Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Zaq, one of my two abyssinian cats

Our cats had to go into quarantine for six months in order to move to London. This was distressing. Everything I read on the web was negative. We couldn't get Pet's Passports in Africa, I suppose because it's too easy to slip something under the table. Our reputation for corruption has spread. So quarantine it had to be, complete with images of cruelty to pets and animals dying in quarantine. You can imagine how we felt.

We settled on the quarantine kennels in Chingford. They were the biggest we'd seen, with an inside and an outside cage, giving the cats twice as much space. They were used to a living area of 800 square metres, so they needed as much as possible. The cats arrived in September, just before the winter, and in retrospect I think this is the best time to have your cats in quarantine. They want to stay inside and be cosy. The Chingford kennels were heated, unlike some, and our cats did stay inside and be cosy.

There's a lot of discussion about whether or not to visit your cat. One school of throught says cats have no concept of time, so don't visit them. Crap. We visited our cats every Saturday. It became part of their routine and they looked forward to our visits, though they did so beg to be taken home. Next to them were three cats who never got visitors. They became more and more morose as the months went on. We discovered later their owners had moved to the Caribbean, where there are no quarantine facilities, and England was the best they could organise. Poor lonely cats.

Zaq picked up a lot of weight in quarantine. She's the more active cat, climbing onto the roof to chase the mynah birds. Nisa is more timid, but she likes to be outside in the trees. She became very withdrawn and homesick in quarantine.

They came home in April, with forest in blossom, and the longer, warmer days. Nisa was so surprised she didn't want to get into the cat box. I suppose she remembered how awful it was last time. We took them home on the bus, which caused major attention. Complete strangers would come up and coo into the box while we were at the bus stop, and everyone on the bus had to look into the cage to see the kitties. Even the people outside the bus.

The cats were quite terrified at first. Nisa gave me a very accusatory "I thought you said we were going home - this isn't it!" look, then ran upstairs and hid. Zaq ran into the lounge/dining room and hid. However, it wasn't long before they had gathered some composure and were sniffing around at everything.

By that evening, when we were sitting in the lounge, drinking wine and listening to classical music (instead of the footie and pop they got in quarantine) they were quite content. "Yes, I remember this" was very much the vibe, Zaq curled up on the couch and Nisa curled up on a chair next to the radiator. Nisa likes radiators, especially when they're warm.

In fact, they settled in so quickly that I took them out into the garden on day 3. They didn't go far, just sniffed around. Day 4 they discovered the hole in the fence that lets them into the forest. Nisa found her way back easily enough, but Zaq must have been frightened by a dog because she ran down the side of the house and became quite distressed at not knowing where she was. I was about to go out and look for her when the doorbell rang, and there was my neighbour Rita in her pajamas and dressing gown asking if that was my cat. (Rita has been waiting in some excitement for the cats to arrive.) As soon as Zaq saw me she bolted in through the door, of course.

Two years later, they own the place. And the forest, except when there are dogs. I'm glad I brought them. Quarantine doesn't have to be awful. Just do your homework and find a nice place.