I adopted Zora in Oakland when she was about 5 years old. She had been in the shelter for a year and a half, going between their two sites hoping to find a home in either of them.
I found her by looking at profiles of the long-term animals on the SPCA’s website. They described her as the shelter cat, no longer focused on finding a home, but accepting that she may be a “lifer.” She now resided in the back and only occasionally stayed in the cages up front for display. Her primary job was to test out the temperament of new dogs to see how they would respond to a cat hissing at them. So she was constantly on the defense.
I went to the shelter and requested her by name. “You want to see Sweat Pea?” (her name at the time), he said somewhat in disbelief. Then with a sudden burst of excitement, he jumped up and said, “Oh! Let me get her for you!” Shortly after that, another woman joined him in his giddy excitement to introduce Sweat Pea to someone. They explained that I would need to come to the back to meet her.
She had a little bed that was perched on a dusty windowsill behind the metal shelves of food and supplies. Her food bowl and water were somewhere in the midst of the chaos, as was her litter box. Her home was the supply room. A long-hair domestic cat, with gigantic and bright green eyes, a thick coat of black, brown, and white hair, and a little bit of an attitude, she really was quite charming. I knew her name wouldn’t remain. I also knew she was coming with me.
With her name now Zora, she quickly became spoiled and happy with life in my Oakland apartment. But less than six months later, we moved to Brooklyn. The cross country flight was a big deal, forcing her to stay in her carrier for more than 10 hours. But it never crossed my mind that she wouldn’t come with me. So both she and I had to bear it (though I admit her burden to bear was much greater than mine).
Then, just a few years later, I was ready for another big move – only international this time. During the brief time in which I wasn’t too sure about which country I would move to, I researched animal immigration laws. With many countries requiring absurdly long quarantines or other challenging hoops to jump through, I understood why many people think such a move with an animal would be nearly impossible. But thankfully, the Netherlands has a pleasantly friendly animal immigration policy. As long as she had her shots and a microchip, she’d be good to go. They don’t quarantine animals here “on principle.” My kind of country.
I took her to the vet two times: first to get the shots in November, and then earlier this month to have her European Union passport/health certificate created. A few days before our departure I had to drive out to JFK to receive an official USDA stamp on her passport. Fortunately, Zora did not have to make that trip. Because just a few days later she was in a bag, on a plane, sitting under the seat in front of me, exhausted from having cried the entire way to the airport. She also pooped in her carrier three times during the drive, requiring me to change the padding multiple times before we even got on the plane. I worried she wasn’t ready to fly again.
But on the plane she settled down. As I watched my movies and enjoyed my tasty dinner, I checked on her every five minutes or so. She cried a few times. But then she started dozing off. As she accepted her fate, the entire process became much easier.
Once we arrived in the Netherlands, they looked at her passport for about a minute, then told me to have a nice day. She didn’t even have to come out of her carrier to walk some sort of straight line test, which for some reason is what I imagined. There we both were, suddenly walking around the Netherlands…legally.
We stayed in a hotel the first few nights before moving into my apartment. Then with very little furniture and no heat in the apartment on the first night, Zora followed me around the place whining, seemingly chastising me for making yet another poor decision. But once she discovered the big windowsill in the kitchen that looks out onto our private garden, she began to purr and let the events of the last few days roll off her back. She was home. And hopefully she now understands that no matter where the next plane will take us, she’ll always be home with me.
It’s a long way from the Oakland SPCA, isn’t it?