People are forced to leave behind or cast their pets aside without much thought in the high-stakes race to save human lives during natural calamities like typhoon “Ulysses.”

IMG 20201113 181225 1024x567 - Persistence pays off for veteran lensman who loses cat, launches rescue mission during ‘Ulysses’
(screenshot from Linus Escandor II’s video)

Fortunately for former Manila Bulletin photographer Linus Escandor II, he remains together with his one-year-old tortoiseshell cat “Lyca” in the aftermath of the shockingly destructive tropical cyclone.

But he first had to undergo over 12 harrowing hours of losing his pet beginning early Wednesday morning when she suddenly disappeared.

Escandor said he parked his Sports Utility Vehicle at the Shell Gas Station on Kilometer 25, South Luzon Expressway, Muntinlupa City at past midnight to clean the interior of kitty litter. Aside from Lyca, he also had “Zuni,” a fellow rescue tortoiseshell, aboard the vehicle.

“Inalis ko sa cage ‘yung dalawa at nilagyan ng leash at ikinabit sa hitch sa likod ng sasakyan. Sa pagod, naidlip ako saglit. Bigla akong nagising dahil si Zuni pumasok sa loob. Naalala ko si Lyca. Nakita ko na lang na wala na sa leash si Lyca (I removed the two cats from their cage and hooked their leash to the hitch behind the vehicle. I fell asleep due to fatigue. I suddenly woke up when Zuni went inside. I remembered Lyca. I then saw that Lyca was no longer in her leash),” he wrote on his Facebook account.

The veteran photojournalist did what he could to get a clue on Lyca’s whereabouts. He troubled the gas station’s security team if he could review closed-circuit television camera footage of the parking area.

They kindly obliged but he realized that the CCTV only captured the front of his vehicle and thus he couldn’t tell for sure if the cat had ran off or was stolen by someone.

Confronted with the seeming reality that he had lost his cat near a busy highway and with a typhoon poised to hit the metropolis, Escandor would write in a separate post that morning: “Salamat Lyca…Sana magkasama pa tayong muli. Di kita makakalimutan (Thank you Lyca…I hope we get reunited one day. I will never forget you).”

He left the gas station at 6 a.m. with a heavy heart, intending to get back to his home in Parañaque City before the weather got any worse.

Escandor doesn’t have any other passion aside from photography until he rescued Lyca from the streets in November 2019. Zuni followed last August. They were named after famous camera brands Leica and Sony.

“Sa kanila ako natutong magmahal at maging malapit sa pets. Iba ‘yung kaligayahan ibinibigay nila sa akin. Sila lang ang kasama ko sa buhay (It is with them that I first learned to love and be close with pets. I get a different kind of happiness from them. They are my only companions in life),” he said.

By noon, Escandor decided to go back to the gas station to give the search one more try. Lyca couldn’t have strayed too far since she wasn’t used to the outdoors, he told himself.

A search party would be needed, however. With howling winds and heavy rains beginning to pour, he would again inconvenience other people for the sake of his cat, which was not of expensive breed. But she is a precious friend.

“Nakausap ko ‘yung sa maintainance, nakuwento ko about sa nangyari. Kabisado nila ang lugar kaya sinamahan ako. Hindi ako nahiya at wala dapat ikahiya (I spoke with the maintenance people and told them what had happened. They accompanied me since they knew the area. I wasn’t embarrassed for it, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about),” he said.

Five people – Lito Asuncion, Virgilio Estera, Marciano Cabutaje, Froilan Jongay, and German Gonzales – volunteered to join the team. After over two hours of searching, one of them heard faint meows amid the heavy downpour and called Escandor’s attention.

Lyca was stuck atop the branch of a nearby tree, drenched from the rain and hardly moving out of fear and exhaustion. The seasoned photojournalist swore it was the first time he saw such a scene, as cliché as it was. He called her by her name and she promptly meowed back to her human.

“Noong nakita ko siya sa taas ng puno, hindi na ako kinabahan (Once I saw her on the tree, all of my fears faded),” Escandor said. It would take 20 minutes before Lyca was safely retrieved by the team using a pole.

“Naalala ko kung paano mag-rescue ang mga bumbero (It reminded me of firefighters’ rescue operations),” he said, referring to his experience on the field.

Escandor credited the happy ending to gas station boys who went out of their way to help a stranger and his cat.

“Sabi ko sa kanila na magandang halimbawa ‘yung nagawa nila para bigyan ng halaga ang mga pusa. Dahil may buhay din sila (I told them that they showed good example in giving importance to cats. They were also given life).”

Indeed, a little persistence and compassion goes a long way in saving pets from a bleak fate, typhoon or no typhoon.

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