Georgia Is Found Safe and Sound After Spending a Harrowing Twenty-Five Days Lost in the Bowels of the New York City Subway System
"I'm say Georgia, Georgia
A song of you
Comes as sweet and clear
As moonlight through the pines.
Other arms reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still in peaceful dreams I see
The road leads back to you."
-- Stuart Gorrell
It is every cat owner in New York City's worst nightmare. You are riding the subway and your cat somehow escapes from its carrier and disappears in an Augenblick into the labyrinth of tunnels, darkened corridors, and uncountable nooks and crannies that make up the sprawling underground system.
Nonetheless, that is the sad fate and befell twenty-four-year-old librarian Ashley Phillips of the Bronx on January 22nd. While waiting for the uptown number six train at the Fifty-Ninth Street Subway Station at Lexington Avenue in Manhattan her seven-month-old black cat, Georgia, bolted from her carrier and disappeared amongst the throngs of commuters and arriving and departing trains. (See photo above.)
This sad story was immediately picked up by Gotham's media outlets and although a search was made of the tracks by MTA officials, no trace was to be found of the cat. After a while both Phillips and the general public gave up hope and the story disappeared from the tabloids.
Georgia had become just one more victim in a city chock-full of victims and sad stories. After all, it is rumored that there is a broken heart for every light on Broadway.
Hope was rekindled on February 13th when twenty-six-year-old Con Edison worker Christopher Cuddy spotted Georgia wedged between the tracks but was unable to rescue her. That was when MTA flagman Mark Dalessio and track inspector Efrain LaPorte joined the hunt.
A few days later on February 16th the workers spotted the cat below the rails at Fifty-Fifth Street and Lexington Avenue. Sergeant Daniel Green and Officer IIker Ozuk of the transit police were summoned and climbed down and retrieved Georgia.
"As I was walking down the track, I was making cat sounds, 'meowing'," is how Dalessio later described his successful modus operandi to the New York Daily News on February 17th. (See "Georgia Rules! Kitten Found After Scampering into Subway Twenty-Five Days Ago.") "I heard a 'meow' back and I thought it was LaPorte. I thought, 'Wow, LaPorte is inspired'."
It was not, however, his co-worker; it was instead Georgia cowering in a foot-deep drain between the tracks. Dalessio then extended his hand and Georgia gave it a lick.
"It was kinda cute," he told the Daily News. "I can imagine the fear the cat had with trains going by."
Georgia was shortly thereafter reunited with her surprised and delighted owner at the MTA's Union Square office. "I'm still in shock," Phillips said. "I kind of gave up hope that they'd find her." (See photo below of the happy reunion.)
A trip to the vet revealed that Georgia had sustained a broken rear leg and a scratch on her nose but otherwise was okay except for being dehydrated and a tad skinnier. The emotional scars that she sustained during her hellish twenty-five-day ordeal will remain with her for a long time, however.
"A subway tunnel is a very dangerous place, especially with the third rail," NYC Transit President Howard Roberts later told the Daily News. "I am very happy that we found the cat before she used up all nine lives."
Kudos are therefore in order for all the transit workers and police officers who assisted in Georgia's successful rescue. In a society where most fire departments steadfastly refuse to rescue cats stranded on heights, the MTA's sterling behavior in quite remarkable. (See Cat Defender post of February 20, 2007 entitled "Stray Cat Ignominiously Named Stinky Is Rescued from Rooftop by Good Samaritans After Fire Department Refuses to Help.")
For their outstanding work Dalessio, LaPorte, and Cuddy will split a $1,500 reward offered jointly by the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals and City Critters. Cuddy, however, is planning on donating his share to the ASPCA.
"I'm just happy it was a happy ending," he told the Daily News on February 18th. (See "Leg Surgery for Rescued Cat.")
As for her future rambles with Georgia, Phillips plans on doing a better job of securing her carrier as well as getting her microchipped. While a sturdy and fail-safe carrier is an absolute must, implanted microchips are of limited utility and also carry health risks. (See Cat Defender posts of May 25, 2006 and September 21, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Plato's Misadventures Expose the Pitfalls of RFID Technology as Applied to Cats" and "FDA Is Suppressing Research That Shows Implanted Microchips Cause Cancer in Mice, Rats, and Dogs.")
A far better option would be to avoid the subway system altogether when traveling with pets. The underground is a noisy, dirty, and dangerous place where almost anything can, and often does, happen. The ear-splitting noise, screeching trains, muggers, and throngs of jostling commuters are traumatic enough for humans let alone an animal locked inside a box.
Since la grosse pomme boasts an abundance of bus and car service between the Bronx and Manhattan there was not any need for Phillips to have put Georgia's life in jeopardy in the first place. The Bronx, moreover, has everything that a cat may need whether it be veterinary treatment or grooming.
Finally, the fact that Georgia was rescued in the vicinity of where she was lost proves once again that cats are territorial. Therefore, individuals searching for a lost cat should always concentrate their efforts near home or, as in the case of Georgia, the place where the cat was last seen.
Should such efforts prove to be fruitless, that is a pretty good indication that the animal has met with either foul play or been wittingly or unwittingly transported out of the area. (See Cat Defender posts of June 7, 2007 and October 30, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Rascal Hops a Freight Train in South Bend and Unwittingly Winds Up in Chattanooga" and "Crafty Bird Lover Claims Responsibility for Stealing Six Cats from a Southampton Neighborhood and Concealing Their Whereabouts.")
Photos: Ashley Phillips (Georgia) and Joyce of the New York Daily News (Phillips and Georgia).