From Australia To The USA



10th June 2001

I have finally got around to writing down what happened to the cats in their trip to the USA. It was not a happy time for the cats.


I did the sensible thing. I flew to the USA and started work, and left Anne behind to empty and clean the house, and then bring the cats over. I got out of it lightly. Anyone who knows us, knows just how much junk I accumulate over the years. Anne had to sort through it all and throw some out, then get the removalists to pack it all up and put it into storage. Then she had to clean the house before handing it over to the real-estate agents. We were going to rent it out while we were overseas. When the house was empty, Anne and the cats moved out. They moved into Anne's mum's house. This was a trying time for Evelyn, as the cats had to be kept locked indoors and they were very unhappy and they moped and wailed.

Anne started to prepare the cats for the journey by putting them in the cat cages for longer and longer periods. She didn't want them taken from complete freedom and dumped into the cage for 24 hours. She started with putting them in the cages for an hour at a time, then built the time up. So she would go shopping for 2 hours and when she left, she would pop them in the cages, then let them out when she got back. Eventually, they were staying in the cages for about 6 hours at a time. They got a bit used to it. Enough to let Anne feel comfortable that they wouldn't completely freak out when they were stuffed into the plane.

Exporting Live Animals

There was also the bureaucracy, the forms and rules and regulations for taking the cats out of the country.

Anne had got some details about what was required, so she knew she had to do stuff about a month before leaving. She went to our vet and asked them what had to be done. The vet told her about AQIS, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, and gave her some forms. Part of the requirements was that the cats were microchipped, so Anne had them microchipped on the spot. The closest AQIS approved vet was in Pymble, so Anne made an appointment with them.

One month and one day before she was due to fly out with the cats, she went to the Pymble vet. The cats got an examination and a rabies shot, and Anne filled in some forms which were sent on to AQIS.

There was more to do just before leaving. Anne was flying out on a Wednesday, so she had to go back to the Pymble vet on the Monday. The cats got a thorough physical examination, and were given a flea-killer tablet. This was an amazing thing. Within 30 minutes, the fleas were all dead. They have never had another flea since. Two and a half years flea-free so far. I wish we had found that tablet years before. Anne filled in more forms and they were faxed to AQIS. And the vet gave her some knockout tablets for the cats to help them on the trip.

Next day, the day before she was due to fly out, when she was really really busy with all sorts of other stuff, she had to drive out to AQIS and finalise the export of the cats. AQIS were near Mascot, near the airport. It was a Tuesday and you'd expect the traffic to be light. Oh no. Anne left at 7:00am and got there at 10:00am. Three hours to travel that little distance? I've done that on the bike in 40 minutes. The problem was that the 2000 Olympics were on their way, and the tunnel from the airport to Homebush Bay was being built. Lots of delays, lots of detours, huge traffic crush, and a 40 minute trip turns into a 3 hour trip. Once she got there, it wasn't too bad. She brought the final forms, filled in and signed, AQIS stamped them, she paid the money, and headed home. Only an hour and a half to get home.

And that was it. We could legally export the cats.

The Flight

Anne and Evelyn and the cats were all flying United Airlines. The cost to send the cats to the USA was minimal. About $240 for both of them, as long as someone was flying with them. When Anne rang to confirm the flight, she had to confirm that two live cats would be flying too. We had to give them plenty of notice about that.

When the day came, it was a bit of a mess getting to the airport. Evelyn was coming along to visit Bronwyn, but she had badly sprained her ankle a few days earlier and she was in a wheelchair. Carol, a neighbour and friend of Evelyn's, had a large enough vehicle and she volunteered to take the circus to the airport. Anne packed the cats and Evelyn. The cages were each lined with the absorbent operating sheets that our vet had given Anne. And Anne had included one of her old smelly shoes in each cage. This might seem strange, until you see how our cats react to our shoes. They shove their heads in and sniff and sniff and get high, and they cuddle our shoes to their chests and sleep on them. So a shoe with the right aroma was put in to comfort them during the flight. The cats were given their half tablet of sedative each, then popped into the cages. They were put in the back of the car and started their usual get-in-the-car screaming. That lasted only a few minutes. When Anne got the airport, she quickly checked the cages and Redrum was propped up against the back of cage, looking like a little Buddha, with her eyes crossed, completely zonked out.

Anne and Evelyn checked in at normal check-in time, and handed over the cats. The guy on the counter was very nice and promised that the cats would be on the flight and would be stored where there was oxygen. We've heard tales of animals being put in with normal luggage and arriving at their destination dead and frozen. This did not happen to ours, thankfully. Once the cats became luggage, Anne didn't see them again till Los Angeles. When she boarded the plane, she met the guy who she had handed the cats to. He had come to reassure her that the cats were on the plane and all was well. That was really nice of him.

Interestingly, shortly after the plane left, Sydney was hit with a small earthquake. A farewell gesture.

The flight was an unpleasant experience for all of them. The cats eventually wore out the sedative and then got upset. Anne and Evelyn had an unpleasant flight. The staff were pretty crappy and extremely unhelpful.

When they landed at Los Angeles, they were met with a wheelchair for Evelyn. The staff were very kind and wheeled her out and took her to a special line for the airline staff so she wouldn't have to wait. Anne got through really quickly, but Evelyn had forgotten to sign something, so the Immigration official put Evelyn to the side while he quickly passed all the airline staff, and then he returned to Evelyn. Anne had rushed on ahead and got the luggage. Evelyn joined her and they went to the conveyor belt for strangely shaped luggage.

They waited at the conveyor belt for the cats. The conveyor belt stopped. No cats. Anne went and spoke to a United Airlines employee and was told that they should continue to Norfolk and the cats would follow. Anne got very upset. They didn't really care. They told her that they didn't know where the cats were, and if they hadn't arrived here then they had probably been loaded on the flight to San Francisco back in Sydney. Anne hit the roof. She told them she wasn't missing a bag of clothes that could make its way all over the place and arrive safely, she was missing two live animals. She wanted them to check up, phone Sydney if necessary, and find the cats. They ignored her. We reckon that they lost the cats for a while. So Evelyn got into the fight and said she wasn't moving until the cats were found, and United Airlines could put them up in a hotel in Los Angeles until the cats were found. The staff got shitty and went off and did things and suddenly the conveyor belt started up again and the two cats came down the belt.

The conveyor belt was steep, and Redrum's cage tipped over and rolled down. She lost all her water and she was not very happy with this. But the cats were both alive, and that was a big relief for Anne and Evelyn. However, Redrum now had no water. That could have been a problem as the worst problem for cats on plane flights is dehydration. And the sedative had worn off long ago and there was no more. Time was running out for the next flight, so they were pushed through Customs and the cats were loaded again for the next flight to Chicago. The plane was boarding when they reached the terminal, and while going out to the plane they could see their luggage and the cats being loaded, so they knew the cats were with them.

They got to Chicago and the cats switched flights without Anne seeing them. Anne was fretting about the cats and she asked one of the airline staff to phone and ask if the cats were loaded. She was really nice and phoned, and was able to tell Anne that two cats were onboard. Anne could tell that they were onboard later, because all through the flight, she thought she could hear them screaming and wailing in the hold. It was true. She could. She later flew another flight and she could distinctly hear a dog howling in the hold, so she knew that she had really heard the cats screaming.

Bronwyn and I got to Norfolk airport early, waited for them all to arrive. Anne had phoned me from Chicago and told me that there had been a few problems, but I had no idea it was as bad as it had been. Anne appeared, but no Evelyn. There was no wheelchair waiting. Bronwyn rushed off and organised a wheelchair and brought it back. It was taken to the plane, and soon, Evelyn was wheeled out. We went through the usual greeting stuff, hugs and kisses, then went down to wait for the luggage. We waited and waited. And waited some more. The luggage finally arrived. And then finally, after more of a wait, the cats appeared at the special luggage area. They were alive. They had survived one hell of a plane trip. Unfortunately for them, there was still some unpleasantness left before they could settle down and heal their shattered nerves.

The Temporary Hotel

While Anne was en route, I had booked into a brand-new long-term hotel around the corner from work. This was where we were going to live until the house purchase was settled and we could move it. The hotel took pets. There were dogs and cats in a lot of the rooms. We could hear big dogs barking, and saw the dogs being walked each morning. The proximity to work was a blessing. It let me get home at lunchtime to check on the cats and make sure they were fed and watered and safe. They weren't happy.

At the airport, we bundled everyone into Bronwyn's giant vehicle and drove to the hotel. We dumped the bags and the cats. Gave the cats a quick clean and a feed and settled them down to some peace and quiet. Then we drove to Bronwyn's and had a cup of tea and a chat. Evelyn was the first to drift off to sleep, so we put her to bed and then Anne and I drove back to the hotel. The first few nights in the hotel made me aware of something I hadn't considered. When I arrived here, I changed my sleeping habits and got into the time zone after a few days. Anne changed her sleeping habits and got into the time zone within a few days. But how do you tell two cats that they have to ignore their body clocks and switch to a new time zone? Our cats normally run around during the day and sleep during the night. Unusual for cats, but that's what they do. But when they arrived, they wanted to sleep all day and move around all night. Ruffian wanted to run around, but Redrum was too disturbed for that. She was very insecure and just wanted to hide. And once again, I got very little sleep. They would wake up and move around at 4:00am, they demanded attention and food all night long. We started leaving the curtains drawn so the cats could see daylight and moonlight and get the idea that time had changed. They eventually got the idea and started sleeping at night and being active during the day. Not before I got rundown.

Food was a problem at the start. Back home, we rarely fed them tinned food and never fed them dried food. They got fresh chopped kangaroo meat. None of that here. We started them with tins of cat food and they refused to eat it. We tried them with a bit of dried food and they ignored it. They probably didn't recognise it as food. They drank lots of water but ate nothing. They got very light. I got worried. Both cats were insecure and disturbed after all the upheavals they'd been through. Ruffian wasn't so bad, but Redrum had given up all hope again and had decided to stop eating and die. Again. So after a few days, I went out and bought them some nice slabs of beef, London broil was what it was called, brought it back and chopped it up. Ruffian tore into the meat as if she were starving (which she probably was). Redrum ignored it. So for the third or fourth time for this damn cat, she got force fed. It wasn't too difficult this time. Sit her on my lap, hold a piece of meat to her lips and she politely eats it. She had about 10 meals like this, then got the idea and started eating herself. That was a great relief to me and Anne.

The fresh meat solved the food problem. The cats got lots of lovely beef and offal to eat, but I was worried about them not getting enough green stuff in their diet. At the pet stores here, you can buy little pots of soil which you wet, which then grows a clean grass. I bought some, the grass grew and the cats harvested it daily. They would munch and chew this all day long. Unlike back home, they didn't vomit after eating the grass, for which we were very grateful.

Toilet habits required some attention too. Bronwyn had lent us her kitty litter tray and a large pan to put it on. Anne bought some special kitty litter made from pine shavings that allegedly could be used then flushed down the toilet without destroying the planet. A dubious claim, but we tried it. The cats ignored it. It got so bad that Anne had to go and get "proper" kitty litter and then they were happy and started to get into proper habits again.

We spent a week and a half living in the extended-stay hotel. Anne, myself and the two cats in a little room. It just about drove us mad. Ruffian developed a terrible tendency while here, which has since continued. She was feeling insecure and wanted to go where it was safe and quiet and dim. After we had gone to bed, she would feel the need to get into cupboards. Cupboards are fairly easy to open here, being spring-loaded without latches. So being a smart and dextrous cat, she would sit in front of the cupboard, grip the edge with her paw and pull it open. She wouldn't get it open all the way the first time, or the second time, or the third time. But around the tenth time she would get the door open. Each of her failures would result in the door slamming shut. So imagine the scene at 2:00am when we are trying to get some sleep. The kitchenette cupboard door squeals open and bangs shut. Nine times. Neighbours would hammer on the walls. On the tenth time, she would get the door open, climb inside and the door would shut behind her. She'd curl up and sleep for a while, then squeeze her way out and repeat the trick with the bathroom cupboards. Bang, bang, bang, all night long. We solved that after a few nights by opening all cupboard doors before we went to bed.

Ruffian learned another trick that she continues with today. She would climb onto the bathroom cabinet and sit near the sink and stare at herself in the mirror. For hours. Today, she sits in front of the fireplace and stares at her reflection in the glass doors in front of the fireplace. We play tricks on her while she's looking. We wave our arms and move and pretend to sneak up on her, and when she turns round to see what is happening, we sit quietly and pretend nothing is happening. She squeaks in protest because she knows we are fooling her. But back then, she was insecure and upset and she would sit and stare at herself for hours.

The New Home

I was trying to juggle all the events. I was due to settle on the house on Monday afternoon. But we had the keys to the house and maybe could start moving in Monday morning. But we had to be out of the extended stay hotel early Monday morning.

We took it as it came. We packed up and checked out early Monday morning. The cats were not happy. They had just settled in to the hotel and were getting over the plane trip when they were bundled into the cages again and dragged out to the car. They wailed unhappily. They got driven to Bronwyn's house and locked in a toilet all day. Anne went to the new house and waited for deliveries and things. We already had keys to the house, so we were jumping the gun a bit, but it turned out okay.

I left work early and went to the escrow agent in the afternoon and signed the documents. It was ours. The bank's really, but we could pretend it was ours. We had become a two-house family, a house on each of two continents.

After that, I drove on down to the new house. Anne was waiting. She had had a long day. The arrangement was that we were given the garage door opener, and could come in through the garage. When Anne got there, the garage door would not open. She checked the doors and the front door was unlocked. Had been unlocked all night. The previous owners had turned the electricity off which stopped the garage door opening, but had left the front door unlocked overnight so we could get in. Anne had fumbled into the garage, in the pitch black, and found the power panel. She fumbled and fumbled, hit the right switch, and the power came on. Anne organised the carpets to be dry-cleaned, and then Evelyn's bed was delivered. We were almost ready to survive. Just before I arrived, there was a power blackout and I walked into a dead house. Anne left to pick up the cats and some other stuff. I walked around, looking at the empty house, and felt happy and depressed at the same time. This is apparently normal when you sign your life away with a mortgage. The cats went through their usual anxious moments when they arrived and they wandered through the empty house, wailing and being mournful and insecure. Evelyn arrived and looked depressed.

Later that night, our bed arrived, a king size waterbed, and the guy installed it. It was ready for sleep by the end of the night. So we were set and we were moved in.


Over the next few weeks, the furniture arrived and we had beds to sleep on, and a TV to watch, and chairs to sit on. Boxes arrived from Australia and familiar smells comforted the cats. The cats had a new house to play in. A two level house, so they would run up and down the stairs and chase each other and have fun. Bronwyn gave us a sofa set, and the cats loved it at first sight, and started scratching it. They got moved to tinned cat food, which I think is a bad move for them, but they seem to like the seafood stuff. Personally, I think the stuff is injected with the cat equivalent of heroin and they become horribly addicted to it. We do feed them meat a couple of times a week. Anne gets kidney at WalMart, and I occasionally bring home a slab of red meat for them. Anne has started feeding them dried cat food. It's a different mix, so they say. Specially formulated to not give them urinary tract infections. And specially formulated to break down the tartar on their teeth and keep their gums healthy. It seems to work. I regard "specially formulated" as "advertising bullshit", but it does seem to work on their teeth. I'm a bit worried about the urinary tract though.

Bronwyn showed me the effect that catnip has on her cats. She would spread some on the floor and they would roll in it and bliss out. I tried it on ours. They ignored it completely. Anne found some gum leaves that had been impregnated with eucalyptus oil, and Ruffian fell in love with this and would rub her face in it and sniff it and get as ecstatic about the eucalyptus as Bronwyn's two do with catnip. Each to their own, I suppose.

So the cats are here in the USA and they are healthy and happy. They are now (in 2001) just over 10 years old. The way they are going, they will live to be 20 or more. Getting them into the USA was easy. They were coming from a very clean country, to a not so clean country, cat health wise. Getting them back to Australia will be a very different proposition, because of the rules and regulations. They have to come in on an Australian carrier, and the only one is Qantas. And that will cost somewhere between $1,000 and $1,500 per cat. Compare that to the $120 per cat to take them out of Australia. Then there's the import charges and document lodgement fees, and that comes to about $500. And then there's a month (or more, depending on circumstances) quarantine, at $12 per day per cat. All those costs add up. There was no quarantine coming in to the USA. The country already has rabies and all the other horrible diseases so there's nothing to guard against. Australia still keeps tight borders and doesn't have rabies and wants to keep it that way. So animals go into quarantine.

The cheapest way to do it is to stay here and let the cats have a long and happy life and go to the great mouse-hunt in the sky, and then Anne and I come home. But I keep thinking how much Ruffian enjoys the smell of eucalyptus, and how much they enjoyed fresh kangaroo meat, and maybe we should bring them home to the smells and pleasures of their homeland. We get homesick, and I bet they do too.

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