Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sweet Pea and the Great Hawaiian Rescue

A lot of my readers already know the story of Sweet Pea. There has been a lot of interest since I posted her picture here, so I thought I would just move her story from my website to this garden blog. Doesn't even make sense, but people with pets are rarely rational. So here in this garden blog is the story of Sweet Pea's big adventure.

Sweet Pea came into our lives on February 17, 2011. Feral cats are everywhere on The Big Island of Hawaii. There are an estimated half million. There are many people volunteering their time feeding and spaying and neutering is done courtesy of Advocats on the Island. We have seen the general condition of the feral population improving in the 11 years we have been going. We were putting feed bowls out at the condo we were staying in, and a very small emaciated 'kitten' came to the bowl one day. She seemed very shy, timid and hungry. She ate quite a bit and drank a lot of water. Her side of the island is very dry and lava covered, so very little water to be had. We were worried about her. You could see her hip bones sticking out. We discussed this and called Advocats to see what we could do.

The following day we did not see her at all. This concerned us. The following morning she came back to our food bowl. We were relieved. Until she turned around. Something had taken a large bite out of her hip. A large patch of fur was missing as well. We were mortified. At this point we started talking about a rescue mission in earnest. The first step was finding out what we would need to do to get her into Canada. It seemed quite straightforward. She would need a rabies shot and certificate and a certificate of health. We made a vet appointment at 2 pm Saturday, and started the process of trying to catch her. We borrowed a trap from Advocats and it turns out that Hawaiian feral cats are a pretty clever lot. We didn't catch a single one. We did however catch a mongoose. They look like squirrels. Yeah, they look adorable until they are caught in a trap. They make a screeching sound and lash out in every direction. They have red eyes and jaggedy looking teeth. We started calling them 'diablo squirrels'.

The only thing we could think of, was to lure her into the condo and close the door. The luring part was pretty easy as she was so hungry that the smelly tuna we were using as bait was irresistible. She came into the condo about 5 feet and I pushed the screen door. Both the screen door and the glass door made a lot of noise. As soon as she heard it she ran out. That night we purchased a can of WD-40. I oiled that door within an inch of it's life. The whole trough was full of oil. Next morning. Sweet Pea came out of the bushes. My dear sister Jessica applied a coating of stinky tuna to her hand and started baiting Sweet Pea into the condo. I sat very nonchalant in the corner with my hand on the screen door. Feral cats are very smart and she kept checking me out. It took about 10 minutes, but she made her way through the screen into the condo. I waited until her head bowed into the food bowl and 'slam'. She was startled but went and sat in a corner. Jessica and I both teared up.

It took my husband Allan and I about 45 minutes to catch her with a towel and stuff her into the only thing we had which was a diablo squirrel trap. We ended up pushing the whole hula girl bright orange towel into the cage as well, leaving Sweet Pea about 10 inches of space. Off to the vet where we had an appointment in about 10 minutes. The vet, Dr. Maria Jose, took Sweet Pea by the scruff and she did not seem to mind at all. Dr. Maria gave her her Rabies shot, took her temperature to see if she had an infected hip, checked the injury, gave her an oral dose of a flea killer and implanted a micro chip. Dr. Maria checked her teeth and much to our surprise found that this kitten was actually 2-3 years old. She has a broken off rotting tooth that will need tending to. Sweet Pea took this all in stride. Dr Maria commented on her being the most docile feral cat she's ever seen.

At this point Jessica entered the room with the airline legal crate that we needed. She said 'I have some bad news. They need to take pets out of crates at the airport to check the crate and the animal for explosives etc. and they don't have a room we can do it in, it has to be done in the open.' This airport does not have walls. She had purchased a harness and leash so that we would have that on her in case she bolted.

I did not sleep again after this revelation.

Allan and I drove to the Kona airport and I started talking to everyone who would be involved the following night. The check in counter seemed straightforward enough. We had everything we needed. Then we proceeded to talk with the TSA person. He basically reiterated what my sister had said. The cat would have to be removed from the crate and there was not a room to do it in. And they also had to check the cat over. I kept saying, she's feral, this won't work. Then the tears started. Not him, me. He immediately said, I'll go get my supervisor. Chicken. So an angel in disguise, Sue, came out and after much discussion, she said we could use the Ohana (family) washroom. I have never been so relieved in my life.

The following day Jessica told me that Dr. Maria was willing to come to the airport to assist. Sweet Pea seemed to have a guardian angel looking over her.

We arrived at the airport on Sunday night at 8 PM for our 11 PM flight. There waiting for us was Dr. Maria. With a cold no less. We went to the ticket counter and there was a glitch. Their system said that Canada required a document stating that the animal was coming from a country that had been rabies free for at least six months AND a rabies shot and certificate. We had been online and knew that Canada required either a rabies shot and certificate OR a certification that the country was rabies free. The United Airline site told them that we needed both. I asked Maria if she had such a I asked the agent if she knew where we could get In an inspired moment of clarity, I asked if Dr. Maria could just certify in writing on the Rabies Certificate that Hawaii is rabies free. She said yes!! We then went to meet with Sue to take Sweet Pea to the Ohana washroom for the crate search. Dr. Maria assisting through everything. They were very thorough. When the crate was done including every grain of litter, she said she had to pat down Sweet Pea. Yes, Sweet Pea was strip searched.

On our flight to San Francisco, Sweet Pea rode with a celebrity. Well, we may not know him in Canada, but at the Kona airport, you would have thought the Beatles were there. In fact it was Newt Gingrich. I will say he was really lovely to all the people asking for his picture and to shake his hand.

I had decided that if they needed to check/search Sweet Pea in San Francisco, I was leaving the airport with her, renting a car and driving home. I called this my Plan B. Fortunately nothing else happened and we arrived home safe and sound at about 1 PM Monday.

Oh I need to back up a bit. When I wheeled Sweet Pea's crate to the Canadian customs booth at the Victoria Airport, the gentleman said "What do we have there?" I said "A Hawaiian cat" He asked "Do you have any papers for her?" What made that very funny, was the whole crate was covered with documentation. You actually couldn't see through the grate for all the hanging documents on the door. I said "Yes I do, there's all that (pointing at the crate) and anything else you need?" I pulled out my manilla envelope full of papers. He just looked at me and said, "Oh it's okay just go ahead."  After all that and he didn't even need to see it. I really wanted to make him look at it all, just on principle, but Tim Horton's coffee was calling me from the other side of the door. Coffee won!!

I put Sweet Pea's crate in our bathroom until I could get her to my vet and make sure she was free of leukemia and feline aids before she was near my other cats.

Her vet appointment went very similar to the first. She was so well behaved it was amazing. Her injury was healing beautifully. We gave her a high dose of antibiotics in a shot just to be safe, she was wormed and blood was taken. She is disease free!!!

Sweet Pea is now looking better and better each day. Yesterday she let me pet her with a full scootch around the neck. I ran my hand down her spine as I do every day, and I felt a thin layer of fat. She is gaining weight. I have cats that are about three times the size that Sweet Pea is, but she is eating about twice as much as any of them. She also sleeps a lot. I doubt she ever really got to do either.

I am waiting a bit to do the spay and tooth removal that will be done together. I want to make sure there is no infection and that she has a chance to get a bit stronger. Probably within a few weeks.

Update: Sweet Pea not only lets us pet her, but was actually purring for the first time. I think Sweet Pea is in the home stretch toward a wonderful new life.

Update 2: Sweet Pea has had her spay and tooth removal. It turns out she didn't have a uterus and the dental work was much more than anticipated. She is resting comfortably with a pain patch and antibiotics. She is a trooper.

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