By Gabriela Resto-Montero
MIDTOWN — An elderly grandmother traveling home after a holiday visit with her family is reeling after Amtrak officials at Penn Station confiscated her beloved cat during a transfer between trains — then sent the animal home with someone else.
Alexandra Kroutchinina, 75, had made it halfway home to Montreal, Canada after bringing her gray Tabby "Mimi" with her on a visit to relatives in North Carolina on Dec. 15 when Amtrak officials at Penn Station barred her from boarding the second leg of her trip home on the grounds that only service animals were allowed aboard, she said.
"They took the documents and the cage with the cat, asked the cat's name and let me take the train," Kroutchinina, whose primary language is Russian, wrote in an e-mail to DNAinfo. "Only on the train I realized that I might never see my cat again."
Amtrak officials confirmed they took the cat away from Kroutchinina, citing their no-pets policy, but claimed the elderly woman turned over her 1-year-old feline willingly.
Kroutchinina's relatives say Amtrak officials told them repeatedly that Mimi was sent to an animal shelter, but an Amtrak official told DNAinfo Thursday that staffers actually gave it to a private individual who lives on Long Island who is now taking care of the cat. They did not identify the individual.
"When the pet was handed over to Amtrak personnel by the passenger, it was taken to a home on Long Island, where it is being cared for in a loving environment," said Cliff Cole, a spokesman for Amtrak.
Cole defended Amtrak's actions, saying staffers acted "in accordance with Amtrak policy." He said he could not comment "on whether or not the pet was actually on-board the first leg of her (Kroutchinina's) travels."
He did not comment on why Amtrak staff told Kroutchinina's family that the cat was taken to a shelter when it was taken by a private individual.
Kroutchinina's granddaughter, Margarita Stolbikova, who lives in North Carolina, said she has been frantically calling and emailing Amtrak ever since Mimi was taken on Dec. 15 in an attempt to recover the cat.
She said an Amtrak staffer by the name of Anne initially told her she had until 3 p.m. on Dec. 15, an hour after the cat was taken, to pick Mimi up before she would be handed over to Animal Care and Control, the city's animal shelter.
But Animal Care and Control had no record of an exchange, she said.
"The poor and terrified woman was forced to abandon her cat without having been even given a chance to figure out what action to take. The Amtrak staff didn’t even have the courtesy to bother and provide her with a phone to call her English speaking daughter for help," Stolbikova said.
"Ignoring the fact that the staff was excessively rude and condescending during the whole ordeal, it is obvious that these Amtrak representatives were responsible for the escalation of this event as they (let) Alexandra board and travel in the first train without incident."
When Stolbikova learned about Mimi's true whereabouts, she was dumbfounded.
"We spent whole Christmas and New Year vacation trying to locate Mimi," she said. "Obviously, we failed."
Stolbikova added that she plans to file a letter of complaint with the Amtrak board of directors about the way her staff misled her about the cat.
"Alexandra is still in shock," Stolbikova said. "They forcefully took away a dear pet from an innocent elderly lady. She was ... brought to tears."