Relocating the Kitty

A series of encounters with a shrewd street cat in Istanbul sends an American expat over the edge.

By / December 2011

“Not again!” I moaned, trudging from the hallway back into our eighth-floor Istanbul apartment. There was, as there had been at least once a week since the weather turned cold, cat poop on the doorstep. As I searched for a bottle of spray cleaner under the kitchen sink in the darkness, I began plotting how to bring an end to these defecatory visits.

The perpetrator was no regular street cat. She was a tabby with a coat of dark grey fur. Several elderly residents in the building adored her. They fed her Styrofoam plates of food. They spoke to her in high, swooning tones, as if she were a grandchild to spoil.

Perhaps the only resident who despised the cat more then me was Yavuz*, a short, squat man who had moved to the city from a village in western Turkey. Yavuz acted as the handyman, trash collector, and grounds manager in our building. He was well acquainted with cleaning up after the cat.

One afternoon, as Yavuz was making his rounds, I told him that we had to do something. His normally friendly face turned stone serious. He raised his hand to stop me. His eyes cut down the stairs toward the door of a known cat-loving neighbor. Leaning in towards my open door in a near whisper, his hand still raised, he said, “Yes, but we have to do it carefully.”

With Yavuz’s go-ahead, the bout officially commenced: Texas expat and Turkish factotum versus the most annoying feline in all of Istanbul.

Round 1:

From the tutor who was teaching my wife and I to speak Turkish, I borrowed a pet carrier, one of those plastic boxes with the metal gate. He assured me that I could easily lure the kitty inside by placing tuna in and around the carrier.

The cat must have been reading my murderous thoughts. She lapped the fish off the dirty brown tile but stopped short of the plastic container. Licking her paws, she looked up at me as if to say, “Do you really think I’m that stupid?”

Round 2:

I had invested too much time and energy to let the cat off the hook. So, standing there in the empty foyer in the rubble of my foiled plans, I began to improvise. I spread my arms wide and shuffled forward, trailing the cat up the marble stairs.

Between the third and fourth floors I unsheathed my cell phone and, keeping my left arm extended to keep the cat from darting past me back towards the lower levels temporary freedom, I dialed my wife. “Open the door, I’m herding the cat up into our house,” I commanded.

“What? Why?” came the response.

“Just open it, if the cat has a smaller area to move around in, it will be easier to catch her, right?”

A moment later, my wife opened the door and, with an incredulous look on her face, retreated into the living room, which she had cordoned from the rest of the apartment using a large green ottoman. Our two young daughters knelt on either side of their mother, peering with curiosity over the furniture.

The cat entered the house and pivoted down the hallway. I stepped in and closed the heavy door behind her, then dialed Yavuz. “OK, the cat is in my house, come and help me finish this.”

“Why is the cat in your house?” he asked.

“Nevermind that, just come and help me,” I pleaded. He was down the street at the market. He said he would be there in five minutes.

I hung up and looked down the hallway where the cat was pacing, as if weighing her options. On television, I had seen the Croc Hunter Steve Irwin wrangle more intimidating animals with ease. How hard could it be?

Round 3:

I took a thick blanket and eased toward the animal. I threw the blanket and dropped to my knees. I gripped the cat’s body through the cover. A visceral shriek pierced the quiet, which my daughters answered with shrieks of their own. Beneath my grip, claws clicked under skittering paws fighting to find grip on the smooth white tile.

Fearing I was injuring her, I released my hold ever so slightly. Not slightly enough. A claw escaped from under the rough fabric and slashed at my forearm. I drew back. The cat threw off the cover and escaped down the hall into the kids’ room.

Round 4:

I closed the bedroom door to contain the cat for a moment. I needed time to regroup. Where was Yavuz? I wondered, just as Yavuz rapped at the door. He removed his shoes then looked up at me with sharp eyes. In his low intense whisper, he asked, “Where is it?”

We armed ourselves — Yavuz with the pet carrier, me with a small broom — and tiptoed down the hall. When I opened the door, I half expected the cat to lunge at us from the ceiling fan, talons at the ready. Instead, she was nowhere to be found. Then I spotted two menacing eyes under the Ikea toddler bed.

Not knowing what to do (this had become the theme of the day, unfortunately) I jabbed the broom at the cat. If the goal was to further incense her, to convince her that she should steel her nerves and fight to the end, I succeeded. While Yavuz scanned the room for other crude implements that might come in handy, I began dismantling the bed, removing the thin mattress and wooden slats, exposing the battle-weary tabby.

Having already urinated in her hiding spot from fear, she quickly realized her exposed position and leapt to the windowsill behind heavy green curtains.

Round 5:

Yavuz saw an opportunity. Through sign language, either because he thought I wouldn’t understand his Turkish or because he did not want the enemy to catch wind of our next play, he motioned for me to ready the pet carrier.

I crept forward until the curtain was the only thing separating the cat from the cage. Yavuz gave me a quick nod. He jerked the curtain. I covered the cat with the carrier. Her head wiggled free, but with the help of the broom Yavuz managed to sweep the whole of her into the carrier.

There was a problem.

The door to the carrier had broken off during the maneuver. Yavuz located a clear plastic lid from a tub of toddler clothes nearby, and while I held the container pinned against the window, he attached the lid with duct tape, the cat staring daggers at us through the slits of her prison.

Round 6:

The heightened tension in the room melted into a palpable sense of accomplishment, which hardened back into tension when I smiled at Yavuz and he did not smile back. “You can’t just walk out of the building carrying this thing,” he said. “Someone might see you.”

Yavuz had a point. I needed to be discreet, lest one of the neighbors catch on and cause a stir. I scavenged our back balcony and found a large cardboard box. With the cat in the carrier and the carrier in the box, I headed for the door, my sense of victory still tempered by Yavuz, who had yet to drop his all-business attitude.

Yavuz reached the door first. His hand rested on the lever (in Turkey, few front doors actually have knobs) as he turned to me. “Now, where are you going to take it?” he asked.

Camlica Park was about four miles away, had herds of cats, and seemed as good a place as any. “She’ll come back!” Yavuz interjected. “You have to take her to the European side.”

It was 5 pm. I had no interest in driving to a different continent. To get to the European side of Istanbul meant traveling across the Bosphorus Bridge in heavy traffic. The less time I had to spend with the cat the better.

After some back and forth, we settled on Cekmekoy, a growing suburb 10 miles down the highway but still on the Asian side, as the drop point for our pest. His concern abated, Yavuz opened the front door and slid back into his white Chuck Taylor sneakers.

“Wait five minutes and then go down,” he said. Then in an almost inaudible whisper, his eyes as grave as an executioner’s, he mouthed, “I was never here.”

Round 7:

The ride down the elevator was slow and shaky. My reflection gyrated in the elevator mirror. I looked like a madman, I felt like a madman, but I was too close to the goal line to punt. On the ground floor, I exited briskly and hurried to my grey Hyundai four-door across the parking lot.

I stuffed the box in the back seat, started the car, and punched the gas. As I drove down the highway toward the cat’s new neighborhood, I couldn’t keep from stealing glances at the box. A single green eye with a black slit of pupil leered at me through the opening. In a Hitchcock-esque moment of panic I pictured the ride ending prematurely in a storm of claws and fur.

But the duct tape and cardboard held, and the kitty stayed put. After a short drive, I pulled over on an anonymous back street in Cekmekoy.

The neighborhood was like thousands of others in Istanbul. There were mid-rise concrete apartment buildings of varying drab colors, a small market, a smaller hardware store, and plenty of dust. I opened the carrier and released the cat into the night.

I wished her well in her search for a new stoop to soil. Good luck with that, people of Cekmekoy. And so long, cat. I hope we never meet again.


*This name has been changed to protect the guilty but heroic building manager.