Written and photography supplied by Duncan Keir
When families decide to emigrate, one of the tough decisions to make is whether or not to bring the pets. For us, bringing our cats, Chika and Shinobi, was a necessary part of our plans. They were, after all, our family. That’s why, along with all other arrangements, we organised with pet transport companies, vets and temporary boarding facilities for them to join us in Canada.
The plan was to have them collected by the pet transport company a few days before we left, where they’d stay for ten days while their travel crates were made and to allow for us to prepare their temporary accommodation on the other side. Everything went according to plan until a week before we left Johannesburg, heading for Toronto in December 2017.
With the house sold, we were staying with a friend for the last week in South Africa – yet another temporary living arrangement the poor cats would have to endure. Devastatingly, Shinobi escaped captivity seven days before we departed.
What followed was a frantic search spanning days, both by us and some friends wanting to help. All of this while winding up the last few days of work, saying our goodbyes, and tying up the loose ends. Shinobi was never found!
Shinobi was an extremely skittish cat who spent most of his time outdoors, hiding by himself somewhere. He’d run at the first sight of any guests we had over to visit but was extremely affectionate to us and was very fond of bunting (sometimes VERY hard). He didn’t like to be picked up and wouldn’t cuddle. Affection was on his terms.
One of our biggest reservations about Canada was that pets are confined to the indoors in most cities. Firstly, because of the winter, and secondly, because there are many dangers for an outdoor pet in Canada: bears, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, squirrels with rabies, humans, and vehicles. The prospect of converting Shinobi to be an indoor cat was daunting, and we weren’t sure he’d cope.
After the tough final week of searching, we eventually had to call it off, and hope he’d show up at some point. We left food with the new owner of our house in case he made it back (it wasn’t far from his last known location), changed his chip contact details to a local friend’s number (Cat, a cat lover), and wished him luck.
When we arrived in Canada, our thoughts about containing Shinobi were confirmed. He would’ve hated being stuck inside. After a few months, we had still not heard anything, and decided perhaps it was for the best. We’d often talk about Shinobi and wonder what had become of him. We missed his bunts. One major concern of mine was his calming collar, which had helped with his anxiety. If he was going to be on his own for a while, the collar might inhibit his ability to hunt effectively.
The first few months, it was clear that Chika was lonely. So, we got him a Canadian friend, Hana. Chika and Hana quickly became good friends. A year to the day we shipped our furniture from South Africa, it arrived in Toronto. Chika was particularly interested in the sleeper couch, one of Shinobi’s favourite resting spots. In fact, the futon still had some of his fur on it. Chika let out a few low yowls after sniffing it. He remembered and missed his brother!
In January 2019, an opportunity for us to move to Ottawa came up, and we jumped at it. We’d always wanted to settle in Ottawa, which is far smaller than Toronto, with more nature and cheaper properties. We bought our house in the little town of Arnprior, exactly where we wanted to be.
A week after my birthday mid-May, I’d just concluded a business meeting with a Canadian government agency responsible for Cyber Security, and I received a call from a friend in South Africa. I’d been keeping in touch with Cat, but never via a phone call. I was rushing to my next meeting, but I decided if Cat was phoning me, it was important. I took the call. Shinobi had been found! I didn’t know what to say; I couldn’t believe it.
Cat had been contacted by a vet who told her: “We have your grey cat.”
“But how can this be?” she said, “I saw him a few minutes ago.” The vet told her that the grey cat had shown up at a nearby house a month previously, and they’d been feeding him, thinking he was a stray. After a few weeks they realised he wasn’t a stray, because he started sleeping on their bed!
Once the good Samaritans realised he wasn’t feral, they captured him and took him to a nearby vet. The vet scanned him and got the contact details. His temperament was described as very skittish, and then the penny dropped.
“Don’t you lose that cat! I know who he belongs to, and he’s a loved cat!”
Shinobi was in very good health – no injuries or troubles. He’d fended for himself for one and a half years and come out unscathed. He’d also managed to lose his collar.
What followed was a combined effort by all involved to have Shinobi sent to his family in Canada with PETPort. He’d stay with the vet over the weekend while the vet ran some tests and gave him his shots, and we arranged boarding at the cattery he’d missed his booking for in 2017. While there’s no quarantine in Canada, he’d be flying through Amsterdam. The EU regulations state that any pet travelling into the EU must be up to date with their shots, and not newer than at least one month old. So Shinobi would be boarding for a month before his flight at BKC Pet, a boarding facility linked with PETPort.
During this time, we received regular pictures from the cattery staff, who were now familiar with Shinobi’s story from liaising with us and Cat, who kept telling them new photos were due.
His day of arrival eventually came, which was also not without incident. I was in Toronto on business, and Shinobi would be flying in to Montreal. I’d be flying to Montreal, and my wife would be driving from Ottawa to collect both of us. Ideally, we needed to collect Shinobi about an hour after he landed, so I left my colleagues early to catch a suitable flight to Montreal. My flight was delayed by four hours. As luck would have it, Shinobi’s flight had been delayed in Amsterdam, and I could track it on FlightRadar.
His late arrival would be after the cargo customs had closed, and so we had to go to customs at the passenger terminal, where, unfortunately, no one knew how to handle customs for cargo. Eventually, we managed to sort everything out and get over to the cargo warehouse where Shinobi was waiting, but luckily not for too long.
When we peered into his crate, at first he looked scared, but within a few seconds he recognised us and was visibly pleased. He began bunting the walls of his crate and rubbing against our fingers. His eyes went from his typical scared kitten eyes to normal happy cat eyes, and he started purring.
After the drive home (2.5 hours), we reacquainted him with Chika. Chika obviously recognised him but was very confused as to what was going on and didn’t know how to react. Shinobi gave him a bunt. Hana also managed to sneak up and see what was happening (we were hoping they wouldn’t be introduced on day one). Shinobi went up to Hana and gave her a bunt too! Unfortunately, the new cat and strange behaviour was far too much for her, and she reacted very aggressively towards Shinobi.
It’s now been over a month with Shinobi back with us, and he’s a changed cat. Still a little skittish, but he hasn’t given any indication that he wants to go outside. He’s also far more cuddly and doesn’t mind being picked up anymore. All three cats are getting along, cuddling and licking each other. It took Hana some time to open up to Shinobi, but now they’re play-fighting and chasing each other around the house. Perhaps he shared some war stories about how he hunted to survive in Africa, to break the ice.
His time alone has changed him for the better. He’s still as affectionate as ever, but now he doesn’t mind an unsolicited cuddle or two. Shinobi is, and always was, a very gentle and loveable cat. We’re so happy to have him back in our family.