the ladder to reach the ground.
There’s no way I can place it in a sensible way. I ask for help from Jonas to help me hold on to it. Judging by the depth of the shaft, the ladder is simply not tall enough to reach the ground. Jonas helps me reel in the ladder. He asks “Do you have another plan?” and I respond with “Umm, no. That was my best plan.” I can’t believe I miscalculated the size of the ladder this much.
Attempt 2: Recycling Old Ideas
I sit on the rooftop, next to the ladder, the bucket, the mop, some cardboard, and a package of cat snacks that is constantly under attack. I need to think, with the other kitten in my hands. Jan is leaving later that day, so access via his balcony won’t last forever. Jonas was so close to the kitten the night before, wouldn’t that work, eventually?
Knowing it’s a big ask, I put the idea in front of Jonas. This time, we’d try to be more patient. I’d move the bucket on the rope to move the kitten in the direction of Jonas, and Jonas would hold out a cat snack in front of the kitten to lure it. Jan was mostly there for support in case we needed any other tool handed.
The kitten slowly walked in the direction of Jonas and away from my bucket. Jonas could almost grab it. Upon touching Jonas’ hand, the kitten squeezed past the bucket and ran all the way down the cat ladder to the bottom level. Defeated, Jonas climbed back up the rooftop. “I had it! I had the kitten in my hand!”. The frustration is real.
Attempt 3: Repeat & Success!
A few minutes later, the kitten climbed back up to the middle level. We try the same trick again. This time, I asked Jonas to let the kitten smell his hand first, and not grab until the kitten voluntarily stays at his hand and feet when the bucket has already moved away. Again, I move the kitten forward with the bucket, and Jonas waits for it to come near. The kitten is at Jonas’ feet. I tell Jonas to pet the kitten’s head and say sweet things in a high-pitched voice. We’re all super on edge now.
The kitten is calm, and the hand Jonas uses to hold on to the wall is turning white. I tell him that he should grab the kitten decisively by the neck fur, and not let it wiggle itself out. Jonas grabs the kitten, who surrenders to the parental grab, and puts it onto the rooftop. I snatch the kitten and cry out “You’re safe!”
Jan, Jonas, and I feel very relieved and accomplished. We try to feed the kitten some of the cat snacks. The adult cats are curious and come towards the food and the kitten they haven’t seen in a while. When I let go of it, an adult cat grabs the kittens one by one and puts them in the mysterious roof hole. We clear the rooftop from our presence, ready to leave this chapter behind.
But this isn’t the end of this story.
I’ve altered in this post for privacy and anonymity.