Kittens abound

21st Jun, 2024

Written by Therina Grobler

Professional photography by elysian and Meraki Creative Studio

The story behind 10 cats from the streets of Laos to their own cottage in Greyton, South Africa.

It started with four – Raven, Akira, Arya and Daenerys

I resided in Laos, where my husband was working. I got involved in rescuing animals and rehoming them. Just before Covid, we moved to a small town called Vang Vieng; most of the restaurants closed and pets were roaming the streets for food. I went for my normal bike ride to feed the dogs and cats and met a wonderful guy named Richard, who also fed the animals. He asked me if I’d please attend to the cat living in one of the restaurants – she needed medical attention, but he had to do a visa run.

From that day onwards for months I went to feed the cat – now called Raven – on a daily basis. She was always waiting for me.

I tried taking Raven home, but she was in severe stress, so I took her back to where she felt at home. A few months later she had a kitten. One day while feeding her, my husband looked for the kitten and saw that it had a severe eye infection, so we decided to take it home for medical attention. We planned to bring her back to mom once she was better. Two days later, while feeding mom, the dogs came and wanted to attack her, so I grabbed her and decided to take her home again. This time she was happy to be reunited with her kitten, whom we named Akira, and accepted being with us.

A day later we were driving through town and saw a kitten outside a restaurant staring at other kittens inside playing. It was a sad scene – they were where she once was and would also end up just like her. She was skin and bone. We took her home and gave her medical attention. Amazingly, Raven even accepted her as one of her own and allowed her to suckle on her, although she was much bigger than her own kitten. We named her Arya.

A week later, we were driving to the market and there on the corner was yet another kitten. I played with it and the guy indicated to me to take it. So that’s how Daenerys joined the other three. Daenerys has a unique mark on the side in the shape of a heart. The intention was to find them homes in the capital, Vientiane, as soon as Covid was over, or ask Kelvin Wee at Vimuan Suan Foundation if they could go to him. We converted the front room in the house for them as an area to stay in the meantime as my dogs wouldn’t accept them. But Covid took a bit longer than anticipated, and by the time it ended, it was too late to find homes as the kittens were grown. So, we decided to keep them all.

They all have strong personalities. Raven is quiet and a very good mom. Akira just wants scratches. Arya you’ll only see occasionally as she has trust issues with humans (but once you have her trust she’ll allow you to touch her). She was also the one who made it clear that Bob wasn’t welcome.

And Daenerys… she basically broke the other kittens out of their enclosure when they arrived at home and raised them, but she’s a loner and, as small as she is, she doesn’t back off from a fight.

Then came the siblings, Nala, Lucky and Cleopatra

After a flood in Vang Vieng we moved back to Vientiane. My son came to visit and, as we picked him up at the airport upon returning to our car, there were three kittens dropped on the hot tar right next to our car. We took them all home with the idea of rehoming them, but as so many other kittens needed homes, they also stayed with us. They’re now called Lucky, Nala and Cleopatra. Nala is very inquisitive; Cleopatra, the smallest of the three, has taken over as the main queen from Raven, living up to her name; and Lucky, aka lover boy, got his name due to the fact that he almost died twice.

My blue-eyed boy, Bob, was adopted from Vimuan Suan Foundation, and then Gizmo, aka, Mr Personality, joined the group

Bob belonged to a little local girl who loved him with all her heart, but due to the fact that she was offered an education, she wasn’t allowed to take the cat with her. He ended up at the Vimuan Suan Foundation, which Kelvin had started to help the many animals in need in Laos. After visiting Kelvin, I told him I wanted Bob – he didn’t belong there. He just stole my heart. Unfortunately, the other cats didn’t like Bob, so he had to move into his own room.

One day, while going shopping, a kitten tried to follow me into the shop. When I asked whose kitten it was, the owner told me that he was just from the streets. Of course, I couldn’t leave him there – due to the busy road, he’d soon be dead – so I took him home and put him with Bob as a friend. They bonded and are now inseparable. We called him Gizmo.

Bob loves a hammock and watching TV, and he and Gizmo love playing on the iPad.

Sisu joins the gang

One morning I received a message from my husband: there was a blind kitten on site at his work. He was worried because of all the big mine trucks. I told him that if he could catch him and bring him back, I’d ask Kelvin to take him. Kelvin had no problem with that, but then I met the kitten and we took him to the vet, who said that we had to remove the tear glands. While undergoing the operation he saw that Sisu did have eyes but they’d been destroyed by a virus; the best thing was to remove the remnants of the eyes. We decided to keep him. I knew he was going to be a challenge, but he was such an amazing kitten. The eyes healed and he showed me that nothing would stop him. Bob, Gizmo and Sisu stayed together. We named him Sisu. (Sisu is a unique Finnish concept that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.) He may not have eyes, but nothing holds him back. He’s such a sweetheart who loves to cuddle and play with his mouse toys.

A new chapter

In October 2023, we came to South Africa to see the house that we’d bought online. It wasn’t my intention to stay, and my daughter Monique would have stayed in the house while we were abroad, but I decided not to return to Laos. But what about our nine cats? We couldn’t leave them behind. We got quotes to move them all and discovered that it would cost us all our savings to move them and to build a safe cattery for them. Kelvin offered to take them in, but we had made a commitment to them and we were going to see it through.

While busy with all the arrangements for moving them, we also had to get a space ready for them. Various ideas came and went. Then I decided to convert the greenhouse that came with the property into their own cottage. I wanted them to have a home and not just a cage, and the construction began. The contractor we’d chosen had shown so much promise with his ideas, but as it turned out, this didn’t work out as it should have. We were running out of time and the cats were on their way.

The project was completed on the day the cats arrived. Only to start construction again with a second contractor to fix all the problems the first had created. It was a nightmare.

But through it all, the cats loved their new space, although it’s still not totally complete – the front sections must be converted into an indoor jungle for them.

It must feel like they’re outside. The cattery is divided into two sections – one side for the Raven, Akira, Arya, Daenerys, Nala, Cleopatra and Lucky, and the other side for Bob, Gizmo and Sisu. We even built a lower window in it so that Sisu could also sit there and feel the wind from outside.

The back part of each section are their bedrooms. The second section is an indoor play area for rainy days, the front part of which has wire to create a sense of open space that will be converted into an indoor jungle for them. In the front is a small kitchen.

The Move

We first wanted to move the three boys – Bob, Gizmo and Sisu – while the cattery was still being built in South Africa. We had an excellent agent in Laos – Analin from Vientiane Dog Paradise – and her team were excellent throughout both moves, keeping us updated with the movement, pictures and all the paperwork.

All was good to go… then Sisu got very sick. He had to stay on medication for three months and we had to send another cat in his place. We appointed a nurse in Laos to attend to his needs, as the vet had closed down and Sisu had to get medication on a daily basis. He wasn’t allowed to miss any of the medication and wasn’t cleared to fly.

So Bob, Gizmo and Daenerys were the first to land in South Africa. It was the most stressful time and I was so thankful that Sisu wasn’t with them as the agent in South Africa messed up badly. It was near Christmas, and the agent had put the wrong country on the import permit. My cats were already in Bangkok in quarantine (they had to undergo a two-day quarantine there before flying to South Africa).

After missing their flight twice due to the agent in SA, I managed to get hold of the state vet, who really pulled out all the stops to help us. The cats were waiting at the airport, missing their second flight and waiting for the last flight option. If they didn’t get on that plane they’d have been returned to Laos and we’d have lost all our money – and our cats.

Within an hour before it would’ve been too late, the state vet managed to speak to the vet in Bangkok and they reached a mutual agreement. After a very long flight, the cats arrived at our home in the evening just before 22h00. I was to relieved to see them and that the ordeal was done and my babies were safe.

After three months, Sisu was cleared to fly and the rest of the pack were ready to go. We got a new agent (Animal Travel Services) in South Africa who was much more professional and all arrived here with no problems. They had to be flown from Bangkok on two separate flights due to the airline not taking more than four animals at a time.

They just loved the new space. They were relaxed and at home from the start. Even when the second contractor was busy, they didn’t mind. I think we were all more stressed that a cat might get out.

Unfortunately, when Sisu arrived the other two didn’t accept him back. He was confused and alone. We converted the middle part between the other two sections for him into a space and decided to adopt Sionna and Willow as friends for him (both have disabilities), but Sisu got very confused with cats on both sides and didn’t want to play with the kittens. And so we moved Sisu home. He’s now calm and the two girls come for play dates and sleepovers – he loves being with them now.

Sionna will most probably also have to have her eyes removed as she was born with this defect. Willow was bashed over the head with a steel pipe – they wanted to kill her. When she was rescued she could only walk in circles. She’s now walking normally, but you can see that some brain injury did occur.

The person I need to thank most for all of this is my husband. He supports me in all my efforts to help animals. He’s hyper-allergic to cats, but he’s a real Cat Dad.

We’re just happy to have all of them safe and together with us. They’ll still need to get used to the colder weather here, because there are no winters in Laos.

PS: Yes, the tails are normal. They haven’t been cut off or broken, they’re born like this.

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