Train Ride With a Cat Lady

“So you want a Round Trip Off Peak ticket if you’re just going into the City for the day.”

Michelle rapidly punches multiple keys on the screen at a pace that is hard to follow.

“It’s not very hard, you just gotta read the instructions.”  She says, her New York accent thick with intermittent clipped and long vowels.  “See my parents they don’t know how to use these machines. It confuses them, so they think it’s scary.  But it’s simple, you just have to read.”

We sit in the station as we wait for the 8:28am train.  It’s only 8:15, and after a brief comparative discussion of Hurricane Sandy and the recent Flooding in Louisiana we make our way to the very end of the platform.

“I like to walk all the way to the end in the mornings.  It’s only a twenty minute walk from my house. And I get the last car usually to myself.  Just me and my coffee. It’s almost an hour to Penn Station.”

The train pulls up and we take our seats. She gracefully allows me to pick where we sit since riding backwards would wreck havoc on my inner ear issues and I don’t want to be a nauseous mess with vertigo.

We settle in and the train pulls away from the station.

“I’m glad you guys picked me up today, means I didn’t have to see any of my neighbors.  They called the cops on me again.  I have cats you see. Twenty Seven inside and more than thirty five outside, most feral.  All my inside babies have names, this is Cow.”  She pulls out her phone and scrolls through pictures showing me first a black and white spotted one, then an orange tabby, then a calico, and another black and white, then a big grey, naming each as she shows me the tiny image on her ancient flip phone.

“I work two jobs you see.  My Monday – Friday on Long Island and then I ride into the city every Saturday for a few hours for my spare change.  $300 every Saturday, helps pay the bills.  Sunday’s are my only off day and I spend all day cleaning up after the cats.  I do what I can every morning and then again at night after feeding time. Can you imagine, a kitchen full of 27 hungry cats every night?  And you have to clean the litter boxes daily, cuz their cats ya know.  They want a clean space.  If you don’t clean their space, they’ll let you know.  You’ll come home to a few piles of poo right there on the floor.  I mean it’s right there by the box, so you know they’re sending you the message, ‘hey lady, my stuffs dirty, fix it!’.

“But yeah, my neighbors call on me all the time.  I’ve had the Long Island police out, the health department, the local shelters, the ASPCA, you name it.  I put out food for them.  And I’m not the only one, there’s two or three of us down the block who aren’t going to let the ferals starve. And I put out traps so I can catch the ones I can. And it’s all clean.  They have their sturdy little shelter in the back.  Their sand box where they can go.  I gotta clean that out every once in while, cuz ya know, 30 something cats all going in the same place it’ll start to smell.  And that’s why the neighbors call.  That and the wild one’s poo in their yards.  Like I can do anything about that.  Just last week I got a little baggie with two inch long poo’s in it with a note on my porch, ‘your cats leave this in my yard every morning.’ They’re not my cats, all my cats are contained, but like I said there’s a few of us who put out the food.”

“But I’m always like, how is this my problem?  You have a feral cat on your property, you can go out an buy traps and catch him and do whatever you want with the cat.  I’m not responsible for them.  I let them out, I don’t catch them, he’s on your property, you catch him and that’s on me, but if you’re not going to do anything about it, how is it my problem? So anyways, this last time, they called the local shelter.  And I knew they were watching when the van pulled up. Expecting for them all to get taken away.  But these are my babies, I take car of them.  They’re clean and taken care of.  No diseases, no nutrition problems.  They’re all healthy animals, my kitties are all healthy.  No abuse, no trauma.”

“So here I am with the shelter telling me they’re on their way and I get most of my inside babies all out to friends and relatives, cuz I know they’re going to see my outside cats and see that I’ve got everything under control, but to see all my inside’s on top of it, I just know, they’re gunna take my cats.  So by the time the shelter comes I’ve only got a few left inside and I walk them through and there’s no ammonia smell making their eyes water.  I’ve cleaned up, as usual, so not hair and feces everywhere.  They see that all my cats are healthy and that I take good care of them, but they are concerned about the number.  So I’m on the phone with the director of the shelter, and her guys are poking around seeing that their enclosure is sturdy and they have water and the sand box and it’s half shaded and half sunny and they all have their little boxes to hide in, and nothing is rotting and there’s no big mess. And the lady, the director, she tells me, ‘Look I like you, and I don’t want any problems to arise, so here’s what I’m gunna do.  I’m going to fix you up.  I’m going to send out my guy, my mobile vet guy and he’s going to spay and neuter all your outside cats for free.’ So that’s what they did.  They spent like 9 hours taking them out to the van on the road 1 at a time and giving them the once over, fixing them, and bringing them back.  My neighbors were furious. They thought for sure they were going to take my cats, but I still got them all.”

“Well not all of them.  I get home one night and I see some of them creeping around from the back and into the yard, and I throw my stuff down and call my son, and say, look Deej, the cats are out come help me.  So he comes out and we get all but 5 of them back in.  And can you believe it?  Someone slashed my enclosure.  Took a razor blade right down the side of the mesh.  Someone wanted them to get out. I couldn’t believe it.  We called and made a report, the cops know me, the neighbors call them out so often, and we get back mended, but now I’ve got five cats loose.  And their the big feral ones, that don’t like being cooped up.  So it’s taken me almost a year to catch them all back, but I finally trapped the last one a few days ago. Now we’re all back and one big happy family.  But this is our stop. Here, I’ll show you how to get a Metro Pass, make sure you don’t step in the crack…”

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