Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jess and Blackie continued

Yesterday I posted the first part of Jess and Blackie which you can read by clicking here. We started off by kitty-sitting these  two cats for the second time this year in August and ended up "owning" them when their original owner died of malaria in South Africa.

After trying unsuccessfully to integrate Jess and Blackie into our home which is inhabited by our own cats, Ginger, Shadow and Ambrose, and after an especially vitriolic fight between Blackie and Ginger, we decided to send the cats to South Africa to Rina, their erstwhile owner.

After confirming with Rina that she can house the cats in her rented apartment, I mailed our animal travel agency in South Africa, Global Paws. I've used this agency since 2006 when we flew our cat Mandu from West Africa to South Africa; we enlisted their help again when we brought Shadow from Khartoum in North Africa to South Africa in October 2010. Six months later, Global Paws arranged Shadow's relocation from SA to Kenya where, by now,  we'd inherited an old bush cat, Ginger.. We later rescued Ambrose, a starving and tick-infested kitten of about six weeks. All three these cats sniffed each other when they first met, and were good friends ever after. Early in 2012 we moved these cats from Kenya to Tanzania where we presently live and work. 

And we thought that was that until we finally leave to retire back in South Africa. Naaah

As you can imagine I know most of the senior consultants and animal handlers (who take and collect your animals from the airport) by name. I contacted Yvette, a senior consultant whom we'd met over the phone when we moved Shadow from Khartoum to SA and later in person when we took Shadow from Johannesburg to Nairobi in mid-2011. I asked her to open a file and send me the admin relating to moving two cats from East to South Africa.  

Which is what she did.

Once I'd printed the documents, I set them out on my desk and began to fill in the various forms. The most important document, apart from the import permit which came later, was titled Veterinary Health Certificate in respect of cats for Export into South Africa.

On it you have to enter your name and the name of the person to whom the cats are sent. There is also a block where you enter the cat's name and inoculations : the batch number and name of the medication. The second page is a declaration by a State Vet stating that he declares the cats healthy, inoculated against infectious diseases, especially rabies and are also free of internal parasites.  

Eezie peezie - I've done this many times before.

The next box had the corresponding numbers 1,2 3, 4 and you're instructed to enter the first cat as above and next to it the Microchip number. As I saw this, I opened the first cat's  health book to check the numbers. My heart sank: there were no bar-coded numbers in their books. Not one! I felt sick when I realized what I'd done. While assisting the vet the day he operated on the cats and also inserted their Microchips, I'd inadvertently scooped up the bloodied swabs and used syringes along with the blister packs that had contained the Microchip syringes, and binned it all. 
 The blister pack which contains Microchip syringe. On the reverse are the bar-coded numbers which you peel off and record in the cat's health book

I spent a sleepless night mentally kicking myself for this stupid mistake. So when Grant awoke next morning and greeted me, I burst into tears. (he'd never seen this in our 41 years together) I told him about my faux pas, and he immediately phoned one of the men who were out on leave in Bloemfontein. This kind guy bought two new Microchips from our personal vet and brought them to Mwadui.  (that's why I could show you the pack above) 

Grant then arranged for our local vet who sees to our Guest House dogs, to insert the chips under the skin in Jess and Blackie's left shoulders. Our cats were now double chipped! 

This time I carefully peeled the bar-coded numbers from the blister pack and stuck them into the respective cat's book.  Now I could complete my part of the SA veterinary health certificate for cats. Next I tried to contact Dr Mawaluko whose cell phone was constantly on voice-mail. In desperation I sent him a text to which he replied that he was in a conference in Dar es Salaam until Friday 29th November. He said he'd contact me as soon as he was back in Mwanza and arrange to come and see me.

I'd provisionally asked Yvette to work towards the cats leaving the country (via Dar Es Salaam airport) on Friday 6th December. So there wasn't  lot of time or a any margin for error. 

Meanwhile Grant's local security officer, Albert discovered  a state vet in Shinyanga. Grant sent him to town with me; I was clutching the cats' original vet books and the ubiquitous health certificate in my hands. When we arrived a lady ushered us into an office and invited us to sit down on chairs facing a desk. She then told us that the vet was not in the office and asked Albert to phone him. Albert spoke to this person on the phone and found out that he'd had malaria but would be back at work the next day. 

We trundled out of the building and back to the vehicle and were driven back to Mwadui. The next afternoon, Thursday, 28th November,  Grant sent me and Albert to Shinyanga again. This time the same lady met us and once again showed us into an office;  an inner room this time, which looked like it would be occupied by an important person. (the state vet, I thought hopefully?) 

Soon a man bustled into the office and after greeting me and Albert, (Tanzanians are very polite)  he asked how he could help us. He was seated on the opposite side of a desk whereas Albert and I were sitting at the corner of another desk pushed against his. In front of me was a desktop computer tree with a multitude of cords draped across my lap. Disentangling myself from the computer wiring, I stood up, passed him the papers and began to explain that I needed his signature as the State vet of Shinyanga to enable us to initiate our cats' move to SA. 

He held my papers in his right hand and with the other hand indicated I should sit down. Then he read the form, both pages and looked up at me. Yessss, I thought, he's going to sign and stamp my form! Instead he said he'd have to take my form to Mwanza next week, where the State Veterinary offices were situated. There he'd collect a specially typed letter on my behalf authorizing me to move the cats from this area to Dar Es Salaam. The more I explained that I need that specific form from South Africa signed and stamped by him and quickly too, the more he told me he would get arrange for a letter which confirmed that I may move my cats. Each time I'd try to convince him (I dredged up every reasonable reason I could think of) I'd get up, disentangle myself from the computer cords and lean over four feet of desk area; at the same time he'd flap his hand in my direction and say: Madam, please sit! 

Eventually I said I'd go home and wait  for my own vet to return from Dar Es Salaam. (I was that frustrated!)  He wasn't going to let go of me so easily and told Albert that he'd contact him as soon as he'd been in touch with the Livestock Control Officer in Mwanza.

I returned home in a rather very tense state. 

I tried to phone Dr Mawaluko again; no reply. Grrr.

On Friday morning I received a phone call from a Dr Mapunda who said he was phoning from Shinyanga State Veterinary offices and would like to give me the number of the Chief State Vet in Mwanza. Dr Mapunda understood when I said I needed specific South African forms signed and stamped by the State vet but also suggested that I accept their offer of an authorizing letter which I could attach to the National Health Certificate.  

Meanwhile our SA travel agent had put me in touch with an expeditor company in Dar Es Salaam. Enter Zahra, owner of Regent Tanzania Ltd, whom I met over the phone. She promptly requested a truck - load of information as well.She contacted our domestic flight companies which fly from Mwanza to Dar Es Salaam and found out that they don't take live animals anymore. Grant said he'd arrange an air conditioned taxi for me and I'd transport the cats by road, 1000km to Dar. Phew! 

Dear Zahra,  the proverbial angel. came to the rescue. She had found a charter company which flies tourists and expats across the Serengeti National Park, via Arusha and eventually to Dar. I phoned the offices of Coastal Aviation and spoke to a lady called Sieve. (She told me she was Swedish) She kindly kept me a seat on the plane, with 12kg of excess luggage (the cats weighed 6kg each) and said I could pay for the ticket when I arrived.  

Zahra also put me in touch with a state vet, Dr Sinare in Dar, who owned kennels. The cats would spend Thursday night in his kennels while I stayed over at the New Africa Hotel in the city center. 

Meanwhile I tried to contact Dr Mawaluko every couple of minutes. He should have been home in Mwanza by now and answering his phone. But all I got was a voice mail saying he wasn't available! I was frustrated beyond comprehension. On Sunday morning Grant arrived home and handed me his telephone. He had Dr Mawaluko on the line. I managed to convince this gentleman to come to Mwadui to sign my forms on Monday, 2nd December. Afterwards he phoned me back and said he would be in Shinyanga and could I please meet him there at 2pm and he'd sign and stamp the forms. I agreed.

Later that Sunday Grant and I took the company GM, Jonnie to Shinyanga, for a meal at our favorite hotel, Butiama. As we were preparing to leave for home, my phone rang. It was Dr Mawaluko. He said he was in Shinyanga as we arranged and when would he see me. *sigh* 

I didn't have the paperwork with me, so now I had to convince him to ride his motorbike to Mwadui and sign the forms here in our home. We were home a few minutes when he pulled up at our gate. He signed and stamped the forms; I paid him his travel fare and we parted best of friends.

On Monday I received a mail from Elsabe at Global Paws, (Yvette had gone on leave) who said she was still waiting for the import permit which allows the cats into SA. Grant and I discussed moving the flight date from the 6th to Tuesday 10th December. 

However, when I opened my mail on Tuesday,  3rd December, the import permit had arrived from SA. I phoned Grant and together we decided that I should fly out from Mwanza to Dar on Thursday 5th December as we originally decided.  I confirmed with Sieve that I'd be on the flight on Thursday. I also phoned Zahra who said the export permit to allow the cats to leave East Africa, would take only a day to obtain.  

Meanwhile, Grant arranged with the chief of security to take copies of the SA veterinary health certificates to the Mwanza State vet offices. This man speaks the language fluently and said he'd return with the completed forms. Not only did he get another stamp and signature of another state vet, he also had a covering letter stating the the two cats, Jess and Blackie were able to leave the zonal area of Shinyanga/Mwanza.  

On Wednesday I took two of our travel cages into my bedroom, lined them with tee-shirts that I'd worn (this helps the cats to feel close to you while they travel!). I placed two small toys in each cage. I opened the metal doors and within minutes the two cats were exploring the insides and around the cages. 
 Jess and Blackie show great interest in the cages. My tee-shirt and small toys are already in the cage

 A few of their favorite things: Blackie loves the brown teddy and the woolly, blue baby booty. Jess loves the blue teddy and a cork mouse with a feathered tail

Just before 5pm Regina came in to say goodbye to the cats. Jess was there to greet her, but Blackie shot under the bed and wouldn't come out again! 
Regina calls Jess by waving a teddy at him
Then she picked him up and gave him a hug. Regina was invaluable during the time that we had all these cats in the house

That night Grant and I went through the documents together. When we were both satisfied we had all our ducks in a row, I placed all the originals in a brown A5 envelope and sealed it. I attached it to the top of one cage with miles of sticky tape. This envelope had to remain secure on the top of this cage until the cats arrived in SA. I'd also typed my name and Global Paws Johannesburg address in large font, printed it an attached one on each cage. 

Next morning I was up at 3.30 and gave the cats a teeny bit of food. Soon afterwards I cajoled each cat into a cage and closed and locked the doors. I attached two spare keys to the top of each cage and kept one key each in my wallet. These I would hand to the people from Regent Tanzania Ltd who would meet me at the airport and transport the cats to Dr Sinare's kennels. 

Our company driver, Fred arrived at 5.30, Grant loaded my suitcase and the two cats on the back seat and we were off. Although Jess yowled once or twice before we reached the main road to leading to Mwanza, the cats soon settled down  in their cages. 
Blackie, left and Jess in their cages on the floor of Coastal Aviation offices. The brown envelope is just visible on top of Jess' cage. My name and the SA travel agency address is on the top of each cage

After I'd paid Sieve for my ticket, a porter came to collect the cats' cages and I followed him into the airport. My hand luggage went through the security screen, but the cats had to be carried along a corridor with no security surveillance. As I turned towards the small departure hall, I saw the porter carry the cats across the tarmac. I could see the cages on the ground below the plane. 

By 8.30 we were called to the exit and I made my way to the plane. I waited until the other passengers climbed inside, then the porter carried the cats up the steps and placed them in a baggage storage area at the back of the small plane. I entered and sat in the last row. The plane was a ten-seater and very small. 
 The plane seated ten passengers, the pilot and an empty seat next to him 

When the pilot got in, he told us which stops we'd be making (three in the Serengeti) and how long each leg would take.  At Arusha we'd be allowed out for a pit stop; we'd also change planes and pilots. From there it was an hour long flight to Zanzibar and finally twenty minutes to Dar Es Salaam.
The stops within Serengeti were to drop off (and pick up) expats who worked for lodges within the park 

Each time new people (some tourists) climbed aboard, I'd move their hand luggage away from the cats' cages so that they still had air circulating around them.

 At Arusha the cats were removed from the aircraft and placed in shade of a wing

 Although I took several photos from the airport building, the mist only allows an illusion of the great Mount Meru. (Mt Kilimanjaro is a little to the rear and right of this mountain but it was so shrouded with cloud I couldn't get any photos as we flew over 

 Zanzibar with a tourist who had just alighted from our plane in the foreground. I didn't have the energy by this time to straighten the photo

We waited in plane on Zanzibar for about ten minutes. It was unbearably hot in the aircraft and we were all pleased when the pilot returned and we took off again. The last lap: twenty minutes later we landed at Julius Nyerere International Airport. A porter pushing a smallish trolly dashed across the tarmac and quickly loaded all the luggage from the hold below. I was the last to leave the plane and realized that the porter was not going to take the cats unless I reminded him. He returned and together we held two precariously balanced cat travel cages on top of the luggage. 

Inside the arrivals hall, he handed all the other passengers their bags and pushed the trolly, containing my small case and the cats,  out into the sunlight. There I was met by Mr Mbaga and an assistant. Their car was standing nearby and they were ready to take the cats to the kennels. I handed them the two keys for the cage locks and asked them not to remove the brown envelope or my address from the cages. The assured me that they would take care of our cats and their admin. 

 A poignant moment: the last time I would see Blackie ...
...and Jess for a long time

Our HO company driver, Mohamed collected me after this and took me across town to the supermarket near Seacliff hotel (I was unable to get a booking there that night) Here I bought chocolates and a variety of cheese for our Christmas table later this month. I also bought as many sachets of Ginger, Shadow and Ambrose' favorite Cod and Plaice and Tuna in jelly that I'd be able to fit into my suitcase. 

Then Mohamed took me back to the city center where I checked into the hotel without any problems.  By the time I reached my room, it was 5.30pm and I was bushed. 

I phoned Dr Sanire to find out if the cats had been installed in their larger cages yet. He said they were safely kenneled, had been fed and watered. They had litter trays and he said when he checked on them, they were keeping each other company!

Just then Zahra phoned me and said she'd not yet received the export permit so that cats would not be able to fly to SA the next morning. She also said that she'd like to come to the hotel and meet me. 

I showered and went downstairs at about 7.15. Fortunately I'd taken my Kindle with me and sat in the foyer reading until Zahra arrived at 8pm. It was good to meet the person who was responsible for getting the cats out of EA. She also assured me that she knew Dr Sanire very well and that my cats were safe in his kennels for another day and night. 
When I got into bed at 9.30, I put my head down and slept until my alarm went off at 3.45 am! Mohamed collected me at 4.20am and dropped me at the airport just before 5. My flight back to Mwanza (this time on a commercial airline) took off at 6am.

Fred collected me at Mwanza airport at 7.30am. While he loaded my one suitcase and back pack (all crammed with Christmas goodies and cat food) onto the back seat, I phoned Grant to say I had landed.  When he told me that Nelson Mandela had passed away, I had to choke back the tears. Although expected, this was still sad news and I think I was so emotionally drained with the events of the past month, that it caused these feelings to well up. 

While traveling home to Mwadui, I phoned Zahra who said she still didn't have the export permit. She said she was sending a messenger to the ministry at midday when she'd been promised the permit would be ready. Meanwhile, the people at the ministry phoned Dr Sanire and said that certain documents supporting the request for the permit were not  acceptable (Zahra told me later that it was the document signed and stamped by Dr Mawaluko) Dr Sanire said he would issue an authentic document with all the cats' details on it. As State Vet in Dar Es Salaam he would sign and stamp it too. To ensure he was recording correct information, he used his Chip reader to scan each cat. He phoned me and said that the numbers which appear on the reader's screen do not correspond with the numbers in their health books. When I explained that the cats had two chips each and he burst out laughing. He said seeing as they were double chipped, he would issue a covering letter with his form to explain this. He sent the letter and form to the ministry and at 4.30pm on Friday 6th December, Zahra phoned me to say she had the cats' export permit! 

The next morning at 5am, she sent me a text to say the cats were on the SA Airways flight to Johannesburg. 

At midday Elsabe from Global Paws phoned me and said her animal handler, Donovan (who collects the pets from the airport once they've been cleared by the customs and the South African State vet) notified her that he couldn't raise Rina's brother who was collecting the cats. A while later I rang him and he said that Donovan had just rung him. They'd arranged a pick-up point for him to collect the cats. 

At 2.45pm my phone rang and I was Rina. She was in tears. She said the cats had arrived, and that they were beautiful and in such good condition. She was crying because that day, 7th December would have been Dick's 67th birthday and that being reunited with her kitties was a wonderful gift marking the occasion. 

We spoke to Rina again on Sunday and today I received a text from her. Both times she has sounded so happy to have her babies back with her. Grant and I feel sure this will give her something to focus on after three difficult months of widowhood.

And the Hedges Kitty household? It has returned to normal. Ginger sleeps at my feet at night (and not tucked in behind my pillow), Shadow has "his" bathroom back, and Ambrose? Well, Ambrose is so soft-natured and laid back. I just think he's happy that Dad Ginger and Unca Shadow are happy again. 

Ginger inspects the foster cats' tree in my bathroom

Shadow is back in his favorite window spot in my bathroom

I'm linking this post to Our World Tuesday which you can access by clicking here


  1. Jo, you are indomitable. Once you take on a responsibility, nothing stops you. If I had half your energy, I'm sure I could move mountains.
    I am absolutely sure the cats are just what Rina needs to get her through the Christmas season and into the New Year.
    It's so sad that her husband died. He and I were only 6 days apart in age, and my Dick will be 70 at the end of March.
    Please hug my dear Shadow, and sweet Ambrose and his dad Ginger for me.
    Now I must thank you for sending me a Christmas card all the way across the world. It is right here with me on my computer table.
    Then you and Grant hug one another from me, and you can be sure people around the world are feeling the loss of dear Mr. Mandela, an example of forbearance and forgiveness we would all do well to emulate.
    Much love, K

  2. Wow, Jo! That is quite the story - ordeal. I'm so glad that it is finished and the cats are now back with Rina. I agree with you and Grant that this is just what she and the cats need at this time. Given everything it took to return her "babies" to here and the date on which they arrived, it is obvious that all this was "put together" in a way to bring some joy and happiness to someone who really needs it. You and Grant are angels for making it all happen. It's okay to cry at the loss of someone like Madiba. I think most of us did the same even though we were not dealing with the same tense events you were. Big hugs. xx

  3. OMG ! what an adventure and work ! You must have been half dead with all these worries, travels, stress etc !
    I think it would have been more easier for two terrorists with one kg of heroine and 2 guns to enter the States then 2 innocent cats leaving Tanzania and arriving safely in SA ! My goodness what a paperwork. Nobody can say you don't love cats !

  4. I....AM....EXHAUSTED!!!Hahahaa!!!

    My Word Girl! How DO you DO everything that you DO????
    You are incredible!


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