Day 13 for Molly the cat: So close, yet so far

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NEW YORK (AP) – With Molly the fugitive feline sending out distress calls from a few feet – or maybe just inches – away, animal rescue and city experts tried without success on Thursday to lure the 11-month-old black cat from the innards of a 19th century building where she has been trapped for nearly two weeks.

The low-key drama, with no end in sight, was playing out in the basement wall and ceiling of a Greenwich Village delicatessen, where Molly had been official house mouser until wandering into a narrow space between walls and becoming lost in what rescue supervisor Mike Pastore described as “a maze of beams and pipes, going every which way.”

Rescue efforts wrapped up around 11 p.m. Thursday and were scheduled to resume on Friday morning.

With city building officials on hand to supervise, more bricks were hammered out in the cellar of the 157-year-old, four-story building on Hudson Street during the day on Thursday. The edifice is part of a landmarked historic district where alterations are prohibited without official permission.

Pastore said he hoped Molly’s situation would be seen as enough of an emergency “so that we can knock out a few more bricks.”

The landmarks commission told rescuers they should “do whatever is necessary to recover the cat,” agency spokeswoman Diane Jackier said.

In another move, two kittens were brought to the scene in a carryon cage, in hopes that their mewing might trigger Molly’s maternal instincts enough to draw her out.

Pastore, field director for Animal Care & Control, a private organization with a city contract to handle lost, injured and unwanted animals, said the rescue was the most difficult in his experience. “I’ve done this dozens of times – even in zero neighborhoods where you’re lucky to get out alive,” he said.

Molly’s meowing could be heard so clearly on the sidewalk outside the building that it seemed she might be a foot or less inside the wall, though blocked from view by vertical studs and other obstructions.

“She’s right there,” said Pastore. “I’d like to be able to reach in and grab a piece of fur. That’s what’s so frustrating.”

On Wednesday, bricks had been carefully removed at various spots to give Molly an escape route. Molly stayed put. Pastore’s team later got a fleeting look at Molly through a tiny video camera snaked into the crawl space, but could not reach her. A cage, baited with food, was left overnight. Molly didn’t bite. Even catnip, the feline aphrodisiac, had no effect on the timorous tabby.

Television reporters solicited the views of dog walkers and other passers-by who paused to watch the activity that was making headlines across the United States and abroad.

“I think she’s really scared, but I think she will come out,” offered Katherine Mehta, 10, who was walking her small dog, Pepito, with baby sitter Philomena Brady.

On Thursday, a self-described “cat therapist,” Carole Wilbourne, knelt on the sidewalk next to the building’s outer wall and tried to coax Molly out with what she hoped were soothing words.

“I hear you, sweetheart,” she cooed. “Come on, Molly, you can do it … everybody wants you to come out … nobody’s going to hurt you.”

After a few minutes, one of Pastore’s aides, wearing a surgical mask, emerged from the dusty cellar and asked Wilbourne to stop. “I think you’re stressing her out,” she said.

Wilbourne complied, saying that she had been trying to “give inspiration” to the wayward cat. “I care,” she told reporters. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t.”

Amid the activity, business went on inside Myers of Keswick, a delicatessen that specializes in meat pies, clotted cream and other British food specialties. “I’m very busy,” said proprietor Peter Myers, who opened the store 20 years ago and kept Molly to catch mice.

Pastore said the search for Molly was only one of the current concerns at Animal Care & Control, coinciding with the recovery of a male sheep in Queens and a wild turkey, named Hetta Gobbler, that was roaming the grounds of a Manhattan apartment complex and was to be released into a park on Friday.

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