The Station 57 Cat
A small cat moves into an EMS station and becomes the best kind of influencer
There was a “meow” coming from somewhere in front of our station. We heard it at random intervals, desperate but also elusive. Two of the Emergency Medical Technicians I work with helped me canvas the area, using whatever meat products we could find in our break room refrigerator as bait. We are situated in a busy area of Brooklyn and there are many feral cats nearby, but none had ever called out to us before.
We finally found her, huddled underneath an off-service ambulance, small and dirty. She hungrily accepted our hot dog pieces, but with suspicion, while glaring at us from time to time. This cat seemed different from the other neighborhood strays. Most ferals live in a constant state of heightened awareness but our hot-dog-loving friend was extremely frightened as if it were all new to her. Every sound from the traffic around us caused her additional panic. For years we would debate how she ended up on our literal doorstep. Was she dumped? Abused?
Eventually, our radios demanded attention and we went off to do 911 calls. When we returned, the cat was gone.
A week or so later, however, the cat was back. She had moved into the station, taking a position underneath a large configuration of red wired gear racks where we store our equipment. She didn’t seem to have any intention of ever leaving. It would only be a matter of time before she took over the entire building.
We would peer under the wire grids to catch a glimpse of the visitor to our garage. The young cat would give a cursory expression that seemed to indicate she was ready to fight the right challenger. Snacks continued to be offered, with tentative hands reaching under the structure, only to be greeted by a hiss and a swat if that hand got close enough. It was adorable.
While most of us at this large EMS station loved the idea of having a small, feisty feline living among us, there was a far more vocal minority who protested against the new interloper. She was mean and filthy, dangerous too. There were enough people being nasty to us, they said. As EMTs and paramedics, we deal with enough hostility from angry motorists inconvenienced by having streets blocked off, unpredictably violent patients, and disgruntled family members. The last thing we needed was an irate cat waiting to attack.
“I’m just not a ‘Cat Person’,” they’d say as if that was enough justification to deny the rest of us an opportunity to shower a furry animal with copious amounts of love and unwanted attention.
Our new visitor stayed hidden, avoiding vehicles and humans alike, while the Not-A-Cat-Person people and the Pro-Cat crowd hashed things out. Unless you did a great deal of bending and kneeling on a dirty floor to seek her out, it was almost as if she wasn't around. I didn’t understand why they resisted so vehemently. The only real evidence that we even had a cat were the dead bodies.
Our Captain, who remained neutral during cat debates moved decidedly into the “pro” camp when rodent carnage started appearing around the station. “That cat works harder than some of the paid employees,” he said.
Before her arrival, we had no idea how overrun with rodents our garage had been. Mangled carcasses of rats and mice were found every day, strewn about in areas of heavy foot traffic. The placement appeared to be done purposely, as if she were looking to barter these fresh kills for the more processed, crunchy snacks we had been placating her with.
The Not-A-Cat-Person people couldn’t understand why we would try so hard to keep an animal around that was capable of such wanton destruction. Given the chance she would, no doubt, do the same to us. Why couldn’t she behave like a regular cat? And why wasn’t she nicer to the people who fed her?
I felt that these non-cat people just didn’t understand how scared the little animal was. They clearly didn’t understand basic cat behavior and misread her moods and reactions. I decided that I might be able to sneak in some feline education through an Instagram account. My crews were spending inordinate amounts of time scrolling through dull (i.e., cat-less) posts on Instagram regularly. Hopefully, they would catch one of the cat’s posts from time to time. If nothing else, at least Killer could be highlighted on the medium that showcased feline beauty so well. The @Station57Cat account was born.
Killer, as she came to be known, thanks to her mastery of the hunting arts, was featured posing around the station, giving her unsolicited opinions. Finally, her facial expressions had some translation. She wasn’t angry because you were removing equipment from the gear rack; she was sad about losing a potential bed to lie on. The cat wasn’t swatting at the treats she was given; she was annoyed with that particular flavor on that particular day. I tried to make it obvious that Killer wasn’t a homicidal maniac but just a discerning seeker of comfort with managerial tendencies.
Little by little, inroads were made on all sides. Killer came out of hiding more and pretended to interact with us. Most of the rats in town got word that a cat lived here now and the carnage dissipated. People who begrudgingly acknowledged the cat wasn’t leaving, started bringing in bags of cat treats and toys. Even the most vocal ‘hater’ was discovered to have a secret cache of cat food hidden in his locker.
Another interesting development occurred as well. At one point, the Not-A-Cat-Person people started adopting cats of their own. It was subtle at first. (“The patient died and they were going to take the cat to the shelter. I couldn’t let that poor animal be further traumatized after losing her owner. I guess I’ll just have a cat now.”) But soon this led to others taking a more active role in adding to their households by perusing the cats available at rescue organizations.
As Killer became more comfortable with us, her quirky personality started to come through. She had a sweet, demure kind of cry when she wanted treats, much more reserved than when she was howling outside in desperation. The lengths she went in order to have her demands met were also comical. She would often knock things over and direct an angry look towards an innocent third party, as if snitching on their transgression. And she had a clear disdain for picture-taking, by turning her head at just the right moment, which made keeping up her social media posts a challenge.
Her popularity grew both online and in our EMS community. Coworkers from other parts of the city would make an effort to visit our station to meet our new mascot. As more followers were added, many of them came to see her as well. Tourists representing almost every continent stopped over to see our special girl. School children drew pictures of Killer, which were proudly displayed around our office and at Christmas she received packages of toys and treats. She was featured in local newspapers and had a video on The Dodo.
Killer’s followers became a tremendous source of encouragement and support, not just for our star employee, but also towards her caretakers, as they saw what life was like at a lively EMS station. Through her eyes, they could experience what it was like to work overnights (the shift most of the Pro-Cat people were on). They watched us celebrate holidays on the job and spend time with each other between calls. They also gained an understanding of how we differed from the fire side we operate with.
Although Killer became much friendlier over time, she still maintained a demeanor that caused you to remain leery of her. Our medical supplies continued to be used on ourselves, on occasion, when her lengthy talons would be unleashed from her sweet, innocent-looking paws at unpredictable intervals. She remained distrustful of most people, but as civil servants who sometimes dealt with the worst of humanity, we could understand her suspicions.
After a particularly bad call, it was a great comfort to return to the station and be with Killer. She was an intuitive support animal and would even seek out people from time to time. Many crews would tell stories about being despondent, recounting the details of child abuse or the result of a drunk driver’s carnage, and note how time spent with Killer uplifted their spirits. Being around Killer, they said, took them from a sense of hopelessness to the feeling that anyone can be rehabilitated and transformed.
I soon discovered there were other cats residing in uniformed workplaces who had Instagram accounts as well. The @Carlow_FDNY_cat page gave us a shout-out and we met others as well. They became a wonderful resource and network who assisted in answering questions about everything from allergic coworkers to how to navigate the managerial command hierarchy.
I hoped that more workplaces would see our working cats and decide to open their doors to some of the homeless cats that wouldn’t fare well in a traditional home. The vast majority of shelters in the US euthanize feral cats due to their limited resources and the amount of time and effort it takes to rehabilitate a distrustful animal who may never become the kind of desirable pet most adopters are looking for. Warehouses and garage-type businesses make outstanding alternative living situations for these kinds of cats. In this way, they could be taken care of and be better protected while still maintaining whatever degree of anti-social behavior the cat feels comfortable with.
I felt that Killer was the perfect ambassador for these kinds of alternative homes. She adapted incredibly well to life at a 24/7 station. She avoided moving vehicles, knew our schedules, and never ventured outside of our boundaries. Most importantly, her presence brought about a cohesive bond among the personnel that was immeasurable, as well.
Killer was far more than an exterminator or a novelty mascot. She was our colleague and our friend. She was truly part of our station, every bit as important as the rest of us. In her we had a ‘Su-purr-visor’ who was our professional paperweight, provided productivity encouragement, and whose crazy antics could make you forget any problems you might be dealing with. She was our diversion from the daily mayhem of our unpredictable job. Having a funny cat at the station gave us something to look forward to when we went to work.
Through her Insta-fame our Station 57 Cat showed the world what an asset a work cat could be. She gave a window into the world of paramedic and EMTs, civil servants who frequently go unnoticed and are misunderstood. Of course, she was also a beautiful cat and people enjoyed seeing photos of Killer being Killer.
She attracted an amazing following of wonderful people who were creative, compassionate, and generous. When another EMS station cat, on the opposite coast, faced eviction they banded together to contact the municipality to fight the injustice. They helped in other efforts as well, including assisting with a lost cat and raising money for injured ones. Their comments were always positive and insightful and I’ve never had to delete anything mean.
Killer started out as a controversial, unpopular addition to our EMS station and converted everyone who worked with her into cat-loving defenders of her feline superiority. We all became fiercely loyal to the tiny cat that lived under our gear rack for several months before taking a chance on us humans.
Our station mascot never became a cuddly lap cat. She didn’t do tricks and she wasn’t particularly affectionate. She shamelessly solicited snacks and then walked away without any kind of quid-pro-quo. She never did anything ‘just like a dog’ (as if that’s a great compliment for a cat). Killer won people over despite being the exact opposite that people expected her to be.
In 2019 our beloved Killer-cat succumbed to cancer. She was only six years old. There was a monumental outpouring of love and sympathy which showed us how big of an impact she had made. Killer’s fans sent cards and letters which were hung up, covering entire walls. Her death was announced on a local radio and TV broadcast.
Killer was an extraordinary cat who brought so many diverse groups of people together. The sweet, shy kitty who emerged from the harsh streets of NYC to adopt a family of EMS workers will always be remembered by the people who loved her and continue to mourn her loss today.