We had always planned to live abroad in the sun after we retired. Therefore, the pets we had were always in our plans. We had wanted two cats and when the local Cat Protection League called to say they had two cats who needed homing together, we went to look at them straightaway. It was between Christmas and New Year 2003 and I remember the pens had Christmas lights and decorations and that there was a radio playing carols in the background. The two cats in question were a ginger tom and a tortoiseshell coloured female with white paws. Their elderly owner had died and so had a third cat who had been living with them. We thought that was enough trauma for two small pussy cats so we promptly fell in love and decided to have them.
First, as responsible owners, we had to go and kit out the house and buy two pet carriers, beds, bowls etc – in fact two of everything they might need. We didn’t account for the large cardboard box……..
We returned a day later to collect our treasures and put them gently into the pet carriers and took them home. We could not entice them to do anything except lie on top of each other in as confined a space as possible and so they abandoned all the nice things we had bought and moved into a high-sided cardboard box. They lived in this box for several weeks, always sitting one on top of the other, always looking terrified and yet purring madly. The box had to be replaced regularly but they were happy enough as long as it was good and deep.
We decided to call them Sid and Nancy and we found from other people’s reactions that you had to be a certain age to get the joke. (Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols had a girlfriend called Nancy. That’s the nice part of their story but I won’t elaborate now….)
The cats ate well but we never saw them eat or drink as they’d wait until we were out of sight and normally it was late at night that they ate and used the litter tray. We handled them both every day, letting them rub their faces and scent us and brushing their fur but as soon as we let go, they were back in the box together.
Eventually, after a couple of long months, the vet checked them over and they were allowed to go out. They also began to roam around the house. They then decided not to lie anywhere near each other and each cat would wait for the other to pass by and then would give a gentle swat from a paw! If they were frightened or upset though, they returned to the confined space, double-decker style, Once we found them inside the large server cabinet for the computer, on top of each other, enjoying the warmth!
The vet had told us that Sid had a heart murmur but that he would be OK and otherwise looked healthy. Sadly, he developed a growth in his nose which could not be operated on because of his weak heart. He would not survive the anaesthetic. He became unable to smell so stopped eating and sadly, just over a year after they arrived, poor lovely Sid died peacefully in his sleep. The saddest part of that awful night was when Robin held his little body close and said through tears, “Now I won’t be able to drive him to live in the sunshine.”
Nancy was a very different cat by now. Always timid, she had, however, developed a range of endearing behaviours which amused friends and family. I had left a large straw fruit basket on the coffee table and, once it was emptied of fruit, Nancy moved in! So she was always directly in front of the TV and in our view wherever we sat in the room. She wasn’t interested in any of the cat beds or baskets we gave her and slept most of the day in the fruit bowl for the next 6 years! In fact, when we put the house on the market ready to emigrate, she is there in the basket in the photos the Estate Agent took of the house!
She was still nervous and was terrified of loud noises so fireworks caused her much anguish. We lived near to Lincoln Castle and live events there in the summer always seemed to end with firework displays and loud bangs. She’d just got over that when Bonfire Night fireworks started and then came New Year’s Eve. She would hide behind the sofa under a blanket until early morning when she would come and wake us up for a cuddle.
Nancy became the centre of our lives and was always in the plans for the family relocation to Lanzarote. We figured there wouldn’t be loud bangs on the plane, just a deafening roar from the engines! She would travel in the aircraft hold, we discovered, and they would heat it up especially for her. We spoke to the vet and did our research. We could fly her out but she’d have to be in a bespoke wooden crate, made especially for her. She would have to have rabies jabs and be in good health. We would need to get her a pet passport and have her checked 10 days before we left the UK.
So we started to Google pet transport companies and saw from the testimonials that other people had flown cats (and dogs) for considerable distances, to Australia and USA on much longer flights than the four hours we had planned to Arrecife. We read the testimonials out to each other, enjoying the pets’ names (“ Mystery and Mischief both arrived safely”, “Thank you so much for flying Ninja out to us,”) and generally noting that the animals had all survived the flight well and had settled in the new homes. We learned that you don’t sedate a cat because that is dangerous with the change of pressure in flight. She would get food and water and we should include a blanket that smelled of home. “Flying doesn’t tend to bother cats,” our vet said. “They just sleep through it.”
As Nancy slept for twenty three and a half hours out of every twenty four, we decided this was probably true for her and reassured each other that she’d be fine. We duly measured her for the crate and booked appointments with the vet. I was still working so we agreed that Robin and Nancy would fly out to Lanzarote first and I would follow. I admit that I thought this was a great idea because I would be worried about the flight every minute of the day – what if they forgot to heat the hold, what if she got loose, what if she was frightened by the noise? I’m not the only worried one when it comes to Nancy, Robin is just as bad but together we would wind each other up into hysteria. So it was agreed, they would fly first and I’d follow. The cost of shipping Nancy in her special box (including a surcharge because we’d have to pay to have the office opened up early!) was more than it had cost us to move house last time – and that included the removal men doing all the packing. We estimate that the whole event including shipping fees and vet’s fees was – deep breath - about £800.
The house was packed up, our worldly goods were whisked off at the end of November and we lived in a pretty empty house for several weeks. Nancy wandered through the packing cases, possibly remembering the delights of a cosy cardboard box and slept in several of them. She’d had her rabies jab and the second visit showed she had developed antibodies so all was fine and we were all set. And then the coldest winter and the deepest snow for 120 years arrived and basically threw out all our plans.
Nancy never liked the snow and would often cross her legs until it had passed rather than venture out. The news was full of cancelled flights and roads unfit to pass. We still had to get to the vet despite several feet of snow in their car park but we made it there, exactly ten days before Robin and Nancy were due to leave. “Ah yes”, said the vet, “you’re emigrating to the sun, Nancy. Lucky you!” He checked her over and we chatted about the weather and the climate in Lanzarote. It was always difficult for a vet to listen to Nancy’s chest and heart as she purrs so loudly the minute you touch her. He shifted position and then tried again. We were just waiting for that signature on the pet passport and then we’d be off. He stopped, wound up the stethoscope and sighed.
“I’m afraid Nancy’s got a grade 4 heart murmur there.” And we both felt our stomachs hit the floor.
To be continued……
More information on Relocating to Lanzarote