9 Lives and Hard Travels

Cleo Contemplates her Lives

Cleo Contemplates her Lives

“The cat has nine lives:  three for playing, three for straying, and three for staying….” ~Ancient Proverb

Japanese Maneki Neko

Japanese Maneki Neko

The maneki-neko (招き猫?, literally ‘beckoning cat’) is an ubiquitous Japanese figurine akin to a lucky charm or good fortune talisman, usually made of ceramic, which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner.  It is NOT of Chinese origin, as some believe, although it has become increasingly popular there among Chinese merchants.  The figurine depicts a cat, traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail often highly stylized, beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed at the entrance in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses.  Some are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning one from a distance.  The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat, or fortune cat, but usually only in English.  In my mind, although I can find no evidence to support this conclusion, clearly the idea of having multiple lives is connected directly to this strong notion of “luck.”

It seems my cat may have used one for staying with us on our journey to Okinawa, purely to my own lament after accidentally trying to kill her!

The story starts long before the actual, shall we say, “troubles.”  And while this story is really about our journey across the pond to Japan, it uses as a hook and centerpiece cats, in particular, my cat named Cleo.

Short for Cleopatra mind you.  She wanted that to be made perfectly clear.  I imagine she views herself akin to the image below (Nine Lives ~Hanyafuda Suru Nyan!~ – Hanafuda card game with cat girls).

Cat Girls - and Cleo's Alter Ego - from a Japanese Card Game

Cat Girls – and Cleo’s Alter Ego – from a Japanese Card Game

Over the last two weeks we have been busy at work (and some measure of play) getting ready for our move.  This involved, not in the least, three separate moves of our household goods over five days; riding my motorcycle three hours to Montgomery to be placed into storage, and then riding back to put a truck to the same modality of hibernation; cleaning & fixing the home to the last second to get ready for renters; moving into a pet-friendly hotel for a week, and finally, making sure our furry little friend could go along with us, in as much comfort as possible.

Ready to Go?  Probably Not....

Ready to Go? Probably Not….

I’ve already written extensively about the cat-astrophic requirements for importing an animal into Japan (see my blog entitled “Feline Fiasco”).  Part of this process, however, involved getting Cleo acclimatized to her hard crate and soft carrier (yes, we had to lug both 8,000 miles), which, for a grown cat, is next to impossible.  But we had to try….

Cleo's Traveling Confinement

Cleo’s Traveling Confinement

Cleo went back and forth with us to and from the house our last week in Pensacola while we were in our hotel.  Partly because of the above-mentioned reasoning (acclimatization), a little more to let her roam freely in and around our house where she is a very independent indoor-outdoor cat (with her own cat-door), but mostly because we KNEW she would try and make an escape when housekeeping opened our hotel room door.  After numerous car rides she continued to serenade us with her growing displeasure.

A genuine test came, however, when she had to make the long trek to the vet at Eglin Air Force Base, at least an hour (each way) in her hard crate.  Just our luck that Pensacola was in the process of changing military vets, and due to USDA and Japanese government requirements, Cleo needed a special “international health certificate” to go along with her medical record that is now as thick as most teenagers’ are.  Yep, she’s clean, micro-chipped, vaccinated, dewormed, de-mited, anally probed, titer-tested, and generally roughly handled by the veterinary establishment.  Never mind that I or you could be carrying any host of deadly disease….  The more you stop and really think about this – the contrasting way we treat the migration (and immigration) of animals versus people – the more it really stops to make much sense.

But Okinawa is rabies-free – and kudos to the Japanese.  Really.  That’s pretty cool.

Now about its problems with HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, and a whole “host” of parasitic diseases (Get it!?!  There’s a pun there.)….  It’s not that Okinawa is any different than other countries in this respect; quite the contrary.  However, it helps highlight my point about, to some not insignificant degree, as to a poorly-placed focus on disease transmission and control.

A Kabuki-Stylized Bakeneko

A Kabuki-Stylized Bakeneko

The Maneki Neko described above, is also a type of bakeneko, the characteristics of which Cleo sometimes adopts.  Bakeneko (化け猫?, “monster-cat”), in Japanese folklore, refers to cat yōkai (spiritual beings) with supernatural abilities akin to those of the kitsune (fox) or tanuki (raccoon dog).  There are a number of superstitions that detail how ordinary cats may transform into a bakeneko;  bakeneko then haunt and menace their household.  A bakeneko with a forked tail is referred to as a nekomata (猫又?, or 猫股 “forked-cat”).

In our case, the pre-traveling trials and foresighted feline forays did not appear to be paying dividends.  Since Cleo is so bad at carrying a “CAR-aoke tune” (Jody’s joke, not mine), we decided to let her roam freely in the vehicle, which I can assure you is NOT a good idea.  Of all the places Cleo could wander, she continually wound up lodged behind and/or around the brake pedal at Jody’s feet.

I’m convinced it was by pre-mediated design as a bakeneko.  After all, she has more lives to survive vehicle “mishaps.”  Anything to get out of that car.  I salute her resolution and commitment.

Anger Kitty

So, the big travel day comes, and we are off to the airport with our 5 carry-ons (includes the cat, but please don’t repeat that that to her, you know, because of the bakeneko problem), 6 pieces of luggage (5 of which were pretty damn near our limit of 70 pounds), and our smiling faces at 4 am last Thursday.  Based on our conversations with the vet, we “medicated” Cleo with about 8mg of Benadryl earlier that morning, which in the past has worked exceedingly well with my other cats.

Luggage.  Can you Spot the Cat?

Luggage. Can you Spot the Cat?

“Medicating” a cat is not in any way analogous to one having to take, say, a large abhorred pill that tastes really badly.  It is in some ways similar to trying to give a toddler some of that really thick, nasty, refrigerated oral liquid antibiotic that everyone around my age (mid 40s) should remember with a fair amount of visible disgust on their faces.

If Only Cats Had Thumbs - and Dressed Better

If Only Cats Had Thumbs – and Dressed Better

Except add claws.  And very sharp teeth.  And the uncanny bakeneko-inspired ability to wiggle away from just about anything but a fierce choke-hold.

Okay, that’s a wee-tad over-dramatized.  All you really have to do be is not afraid to grab and hold a cat’s scruf….

Cleo does well during our wait in Pensacola and our first leg to Houston.  As well as can be expected for a caged-animal used to her near-complete freedom.  And most likely better than her owners, both stressed with her displeasure and quite possibly a few irrational conclusions of possible discomfort and notions of suffering.

The Benadryl did, if anything, turn her healthy and vocal meow into a more pathetic, low and slow drawl of complaint.  More stressful to us, certainly, than the former!

However, we do decide once safely in Houston to try and medicate her again.  Mainly because there were times when she would rather violently rock and struggle in her carrier while meowing quite loudly and alarmingly.  It’s difficult to read your cat; they are not like your own children.  With babies and toddlers, astute parents learn quickly how to properly evaluate an annoyance cry from a distressed shriek.  It’s all too easy to misinterpret a different species….

The Girls in Houston

The Girls in Houston

We find a family-friendly restroom in the airport.  Note that the signage on and around these areas say nothing about being furry-friendly!  And there’s certainly no rest involved, not for a cat.  We let her out, auspiciously to give her water and “a break” from her confinement, but unlike a human prisoner, there is no equating this momentary freedom with any conception of thanks.  Or any curtailment of her stress.

[This leads to an interesting tangent – and possible business prospect if not a grandiose idea for (multiple) patent(s) – about truly pet-friendly spaces at airports.]

Cleo vigorously explores these new surroundings, reacting to all the outlandish sounds and abnormal smells with extreme caution and high alert.  Jody and I ready the next does of meds, and although Jody points out how jagged the 1/3 of a Benadryl pill piece is, I casually blow off this alarm.

A decision I will come to regret.

That's a 7,000 Mile Line....

That’s a 7,000 Mile Line….

Jody does the holding, prying, and prepping for dosing.  I hold firm in a totally unfounded belief that as a highly trained and certified perioperative nurse, somehow she knows how to handle my cat’s airway in with both the greatest effect and with least intrusion.  My role in this endeavor is as the “dose-er” to the dosed.  And unlike in execution by lethal injection, where a few people push buttons so theoretically no one knows who is ultimately responsible for administering any deadly drugs (doesn’t that make ALL of them equally responsible – an even worse ethical outcome), I know exactly who is to blame….

The pill goes in.  Not far enough down Cleo’s throat.  Jody tries in vain to get her to swallow.  Cleo either can’t, but in any case, certainly won’t.

Anything is better than Medicine

Anything is better than Medicine

I’m not sure how many cat owners get to see what happens when their cats taste a flavor that they detest in absolute terms.  Like as in an involuntary biological, physiological reaction.  From all my reading online, cats taste (and smell) quite differently than we do.  In fact, in the bitter and sweet ranges (to us), their experiences are radically different than ours.  Most meds we take are on the bitter to extremely bitter end of the spectrum, a place that quote, “cats detest.”  If any part of the pill gets on their tongue or near their specialized olfactory organ (in the roof of their mouth), they begin to violently wrench, salivate excessively, and literally foam at the mouth in attempts to rid themselves of their displeasure.  These effects are rather immediate and severe, and look deadly.

And it’s scary as shit.  But, experts always say that “foaming looks terrible but it is not dangerous or painful….”

Tell that to my cat.

This foaming went on for what seemed like 30 minutes, but in actuality was probably more like five; all-the-while I’m literally concerned whether she’s breathing, and just as literally, I’m sick to my stomach over the whole morbid affair.  I’m not sure what I would do if I was responsible for my cat’s death en route to Okinawa.


In retrospect, the funniest thought that rattle around my head, then full of racing fears, was that although I was recently re-certified as an Emergency First Responder (EFR) as a scuba diving divemaster (and for emergencies in general), the stupid course didn’t include CPR for animals!  In my life, I am more apt to have to do CPR on my cat than an infant, the latter of which I have very little contact.  Remember the conversation above about misplaced focus (wink)??

Cleo starts to recover, after spitting out the pill mind you.  And what started out as a quick measure to ease her longer-term suffering on the lengthy flight over the Pacific, turned into ten minutes of far worse suffering for Cleo.  You know it’s bad – really bad – when your cat voluntarily returns to her carrier without protest or sound, and peacefully lays down in complete defeat and surrender.


Exhausted and beaten, all of us make the journey to Japan.  Cleo spends another 19 hours or so in her carrier and crate, and what does she do when she is finally free in our lodge on Okinawa?

She loves us just the same.

Cleo Closeup

I feel as though I cost Cleo a life in Houston, a life for staying with us, for traveling unknowingly across the globe.  Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo, my once-again Maneki Neko.  Here’s good fortune to us all, and prayers for no more lost lives during the next three years.

4 thoughts on “9 Lives and Hard Travels

    • Hey, what about the poor keepers of Cleo! I felt so incredibly bad…. Tell Norma those vets are full of crap about that not hurting. It looked like my reaction when I was 16 after drinking about 12 screwdrivers. She’s fine hut made she can’t go outside, and the fact she has to be crated in the
      morning while we are gone.

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