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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cat Capers in Khalidiyah

I’m lying flat on my back, core tightened, sweating my brains out with three other ladies nearby in similar poses. You may be thinking this gal must have moved on from belly-dancing to Bikram yoga classes. But you’d be wrong. You see, this is the appropriate pose for 'kitten spotting in a car park.'

It started with a few of John’s office mates, who alerted him to an abandoned kitten left in the lower level of a car park near his office. On Wednesday afternoon, there were text messages, phone calls and images sent my way. Should we, could we foster? There’s already strong interest in ownership… just a matter of working around trips planned, etc.  Long ago, even before I arrived, I said no fostering… fostering leads to ownership… we already have two… I didn’t want to become a cat hoarder.

But how easily I broke surprised me, I hadn’t even seen the little thing and already I was committing to helping out.

The plan was I’d go to the Expat Ladies' coffee morning (priorities, priorities), then head out to the car park to try to capture the kitten. When I mentioned it to a few new cat-loving friends, the next I knew we had an afternoon planned. Tea with a quick visit of one of the ladies' own new kittens plucked up from a nearby school and picking up of cat carriers and off we went on our mission with Maggie, Lynda and Rhie – all cat owners and very aware of the plight of kittens here in Abu Dhabi.

Kitty in the car park
But this tiny kitten, not much bigger than the palm of my hand, proved to be a far larger challenge than any of us thought.

After a first go that included not only lying on the ground in the sweltering heat of the underground car park, but mad dashes and sprints as this nimble creature easily out ran and out smarted us all darting and hiding in the engine and undercarriages of parked cars.

Who the hell dumps a single kitten in an underground car park?

Well, no one. But car engines are warm safe spots so many a kitten here in the Emirates inadvertently hitch rides, finding themselves zipped across town, separated from their kin, with just a small window of opportunity to get help, get to safety, and to become something more than ‘just another street cat’ in Abu Dhabi.

Luckily, with the Cat Ladies of Khalidiya (which included John dripping in sweat in his business suit) at the ready, we weren’t about to let that happen. After terrifying the little thing with our first attempt at rescue and feeling a bit dehydrated (and unable to drink water in public due to Ramadan) we went home and regrouped, before having another go…

Unfortunately, the second go was as unfruitful as the first. This time the Cat Ladies of Khalidiya found themselves in the strange position of being caught surrounding a high-end Audi SUV with towels and sheets at the ready for when the kitty dashed off. When the car’s owner showed up he was a bit startled by the scene… what the hell were these women doing surrounding and shrouding the car? And despite his kindness and empathy for our plight (he’s probably still scratching his head at the thought of us), when he drove off (even after checking the engine, etc.), we were convinced we had lost the battle… that this kitten would be hanging on for its life in another trip across town.

Dropping the ladies off, sans kitten, was tough. It’s one of those little reminders here in Abu Dhabi that not everyone has it easy in these parts. Some situations feel downright desperate, especially when nothing you do seems able to help. But a final pass by the garage that evening with John proved that this kitten was even quicker than the eye. There it was, nibbling at the food that had been left out for it by its many, many admirers and carpark Samaritans.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon, after John put in a few hours at work, that we gave it another try. This time I had a full arsenal -- a carrier, a laundry hamper, towels, cat toys, cat food and even calming sprays.We had the exact same scenario with an SUV, our thinking the cat was in its undercarriage and a woman who drove off… but after waiting fifteen minutes, John spotted the little smudge of gray resting between two air compressors, oblivious to John’s presence. I got the carrier ready and with a swift swoop John scooped the kitty up and we were off in a flash, bringing the kitten back to our flat.


Kitten in captivity
Today we brought the kitten to the vet where we met another woman who found an even younger cat in her car’s undercarriage. When she learned she couldn’t just drop the kitten off, she ranted a bit. The cat would have to go back out on the street, she yelled.

“Next thing you know we’ll be leaving here with two fosters,” I said to John.

But before that happened, the woman left in a huff, cat in tow. We had our examination, and when we fell back out the door the woman had come back, looking a bit more prepared to take the care of her undercarriage kitten. 

“She chose you,” I offered. 

The woman smiled. From the look of her and her friend, I knew she relented. Another cat lady born. I’m not sure why this woman gave in, or why I gave in on the fostering front. I suspect it’s because it’s Ramadan. Everyone, Muslim or not, has thoughts of being a bit more caring, a bit more flexible, a bit more giving on their mind.

Anyway, our little thing, it turns out, is a girl. John has named her Parker because of her carpark beginnings and her Arabic name is Ooday which means ‘fast runner’ (great suggestion, Lynda and Rhie!). She’s already about eight weeks old. She hisses as well as she runs, so there’s going to be a slow introduction process for her and me and John… and later down the road to our kittens.

This gal cleans up well!
“It’s only temporary,” I have to remind myself while thinking that in reality, it’s not that big a deal, to be a professional cat fosterer while we’re here (especially if I’m not working). One thing at a time, I guess. For now, we’re plying her with warm comfy spots in a room all her own, along with plenty of water and kitten food and kindness.

It's kind of funny to me, how situations unfold here. One minute you're having coffee, the next on a rescue mission, bonding with good people while doing a good deed. 

I guess this goes down as a good week. We saved this scrappy little fighter, my abs feel tighter, and I’ve made a few more cat lady friends. 

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