Sunday, February 6, 2011

Finally my Indian cats leave quarantine

Yesterday was the day my two Indian, or rather, Mumbai street cats left quarantine in Britain to enter their new home and start a new life in Somerset.
It was an emotional day.
I collected the cats from their quarantine pen in Britain where they have been staying since arriving from India
If you want to import animals from non EU countries, that still have rabies (such as India) into the UK, the cat or dog has to be put in a quarantine kennel for six months. There are a few exceptions, such as the USA and Hong Kong, but in the case of most non EU countries, including India, South Africa and Dubai, the British law currently states that the pet has to go into quarantine at the owner's expense. It is a derogation from EU law as usually Britain has to do whatever the EU does (and the EU does not have such strict regulations for importing animals) but somehow Defra has got consent not to follow the EU on this matter. The cost of putting my two cats into quarantine was £3,000 (Rs 2 Lakh Rs 20,000) and that excluded the cost of flights.

Some people are against quarantine as they believe, apart from being outdated, it is unpleasant for the animals and the owners. I guess if you look at humans, they arrive in airports every day carrying diseases, but they are not put into quarantine (unless they have swine flu!)  Quarantine was introduced into Britain more than 100 years ago, so it is certainly an ancient law and science has certainly progressed since then. In fact, there are now blood tests which can prove an animal has been vaccinated against rabies, which most countries use, so one wonders why quarantine is still in place in Britain. Another problem is that the costs are very prohibitive so many people are tempted to smuggle their animals in via Dover into the UK inside their cars. Scores of animals are caught entering the UK this way, and their owners  prosecuted, but I wonder how many more get through without ever being caught? That is a worrying thought.
A picture of the large quarantine pen with the door closed. This is where the two cats were kept.
In my case, the quarantine kennel staff did their best to make my cats' stay pleasant and there were plenty of toys and scratch boards inside their airy pen so I am very grateful. However, I don't think the cats especially enjoyed it. Being locked up, with the sounds of dogs barking nearby and random cats and people coming and going, without their owner present, was quite distressing. This of course would have happened in any kennel. Fortunately since they were Mumbai cats, they were fairly resilient and adapted quite quickly, often quicker than the other posh pedigree cats inside. It was funny because whenever I visited my older cat she would be thrilled to see me and then ignore me - to punish me for leaving her there, similar to the behaviour you might see from a woman in  love with a man who was upset he went away too much. The younger cat, however, was very frightened at first and hid in a box all day, refusing to greet me at all. I had to buy a special infuser called Feliway to stimulate her to come out. It eventually worked as it imitated her own scent and spread her smell around the room.

What I learnt from all this was that a cat is very attached to its owner, not to its physical home - thus exploding the myth that cats are attached to a place and not a person. During the period of my cats being in quarantine, even  if I did not visit them  for two weeks, they knew exactly who I was. When I took the cats out yesterday, they knew who I was. They never ever forgot.

Yesterday morning they arrived at their new country home, a world away from their previous home in Mumbai and quarantine.

I arrive home with the two cats
I introduced them to the garden first, in their cages, so they could see it.
One cat takes a look at the garden...She isn't allowed to go outside for a few weeks.
Dozens of birds were tweeting, country smells filled the air and they seemed ecstatic. This was like Paradise for them. Then I took them upstairs to my bedroom. They were astonished and curious and dashed around, sniffing every corner, opening every cupboard door and checking out the view from the window. After about an hour and a half, they had cottoned on to the fact this was their new home. The younger one, who usually hid in quarantine as as she was nervous, sat on my bed and stretched out on her back, waiting to be stroked on her tummy. I did and she started purring, for the first time ever since landing in England. She had not purred once in quarantine, no matter how much I stroked her on my visits. She was smart. She knew she was back with me and this was our home. She was in fact way smarter than I realised. That is why I dispute the belief that cats are attached to places, not people. My cats did not care this was not the Bandra flat. There were no signs of either of them missing their old lives, the hot weather of India, Mumbai, or even their quarantine kennel. They both had lived with me all their lives and now we were back together and that was all that seemed to count. They were most definitely attached to a person and not a place.

Little did they know there was a lot more to my house than the bedroom, but I was undertaking one step at a time. The next day they would get to see the conservatory. I needed them to feel secure, so that when I did eventually let them in the garden, they recognised the house as their home. Naturally they ignored the expensive scratch board I had bought, preferring to claw up the carpet and ignored the expensive cat bed, preferring my bed.

I put the radio on and settled down to do some work on my laptop. But before long the older cat had jumped onto my dressing table and kicked the cafetiere over, spilling coffee and granules all over the till then stain-free carpet.  As soon as I had mopped that up, the younger cat jumped across my desk, spilling a half drunk cup of tea over my papers in her stride. I saw this just in time to rescue the laptop. Next the younger cat got a fetish for the roses in a vase on the window sill. As she bit and pulled at a stalk, the vase wobbled and the water and vase went flying.
Both cats check my bedroom out
Next the elder cat jumped up on the bookshelf, pushing the cordless phone and all the ornaments off.

This was just like having kids, it dawned on me, as I took away all the ornaments, vases and coffee mugs and redesigned my room in a cat-friendly manner. I should have done it before they arrived.

At night, I moved them into the conservatory. Since it is made up only of glass, they had a full view of the garden. I went to bed worried about them and set my alarm clock for 3am so I could go down and check on them. Rather than finding them asleep, I was shocked to find the elder cat frozen in a defensive aggressive position, with her fur all stuck up on end. Her tail had tripled its thickness and she looked frightened out of her mind. I realised she must have come face to face with a badger or fox through the glass. I stroked her and went back to sleep, setting my alarm clock for 7am so I could go and check on them again. As a result I felt exhausted this morning. There was so much more I needed to show them and teach  them. It was just like having a new baby or toddler in  the house and I felt just as exhausted as a new parent claims to.

In fact, for the first time ever, I started to appreciate how tired new parents must feel. Until now I had never quite understood the responsibilities my friends faced being a parent, since I was footloose and single myself.  But now that had changed somewhat. I sometimes couldn't quite believe that a  street cat and her daughter from Mumbai were now in my home. It seemed at once absurd and at once a miracle. "You should write a story about their lives and call it Slumcat Millionaire, " my Dad joked.