If you would have seen me the day I dropped of my two cats, Keeley and Jezebel, at their new home, you would have thought someone I loved had passed away.
I hadn’t cried like that in a long time.
There’s something exciting about starting a new life as an expat. A thrill. That ‘world is my oyster’ feeling. But, being an expat comes with sacrifices. Namely, having to part ways with people and animals you love.
Initially, I had considered bringing the cats with me to Thailand. But, everyone talked me out of it. And, thank goodness they did. Being a new expat, in a country in SE Asia with no home, no idea of what kind of resources were available, would have caused a lot of undue stress. Not to mention the stress for the animals I loved with all of my heart.
So, I left them in good hands and embarked on my journey.
Of course, three days into my new life in Chiang Mai, I rescued Mr. Lucky, a tiny ragamuffin of orange and white dying on a sidewalk across the street from Starbucks at ThaePae Gate.
As I cradled his tiny body in against my neck walking back to my office, I promised him I would do anything in my power to give him his best chance at life. And, so I did.
Then, I met Penelope. She came from the street, too. A gnarly case of mange covering her little black and white body. She was outgoing and clumsy. Her tiny body with a larger-than-should-be belly would clumsily jump onto my lap every morning in the office, meowing for food and then plunging her little pink nose into my face, paws kneeding my legs as she joined me checking emails.
Once Lucky was well enough to be around other animals, he was taken from Dr. Nook’s vet office in Chiang Mai to Elephant Nature Park to hang with the cats, dogs, cows, buffalos and elephants. Penelope, however stayed at the office, where my tiny group of co-workers adored her, but most others looked at her a pain since she was always trying to nip our noses and didn’t like the other cats.
I promised her, too, that once I had a place where cats were allowed, I would take her home with me.
Whenever I would go to ENP, I’d go and spend time with Lucky. Whenever I called, he’d come running to me. He and I had a little routine.
“Lucky, manee manee,” I would call.
Within a minute or two, he’d come bounding from where he was sunning himself on the river, to come and see me. I’d scoop him in my arms, cradling him like a baby, and go to “our” bench in front of one of the huts. We’d sit there, sometimes for as long as an hour. I’d hold him, leaning against the wooden rail, singing to him like Lek sings to the elephants.
He’d lay there, looking at me, his eyes growing heavier and heavier, purring intently, and then he would sigh, and be fast asleep.
This was our routine. No matter if I was there for a day, or a night when I would request a room near where he lived, so he could come and sleep with me.
When I moved into my house, I immediately picked up Penelope, but wanted Lucky as well. The park thought he’d do better there, so I just took Penny home instead.
She and I made a lovely home together. For almost three months, it was just her and I. She’d cuddle with me at night, sit next to me during the day.
Then, I got a call one night from the park. Lucky had been in a cat fight and his eye had been punctured.
“You’re going to need to take him to your house and give him medicine so his eye can heal,” I was told.
I spent the week working from home, giving him eye drops every two hours. We’d sit together, sleep side-by-side. He became my partner-in-crime, and even Penelope, who loathed other cats, began to not loathe him.
Within a few weeks, the two were best friends and the idea of separating the pair (and me) was just not an option.
“When is Lucky going back to the park?” I was asked one day while at work.
“Never,” my co-worker said.
“Ah, you want Lucky with you?”
“Yes. He and Penny are best friends, and I love him with all of my heart.”
“OK, you can have him … but when you leave Thailand, he can go back to the park.”
I listend, but not really.
For seven months, it was the three of us. We shared my bed. Shared my couch. They even tried to share my food. Then, one day, Lucky got really sick. He was in the hospital for a few days, and one night when the vet let me sit with him, I cradled him and whispered in his ear: “If you live through this, I will always take care of you.”
Yes. I made a promise to a cat. And yes, he lived through it.
Less than a year later, I found myself in the same position with them as I did with Jez and Keeley. I was leaving the country. Only, this time, I fully intended to take the two with me. I rushed to get their paperwork done. To get them over to London with me. But, Lucky didn’t pass his initial Titer test (a requirement for entry into the EU and UK from countries like Thailand).
“You can’t separate them,” my vet had told me.
So, they both stayed behind when I headed to London.
The day I took them to my office, my heart sank. Less than three years later, and once again, I was leaving animals I loved behind.
I sat on the floor with them as they explored. Penny wandered the room, owning it. Lucky sat on the wood floor, looking at me, dejected. There was a tight bond between the two of us, and I could sense he knew I was leaving. He just sat, staring at me, cowering under the desk.
“I promise you both,” I whispered, “I will see you again. You will come home with me.”
And now, six months plus a few later, they have finally arrived.
The past six months have likely been far harder for me than them. I found an amazing woman in an Facebook group who said she would foster my cats and help me from Chiang Mai to get them back to me.
Me, I would worry constantly. What if their paperwork isn’t right? What if they don’t live through the flight? What have I done to them? And, am is what I am going to do cause them more harm?
When I was back in America last month, I began to research options to bring them to me. Surprisingly, it was cheaper to buy two round trip tickets to Thailand, spend a week in Thailand and then fly them back — in-cabin — with me. I was ready to book my tickets on the phone with the Lufthansa customer service agent, but decided to wait until I had my visa.
And, good thing I did.
I was told I could not leave Spain until I had secured my NIE, which is an identification card for Spain. And that could take months.
So, I researched other options. Looked at other airline cargo programs to fly them to me. Lufthansa is the one I went with, and they have a very good be pet cargo program.
Today, after four days of traveling (two nights in Bangkok to ensure paperwork was correct and an overnight in Frankfurt to get checked out by vets), they are here. Sitting in bed next to me. They’ve explored the flat. They’ve taken a nap, curdled into each other and in bed with me.
It’s the first time I’ve felt at peace in a long time. Just having them to cuddle and pet releases a wave of endorphins. It’s the first time I haven’t felt stressed. Not just for their arrival, but for life.
Today, we start our new family in Madrid and I couldn’t be happier.