Dejected and rejected strays have always found us. And so it was on the 29th December 2016 that Bonnie appeared. A harried waiter shooed a bundle of matted fur from an establishment on the Boardwalk in St Croix and as his booted foot moved I shouted, “Leave it, I’ll take it.” The ‘it’ concerned was a black kitten, so emaciated we couldn’t tell its sex. Carrying it home was like holding a bag of chewed chicken bones. Closer inspection found it’s gums and tongue to be white, it’s last vestige of energy gone in a final scurry from terror and pain.
A night spent with it sleeping on my chest was a night of sad shuddering breaths. But as morning tickled the hills pink and mauve it rallied and a frantic rush to the vet, an immediate blood transfusion and a number of nights in the clinic found it beginning to thrive.
Bonnie is deaf. Now, I don’t know if you’ve tried but training a deaf cat is tricky. She does not hear the crash and tinkle of broken glass or crockery. She does not hear the panicked shouts of “don’t” as she crouches ready to pounce on some imagined intruder flitting across her line of vision – a shadow maybe traversing a coffee table laden with glasses. But the purrs and kneading make up for the mounting breakages.
We joked that a dog would be a good companion – something to look out for her.
Then along came Clyde – our Trinidadian pot hound – though he almost didn’t make the flight. All entirely my fault. A miscommunication, a missed email and a near total fiasco. It was 2:30pm on a Friday afternoon, the day before I was due to travel to America – a day sandwiched between a public holiday on Thursday and another on Monday. Fortunately that island nation at the bottom of the Caribbean chain pulled out the stops – helped by the unwavering fortitude of my daughter behind the wheel of a car in Port of Spain’s notorious traffic.
In despair at gridlocked vehicles ahead I leapt from the car and made my jagged way along two city blocks, down a side street and burst into the Department of Agriculture. My breathing akin to bagpipes being primed, my hair plastered in grey and purple streaks to my neck and with sweat pouring down my face, I waved TT$5 in the receptionists face – words were hard to come by. To her credit she did not shy away from the mad woman babbling at her about a chop needed from Trinidad’s chief vet in order to get an export licence for a puppy from a trash heap in Cedros.
In remarkable short order the stamp was obtained and with groveling thanks I ran out to Kate and my granddaughters waiting in the car. There followed a mad dash down the freeway to the next government office where the actual licence could be obtained, normally in two to three days.
A stern, uniformed woman of East Indian descent looked me up and down from her perch behind a desk guarding entrance to the inner sanctum, and shook her head.
“Your shoulders are bare. You cannot enter a government building dressed in this way.”
Said shoulders slumped.
“And your feet. You do not have enclosed shoes.”
Begging, and I think with a glimmer of tears, I garbled an explanation, assuring her I meant no disrespect and that everything that could be my fault, was my fault. Her features softened and breaking into a crooked tooth grin and taking my hand, she said,
“Come. I will take you.”
Apologising profusely for my lack of correct attire to the disinterested young man tugging idly at his wispy beard, I felt my heart sink. And then he too smiled.
“You have the chop?” He asked, taking the papers from my damp hand. “Sit. It will take time.”
Twenty minutes later I was out the door. 24 hours later Clyde and I were on the plane with a glass of wine. Well, me anyway.
Global Entry allows a saunter through immigration with barely a missed step. At Customs I was told to wait for my suitcase to be delivered, when baggage, canine and I would be escorted to animal control.
I waited. And some more. Two cats and a dog, a yappy little thing, who came after us were ushered away with their owners and luggage. And then the dreaded words. Your suitcase does not seem to be here. Go through, then report it to the airline. Clyde and I were by this time eager to find some grass, and we scurried along to a woman standing sentry, her tan uniform bursting at the seams.
“Medical papers. Rabies certificate.”
After wishing her a good morning – it was 5am – I explained the latter was not needed as the animal in question was under three months and Trinidad and Tobago was a rabies free country.
“Every dog coming to the US must have a rabies certificate. It is on the CDC website.”
In the politest possible manner I disagreed, feeling beholden to point out Trinidad had been rabies free since 1917, which was more than could be said for Texas.
Her pink talons jabbing the air near my face, her voice strident, I was informed the puppy could not enter the US and would be returned from whence he came, on the next flight.
Calmly I told her he was already in the country – don’t play semantics with a writer – and that I would like to speak to her supervisor. A muted conversation took place between the taloned one and a pleasant-looking woman, presumably her superior, and we were waved through with the words, “I misspoke. You can go.”
The lost luggage ground staff were equally unhelpful, refusing to believe my explanation given over Clyde’s keening, that Customs had my baggage tags. About to lose my final shred of civility, we were all saved by an apologetic skycap hauling my case.
At least he had a smile. And Clyde was welcomed to America.