NEW YORK -- There were probably signs that the search for fugitives at the Church Avenue subway station in Brooklyn late Thursday morning was an unusual case. Investigators are not known to use lilting, high-pitched voices in the midst of a chase. Food was used as an incentive to surrender. And when the suspects got away, few seemed to mind.
But for about two hours -- amid what the Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially told riders was "ongoing NYPD activity," before later saying no officers were involved -- service was snarled along parts of the B and Q lines as transit personnel searched for two kittens who had scampered onto the tracks.
Around 11 a.m., the authority said, the kittens' owner told station employees that the animals had gotten away. After a call to the authority's rail control center, a train service supervisor was sent to investigate. At 11:06 a.m., the supervisor requested that power be removed from the rails. The supervisor and other transit workers took to the tracks, the authority said, while the owner hatched a separate scheme.
"Apparently the owner had purchased food to try to coax the kittens back," said agency spokeswoman Marisa Baldeo.
After more than 90 minutes, with no cats in tow, the authority restored power and service to the local tracks. The search continued along the express tracks for another 30 minutes or so, the authority said, before a disquieting conclusion was reached. "The kittens escaped," Ms. Baldeo said.
Full service returned at 1:09 p.m. Train operators were advised to proceed with caution in the area where the cats were last seen. Around 6:30 p.m., the authority said, the cats were rescued from the tracks just north of Church Avenue with the help of the Police Department.
Although the authority had said officers were involved in the first search, the department refuted that throughout the day, perhaps seeking to distance itself from the service disruption. "We don't shut down trains searching for cats," a police spokesman said.
In the past, New York City has been known to grow invested in tales of cat rescue. Many cheered on Jack the Cat, lost in a baggage area at Kennedy International Airport in 2011, but found two months later on site. Then there was Willow, a calico from Colorado, who turned up on Manhattan's East Side five years after escaping from home, prompting theories of a cross-country trek on four legs.
But the circumstances Thursday presented a wrinkle: It is easy to root for a search that has little downside; one that snarls train service is another matter. "I'm pro-cat," Alex Davies, a reporter for Business Insider, posted on Twitter, "but this is absurd."
The authority said animals such as dogs and raccoons have occasionally disrupted service. Three weeks ago, a small shark was found aboard a Queens-bound N train, bewildering passengers in Manhattan. But the train completed its run to Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard.
Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, said the decision to shut down service was understandable given the time of day. "It would be a tougher choice if it were the Lexington line at 8:30 in the morning," he said.
But he noted that not all creatures of the rails would be afforded the same treatment. "For the rats," he said, "they probably speed up the train."