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Meowing Mimi Causes Mayhem at YVR

Street cat rescued from China keeps entire airport team at bay!

RAPS was involved in some big drama at Vancouver International Airport recently – with a happy ending for all after some stressful hours.

Two weekends ago, on Saturday, RAPS got a call from YVR Operations. As the nearest animal protection agency to one of Canada’s largest airports, we have a good relationship with the team there.

What happened was that a family from Portland, Oregon – mom Lori and her six-year-old daughter – were travelling home from China with two cats who had been rescued from a life on the streets.

Obviously, the flight from China was very long and stressful, and the cats had traveled in small carrying cases. So, Lori, her daughter and the two cats went into the family washroom, which Lori thought would be a safe, small, contained space to let the cats out of their carriers and stretch their legs a little. She also wanted to change the soiled pee pads in their carriers. Lori checked for any possible escape routes before letting the cats out to stretch. But anyone with a cat knows that the best laid plans …

Once out, Mimi, a female cat whose life on the streets probably equipped her with some wily skills, somehow managed to find a small opening in the wall and, in the panic she was probably naturally feeling after travelling halfway around the world, climbed into the space.

Lori tried to coax Mimi out but was unable to do so. Of course, the family was also pressed for time to catch their connecting flight to Portland. After consulting with YVR Operations people who promised to do their best to capture Mimi, Lori made the painful decision to leave Mimi and head home to Portland.

RAPS Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Mandy Lichtmann packed up some rescue supplies and headed straight for the airport. First, YVR staff had to clear her through security and into the U.S. departures area – carrying two traps, a carrier and stinky food to coax Mimi into one of the traps. (Not the usual carry-on baggage, but airport staff have probably seen weirder!)

The YVR team had secured the family washroom from the public and Mandy went in to scope out the hidden passageway Mimi had discovered.

The Operations employee who accompanied Mandy said YVR maintenance staff were almost 100% sure that the wall area in which Mimi was contained, was a closed wall – and that there was no way she could travel any more than a distance of about two feet in width and 10 feet in height.

The access to the wall was very small – Mandy could not fit her head in to look up. It was also (unsurprisingly) dark and had a pipe and lots of insulation. She tried the old standby of shaking a bag of treats and calling the cat by name (a longshot, of course, since Mimi probably doesn’t know her name and she doesn’t yet speak English.)

Knowing that Mimi was likely frozen in terror, Mandy assumed it would be futile to try to coax her out, so she set two traps in the washroom, with the openings facing the small door through which Mimi had accessed the inside of the wall and, she hoped, would eventually exit from at some point.

The area outside of the washroom is loud, with passengers and employees coming and going. The wonderful YVR staff member explained that the particular area of the airport would shut down at 8:30 p.m. This was reassuring, as it would mean a quiet night for Mimi, during which she might timidly venture back out of the wall.

Mandy asked that staff check on the traps a couple of times during the night. But that first night passed and Mimi was still not trapped. There was no evidence that she had made her way out at all.

On Sunday, the YVR team removed the old food and replaced it with fresh. Time was not on Mimi’s side. If she did not come out by Tuesday morning, her kidneys could begin shutting down due to lack of food and water. To save her life, it might become necessary to break down the wall.

Just in time … a near-miracle!

On Monday, around 8:30 a.m., YVR called to say Mimi had been trapped!

That morning, maintenance staff had gone into the room with infrared cameras, ready to use the technology to determine where Mimi was hiding. As it turned out, they opened the door to hear loud meows coming from one of the traps.

YVR staff shared the happy news with Lori, in Portland, and were figuring out logistics to reunite the family. In the meantime, RAPS enthusiastically accepted Mimi as a houseguest!

Mandy headed to the airport again. Again, she was passed through security and into the U.S. departures terminal.

By this point, Mimi had become quite the celebrity among the YVR team and even U.S. border security staff.

Mimi appeared no worse for the wear despite having been hunkered down in the wall, without food for water, for 40 hours.

She was friendly, talkative and appeared healthy. She transferred very easily out of the trap into the carrying kennel.

Mandy then made her way with Mimi to the RAPS Adoption Centre where staff had set up a comfortable cage for her in the isolation room because we weren’t sure which vaccinations Mimi had had or what her health status was.

A few days later, a friend of Lori’s collected Mimi, transported her to her new digs in Oregon and she is settling into her new life in a loving family home.