Ru the Arubian Street Cat
The trials and tribulations of rescuing Ru the Arubian street cat. Overcoming politics, policies and procedures to bring him back safely to the UK.
11th May 2017
Since arriving in Aruba on 2nd May I have made friends with a stray cat who lives in the bushes outside our hotel in the evenings. I call him Ru. He is a small black domestic shorthair with stunning eyes. I see him most evenings and he is very talkative! Guests are feeding him food scraps and leaving cups of water but he looks so vulnerable.This is no life for a cat. Living off scraps. I have fallen in love. I would like to take him home and keep him safe. Could I? Is it possible?
12th May 2017
Sleepless night thinking about the possibility of getting Ru back to the UK. After many hours of searching on Google I have discovered Aruba is a rabies free country and it looks as though it should be simple enough to get him home. The Government website states that Aruba is a 'listed country' so I need to get him microchipped, a rabies vaccination and a health certificate which has to be dated within 10 days of flying. Seems simple enough. Off I go to see Jessie the holiday rep to recruit her to my cause.....
......I have spoken to Jessie who in turn has spoken to her boss Sarah. They have never had a guest ask about getting a cat home so it's all a bit new. Sarah offers to look after Ru until the flight if I need. I leave Jessie making enquiries about the technicalities of getting Ru home and go back to my room to call the Animal Reception Centre (A.R.C) at Gatwick to confirm I am doing all that is required to get through customs. Excited!!
Oh no! I feel my dreams have been crushed. Having spoken to A.R.C I have discovered that on the list of requirements for import that the rabies vaccination had a internet link attached which I had not noticed. The link states that Ru has to wait 21 days after vaccination before he can travel. I leave in 5 days. He can't fly with me. The dream is over. With a heavy heart I speak to Jessie to let her know. She will ask cat lover Sarah if she can give Ru a home. This gives me some consolation but I am still upset I can't get my little guy home. I am more attached than I realise.
13th May 2017
Ru was very affectionate today. I'm so sorry I can't take you home.
14th May 2017
I hired a jeep today to tour the island and to take my mind off of Ru. Did not work! Driving along the main road I saw a cat on the side of the road that had been killed by a car. Parking the jeep there was a skinny stray who hid underneath it trying to escape the 34 degree heat. I can't leave Ru. I will do all I can to get him home.
Ok, so the 21 days thing is obviously an issue. I need someone in Aruba on side who can look after him, take him to the vets and to the airport on D-day. It is a lot to ask but I decide to ask cat lover Sarah....I have nothing to lose and Ru to gain! Its Sunday and the reps are on a day off. Cue another sleepless night! There are so many strays here in Aruba. I have found a page on facebook called "We care for our pets Aruba" who have recently posted something beyond disturbing....
"We have been hearing, seeing and reading about all the cruel and sad things that are happening on the island with the animals.
- *Animals being taken.
- *Animals being poisoned
- *Hot water being thrown on animals
- *Animals being hit by cars for the sport
- *Animals being beaten severely
- *Animals being starved just to see how long they can go before they die
- *Animals tied in the blazing sun
- *Animals being dumped, because they are unwanted
- *Many being put in the Killcage
15th May 2017
The UK is 5 hours ahead of Aruba so before I go to see Jessie I have managed to get a transport quote from UK company AIA travel. It's going to cost £780 plus another £60 for a document I have to get to declare he is my pet and not commercial....and that does not include the fees for handling etc at Aruba airport (BIG GULP!). WOW! I could get a free cat at home or spend £840+ to get this cat. It's decision time..........decision made.......even if it means beans on toast for years to come and no more holidays for the foreseeable future I will find the money somehow. I know I will be judged for spending this amount of money but cat people will understand!
Without someone helping me in Aruba none of this can happen. I need to speak to Sarah.
I speak to Jessie the second she arrives at the hotel for the day and she phones Sarah.
After explaining my grand plan to Sarah she agrees to be my Arubian angel and help me in my plight. Massive relief. This just might happen. I fly home tomorrow and there seems to be so much to arrange. Sarah will meet me at the hotel this evening to collect Ru and take him to hers for foster care until everything is arranged.
PM - Sarah came to the hotel while I was having a nice cuddle with Ru. It's nice to speak with a like minded person who understands why I am going to such lengths. She tells me she has spoken to colleagues at Thomson who advised her they do not fly pets to the UK??? Thomson are the only airline to fly direct from Aruba to the U.K. How can AIA give me a quote if the flight is not possible? Someone is mistaken and I hope it's Thomson otherwise this can't happen. I will phone AIA in the morning. After speaking for 30 minutes it's time to box Ru up. At this point he decides to hide under the only car in the area. Buses and cars are whizzing past and I worry he will run out from under it. After another 30 minutes and arms scratched to pieces Ru is in the crate. Little bugger does not appreciate what I'm trying to do. I want to give you a better life....a long life! Sarah will come back in the morning and we will take Ru to the vet for the rabies vaccination and microchip before my flight in the afternoon. We have become friends on Facebook and before I fall asleep I get a message to say Ru is hiding on top of the wardrobe. He is scared but he is safe.
16th May 2017
I have spoken to AIA who confirm their quote is for a flight with Thomson Airlines and it is a direct flight from Aruba to Gatwick. Are they wrong in thinking they can arrange the flight or is Thomson wrong thinking they don't accept pets? I have found Thomson accept pets in their terms and conditions so maybe it's just for flights from Aruba? I ask for AIA to send me an email to confirm they will transport.
Sarah arrives with Ru and we go to the vet. I hope I'm not putting him through this for nothing. I must start the process so I can start the clock ticking for the 21 day wait after the vaccine and just hope this can all be sorted out.
At the vets they guess Ru to be around 5 months old which surprises me as he is so small but apparently Arubian cats are smaller than UK cats. I ask about known health problems on the island and they advise that feline aids and leukaemia are an issue so we decide to do a blood test. It will take 10 minutes to get the result. Longest 10 minutes of my life. NEGATIVE! Thank god. Microchip and rabies vaccination complete. Worming tablet given. He appears in good health. Relief. All being well Sarah will bring him back in a few weeks for his certificate to fly. The certificate then needs to be signed by a government official. Sarah has sent pets to her home country of Holland so seems proficient with this stage. I'm so fortunate to have her helping me. It cost £149 for the vet which will include his final certificate to fly. Sarah drops me back at the hotel and I say goodbye to Ru. Will I be able to get him home? Is this the last time I will see him? Everything is so uncertain but I know I will fight and Sarah will be with me every step of the way too.
17th May 2017
Back in the U.K. I have received a message from Sarah " Hi, how was your flight? Little Ru is behind the couch still scared but he has eaten yesterday and went to the toilet". Aw, my poor boy. Now I'm back in the UK I can start doing my bit from here. I recontact the A.R.C at Gatwick to make sure I have followed procedure so far. They tell me that Thomson have flown cats from Aruba before but the last time was in October 2015. Have procedures and policies changed from this date? I send Sarah a message to let her know and get a reply "Oh really? That's good to hear! Now we have evidence haha! Our ground handler is now also emailing back and forth".
I try and take comfort that another person has joined the fight. I can't just go ahead and book the flight as Sarah is arranging the travel crate and I will need the dimensions and weight for the booking. Everything is out of my hands at the moment. I know just finding an airline approved crate on the island is going to be a mission in itself.
19th May 2017
I have found a number for UK Thomson Cargo I will give them a call and see what I can find out....
Ok, the Thomson Cargo number was actually the AIA pet number who had told me they could transport and I was awaiting an email from. I was taken aback when it was answered 'AIA' so I just asked what I needed to do to bring a cat back from Aruba. She went through the microchip, rabies vaccination list and health certificate which are all in hand. Brilliant..........then she stopped and began to correct herself......."no, Thomson have put an embargo on all pets coming from Aruba about a year ago. I don't know why. I know this as another customer was trying to get a cat back" (yes that's me, you still haven't sent me an email!). I ask if I can bring him via another country but they do not facilitate that, it has to be direct. I don't know if this is an official government ruling or just something they can't do. I feel I have lost this round but the fight continues.
I phoned the government Pet Travel helpline. There is no government rule that pets cannot come in from Aruba so this is purely a Thomson embargo. While in Aruba Sarah had suggested taking Ru via the Netherlands. I check with the helpline and this is a possibility. Ru would arrive in the Netherlands and complete their border controls and then have his health certificate stamped. This then makes the certificate equivalent to a EU pet passport and he can travel within the EU for 4 months with the passport. I could then go to the Netherlands to bring him back to the UK. I still have to go through an A.R.C so, as I live in the south west my nearest airport with an A.R.C is the London airports or Bristol.
21st May 2017
After messaging Sarah it definitely seems we are going to try the Netherlands route because of the Aruba/UK pet embargo. She is trying to find a volunteer who is travelling in the near future to bring him from Aruba to Amsterdam. Tui Fly allow pets in the cabin on flights to Amsterdam and you just pay for the extra kilos so it will be the cheaper option anyway. I will then look to go to Amsterdam and bring him back from there, whether that is on a flight or ferry. From my searches it appears most, if not all flights into the UK, will require Ru to travel as cargo and I will therefore need an agent to transport him.
I have sent a number of requests for quotes to cargo agents in the Netherlands. There is also the possibility of EuroTunnel and then drive to Amsterdam, or a ferry. One way or another Ru will come home.
The last update from Sarah was he is still hiding under the couch but is eating well.
23rd May 2017
I have received a message from Sarah. She may have found a volunteer to bring Ru from Aruba to Amsterdam. I feel like an expectant parent! So exciting! She is seeing them tomorrow so I will have to wait.
I have received 2 quotations back from courier agents for transport between Amsterdam and Gatwick:-
- Eagle Freight - 544 euros
- Zoologisitics - 862 euros
Ridiculous! Depending on the agent he would have to be taken to the airport either the day before or 5 hours before. If I could fly him back in the cabin from Amsterdam I would but it seems he has to go in the hold and I would therefore need a courier. I am not allowed to arrange it directly with the airline.
I have ruled out the ferry as Ru would have to stay alone on the car deck in a kennel overnight. I think it would be far too scary and noisy.
I have deceived I will bring him back via Eurotunnel. Who knows, it may end up costing the same or more than the courier but at least he will be with me. The customs procedure at Calais seems more straight forward as well. I just take him into the A.R.C at Calais, they scan his microchip, check his documentation and away we go (fingers crossed). At Gatwick A.R.C they say it can take up to 4 hours for him to clear customs....why are they making it so complicated. Calais it is.
26th May 2017
Well it has been a nail biting few days waiting to hear back from Sarah. Unfortunately my potential volunteer is not willing to bring Ru back. Really disappointed. I understand where they are coming from. They don't know who I am and it is a lot to ask of someone. I don't like being at the mercy of strangers. The search continues for a volunteer travel buddy for Ru.
27th May 2017
We have a volunteer!! They will be arriving in Amsterdam June 10th. Journey is going to be long but at least my boy is coming home!! So excited!
29th May 2017
I have booked the Euro Tunnel for Friday 9th with a return of Saturday 10th so I will drive Dorset to Folkestone which will take around 4 hours , 30 minutes in the tunnel and then Calais to Amsterdam which is another 4.5 hours, stay the night and then do it all in reverse. Phew!
My Arubian Angel has told me see is having trouble getting hold of an airline approved flight carrier. They are hard to find on the island but she will continue her search.
3rd June 2017
We have a flight carrier!
6th June 2017
Final vet check for Ru today. Well....it should have been. Ru decided he did not want to go the vet and could not be caught so they will try again tomorrow. Cutting it fine Ru!
7th June 2017
The final vet check has gone ahead without incident today. He has his third country certificate and EU papers and they just need to be stamped. Nearly there.
8th June 2017
Paperwork has been stamped and KLM have approved the paperwork. Ru will go to the airport tomorrow at 5pm local time ready for his flight. Stay brave little man.
9th June 2017
He is on his way!! We have arrived in Amsterdam ready for his arrival at the airport tomorrow. Flight lands at 11am local time
10th June 2017
The day my boy comes home has finally arrived. it feels like a dream. I have been told they will take 45-60mins to clear security. Ru will go through security and come out on a special belt in baggage claim but shouldn't take much longer than normal bags.
12pm - Still waiting. The flight has landed but still waiting for passengers to come into arrivals.
12:30pm - I can see them! Ru is in his box perched on the top of the trolley. Overcome with emotion I start to cry.....was not expecting that! I am so relieved he is here.
He looks scared and is huddled at the back of the crate but he is here and he is safe now.
5:30pm - Arrive at Calais Animal Reception Centre. This is the bit I have been dreading. I have to hope that I have all the paperwork I need. I have done my research and am quietly confident but there is still that chance. In front of us a German couple are advised they cannot travel with their dog as they have not done the final vet check. They turn to leave and I step up to the counter. Not sure what they want so I give them everything! It is a lot of paper! He starts shuffling through the pages as I recount our tale in the hope that it is aids my plight. I'm not crazy. I know it's all down to the paperwork but I'm not going to stand there in silence. He asks for my pet passport and I advise that while he has landed in the EU he has travelled in from Aruba this morning. Stop shuffling the papers now border man you are making me anxious.
"Aruba?" he asks me and I nod. "I just need to check something" he advises me. What can you possibly need to check. "It is a listed country" I advise him. "oh is it?" he replies as he checks a folder. "Yes that's right" he says closing the folder. Bit more paper shuffling before he goes to check the microchip. He has trouble finding it and it seems forever until we hear the beep as the microchip number displays on the chip reader. Bit more paper shuffling before I am handed back all my paperwork and a sticker for the windscreen which shows Ru has been cleared. We've done it Ru!! That was your final paperwork check. We are now free to travel home with you. We get back to the car for the last bit of the journey and Ru goes into a much larger crate so he can have a nice stretch. Let's get you home x
11:30pm - Welcome home Ru. It has been an epic journey both emotionally and in miles but you have been worth it. I put him into a quiet room for the night. "Good night Ru".
22nd July 2017
In the weeks that have passed since coming home Ru has settled in really well. He has been neutered and had his kitten vaccinations. He now goes outside but he has yet to leave the safety of the garden. He is so loving and every day is so rewarding. He now sits on my lap, snuggles against me in bed and rubs against my legs to speed up my cat food delivery time. It has all been worth it. This street cat from Aruba has landed on his feet! Welcome to the family xx
P.S. Eternal thanks to my Arubian Angel Sarah and to Mr and Mrs Middelburg for getting my boy home.