I left my Mother crying at the airport. I knew my Father wouldn’t be able to console her, because even though he wasn’t sobbing like she was, I knew he was conflicted and sad to see his only daughter, who had never lived more than a couple hours away, fly off into the unknown.
Hugh and I weren’t even sure we would be able to leave that day because one of Ecuador’s active volcanoes, Volcán Tungurahua, blew its top the day before and if the wind blew the ash a certain direction the Quito International Airport would have to close for who knew how long.
This is a scenario we hadn’t anticipated. Sure, we knew Ecuador had volcanos, but knowing that fact did not prepare us for the ‘Throat of Fire’ wreaking havoc on our international moving plans.
We constantly checked our online resources that morning and were finally satisfied that the wind would continue to blow in our favor. So after lunch, we loaded our four fifty pound suitcases, thirty pounds of carry-on, and Triplet (the cat) into my mother’s SUV and rode in virtual silence as my parents drove us to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.
We unloaded our suitcases and the cat as quickly as we could outside the terminal. I didn’t think I would be able to make it through a long goodbye, so I gave a quick hug to my parents and darted inside the airport before I could think too much about leaving everything I had ever known behind.
We only had two hours to pay the extra fee for taking a cat with us and pass international security before our 3:30 Delta flight took off. The line to pay for the cat was long, but, thankfully, moved quickly. We lugged our load into the security line and dug out all our liquids and paperwork like good little passengers.
Now, I had never flown with a pet before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I guess I thought I would just carry her in her little travel carrier through the detector with me. Come to find out, I was only half right.
Her pet carrier had to go through on the conveyer belt, but SHE had to go through with me. In my arms. Which meant I had to take her out of the carrier. With hundreds of noisy and unhappy people surrounding us and all sorts of bells, whistles, and walkie talkies going off. AND the agent insisted on swabbing my hands for explosive residue. WHILE HOLDING THE CAT. I have scars on my shoulder to commemorate that part of the journey.
Once everyone was satisfied that neither I nor my cat was planning on blowing up the plane that afternoon, I was allowed to return her to her carrier. As I was stuffing her back in, a young agent with tightly woven dreads looked at me and said, “Is that cat wearing a shirt?”
The cat was, indeed, wearing a shirt. A ‘thunder shirt.’ The snug fitting little vest for cats and dogs that supposedly reduces anxiety from thunder, vet visits, curious children, and various animal psychoses. I wanted to do everything I could to ensure a smooth flight for all involved, so after opting not to drug her for the flight I coughed up the cash for this tiny little shirt to hug my cat for me all the way to Ecuador.
Any cat owner will tell you that one of the worst things about having cats is that, eventually, you have to take them to the vet. Cats DO NOT like being stuffed in little carriers (most cat lovers bear permanent reminders of that fact) and they make their displeasure loud and clear by mewing at the top of their little kitty lungs drowning out the radio in the car all the way to the vet’s office.
When we decided to move to Ecuador with our cat, Triplet, I began worrying about the logistics of her being in that confined space for so long and how much she might annoy our neighbors on the plane. Would she totally freak out? Would she cry the entire way? Nobody likes a fussy baby on a plane, so I was pretty sure nobody would appreciate a fussy cat, either.
So, on Triplet’s last doctor visit before we left, my husband and I asked the vet if there were any options for calming her on the trip. Airline policy clearly states that an animal has to be awake before it will be allowed to fly, so we knew we couldn’t just knock her out. Our vet suggested a tiny dose of valium, just to take the edge off. I told her I thought that was a grand idea, but what were we going to do with Triplet?
She gave us a couple of pills for Triplet (none for me, darn it!) and said we might want to do a trial run before we left so we would know how she might react. Hugh and I thought that was a good idea, so we took her home, stuffed a pill down her throat (not an easy or fun task), then left to run a few errands.
We were expecting to find a groovy chilled-out kitty on our return, but what we found was a falling down drunk and terrified cat. Maybe now is a good time to mention that Triplet only has three legs.
Triplet had wandered into our yard and our lives a year and a half earlier. She was a pitiful creature at that time with her black coat hanging loosely on her small frame and her little eyes all droopy and sad. She was so tiny we thought she was a kitten, except she had a disproportionally large head. The vet said she was probably at least four years old and was only that small because she was starving. She had been spayed and her leg had been surgically removed, so at one time she had been cared for, but something had obviously gone very wrong.
We don’t know how she ended up in our yard, or how long she had been trying to survive out on her own with only three legs. We tried to find her owner by putting out flyers and calling the local vets, but no one was looking for a three-legged black cat. That’s how she became part of our family.
We have no idea what happened to her leg. I’ve asked her several times, but she’s not ready to talk about it yet.
What we found when we returned from running our errands that day was heartbreaking. Triplet had lost all equilibrium which was magnified by her not having that back leg. She had fallen and knocked her food bowl over, so kibble was everywhere, and she had managed to turn her water bowl over, so water was everywhere. She was soaking wet on one side and her eyes were wide with panic. Her little heart was racing and she couldn’t stand up without immediately falling back down. I ended up having to hold her like a baby for the next five hours until the drugs finally wore off so she wouldn’t hurt herself.
That’s why we decided not to drug our cat for the journey, and why she arrived at the airport wearing a shirt.
I told the young lady that, yes, the cat was wearing a shirt. She wrinkled her nose and said, “Well, I ain’t never seen that before.” Truth be told, neither had I. I was beginning to wonder if they made ‘thunder shirts’ for humans.
We flew to Atlanta first because it cost $150.00 LESS each ticket to fly from Charlotte to Atlanta first rather than take a direct flight from Charlotte to Quito. Don’t ‘cha love airline logic? Then, after a two movie flight from Atlanta to Quito, we arrived safe and sound in Ecuador at 10:15 that evening.
Triplet was not amused when I had to take her out of her traveling cocoon at the customs counter in Quito, but at least we didn’t have to go through the explosives song and dance again. After we collected our bags, we waded through a sea of Spanish and finally spotted Hugh’s name on a waving placard.
A cheery, middle-aged Ecuadorian woman led us to a waiting taxi where we overrode all laws of physics by somehow managing to get all four suitcases, our carry-ons, the cat, and ourselves into what was, I swear, a clown-car. This vehicle was made for Lilliputians, not robust American men like my husband. But Hugh was a good sport and, although our non-English-speaking cabbie drove as if he were on the final lap of the Indie 500, he did get us to our hostel safe and sound.
After we checked in and stored our suitcases behind the desk, the owner of the place, Dom, said he would show us up to our room. As we stepped outside to make our way to the stairs a distinct odor engulfed us. Dom said, “Do you smell that?” I replied, “Yes. I do.” He said, “I think someone is smoking pot.” I said, “Yes. It would appear so.”
Welcome to Ecuador.
Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador is now available in Kindle and paperback!