Castillo Condo de Gato

“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.” ~Pam Brown

“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.” ~Michel de Montaigne

“Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.” ~Steven Wright

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny.  I do.

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny. I do.

Today is the day that our furniture is finally “supposed” to arrive in Okinawa.


You see, we live here in Okinawa in the future…depending on where you are.  Thus, the ship could actually be arriving tomorrow contingent on the time zone associated with its arrival date.  But what’s one more day when we’ve had to wait an extra seven weeks (see Castaway for the full sad story on the contracted shipping company simply forgetting to ship our household goods).  As of today it’s been exactly 16 weeks since the total of our “stuff” was packed up….

The women in my life.

The women in my life.  I’m thankful one of them shaves.

BUT, let’s assume the furniture IS arriving.  Given that we may only have a week or so to wait for actual delivery (unloading, customs, movement, more government waste and inefficiency surely has to be expended), and since I’ve covered some of the more important of our possessions that we’ve been missing since packing out our home back in the first week in August (see Do Sweat the Small Stuff and Easy Chair), I felt it was high time to give the third member of our home a voice about the same.  Of sorts.  She’s a cat, you see.  And she only speaks Spanish.

That book is in English.  Cleo only pretends to read....  I think.

That book is in English, which Cleo only pretends to read…. I think.

Sammy-Boy was a talker.  And spoke English.

Sammy-Boy was a talker. And spoke English.

I got Cleo – short for Cleopatra (of course), and her brother Alex  – short for Alexander the Great (of course), about six months after my former cat Sammy (the coolest cat on the planet) went missing in very early 2010.  Alex and Cleo, siblings, were very dissimilar from the very start; Cleo much more demure, light on her feet, and with rather odd leopard-like markings; and Alex, a somewhat blundering lover-boy of a more typical gray short-haired tabby tomcat.  Cleo has always been a smaller cat, and her size has allowed her the ability to jump extraordinarily high and better assume risks that most cats would instead take a nap over.  She has always been a climber, and always has immediately looked for the highest place she could attain in any given situation, and when that perch is attained, she promptly awards herself with a safe, quiet, and undisturbed catnap.

Cleo's nap spot as a kitten.

Cleo’s nap spot as a kitten, high in my office.  I bet she was reading my email….

What’s funny about this is that Alex has always tried to follow Cleo.  You see, he’s not nearly as interested in climbing, or heights for that matter.  As a fit and small kitten, Alex could climb and jump to the places his sister was able to easily navigate to, places that were usually not large and were rather isolated.  And once there, Alex would simply be too damn big for both of them to be comfortable.  And being more of a sumo wrestling build than his sleeker sister, as he got older (read:  BIGGER), he eventually gave up climbing in the same way and to the same places, and Cleo assumed her highness as Queen of the Household, wherever that home may be.

Cleo shared her perch, but the boy's ass became just too big.

Cleo (standing) shared her perch, but the boy’s ass became just too big.

There weren’t that many high places in my old condo in Pensacola (above), but there were plenty of high places for Cleo to explore and call her own in the house I shared with Jody there (below).

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations from our rooftop.

Not a step?  Cleo supervises DIY projects from on-high.

Not a step? Cleo supervises DIY projects from the top of a ladder.

Sleeping on the 8' plant ledge.

Cleo “sleeper-vising” on the 8′ high plant ledge.

However, moving to Okinawa initially really shook up her entire world.  It was bad enough she had to adjust to the loss of her brother in our lives; she literally became a different cat the very day he went missing.  Not only did the hotel in Pensacola suck for her prior to our flights to Japan, the journey across the continental United States and the Pacific Ocean was unfortunately somewhat eventful for our wee feline friend.  I mean if you count me almost killing her (see 9 Lives and Hard Travels)….

Cleo's thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression....

Cleo’s thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression….  The audio was something akin to “¡Vete a la mierda!”

In our “pet-friendly” room upon arrival in Okinawa – which simply means that the room was only friendly to pets exactly because it reeked of dirty, wet dog – Cleo immediately found the high spots.  But they weren’t very high, nor were they overly accessible…or apparently comfortable enough to nap.  Being locked in those two tiny rooms day after day for an indoor-outdoor cat is bad enough, but not having the space to climb and the security of her high perches I’m sure no doubt contributed to her rising stress.

Cleo scoffs at the elevation in the TLF.

Cleo scoffs at the lower elevations in the TLF.  Who puts a fan on a throne?

So, as we shopped around for a place to live here on the island, we always kept Cleo’s needs, and dare I say “wants” in mind.  We fully intended to rent a home, where Cleo could explore these foreign and far eastern shores easily from our windows and doors.  However, as we realized that what homes were left after the summer moving crush were much too expensive, too small, or poorly located, and as we shifted to looking at apartments and condos, we still looked at each location for what it could bring to and do for Cleo.  And what it might take away.  She’s family, after all.

Cleo's monster-smashing fantasies.  Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.

Cleo’s Asian monster-smashing fantasies. Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.  Tougher lost on the 3rd….

Living on the 5th floor of condominium building is tough on a cat.  There are a number of buildings all along the seawall here that look the same.  Further, every floor of the buildings and the exterior of every condo on every floor all look exactly alike.  So even though Cleo has these little windows in our place that we leave open where she can come and go as she pleases, no doubt she finds navigating the outside world quite daunting.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic.  Or more so perhaps this...thing.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic. Or more so perhaps this…thing.

Especially daunting, it seems, are the stairs!  Or more appropriately, the idea of multiple floors.  As much of a climber as Cleo may be, she turns out to be vertically challenged!!  For an animal that had a very extensive and detailed mental map of our neighborhood back in Pensacola, Cleo can’t seem to grasp the notion – or difference – between, say, the 3rd floor and our own!  We often have to go remind her, after hearing her cries for help, that “…we live up here silly, not down there.”  It seems her maps are one-dimensional only.  I’m pretty sure she hasn’t ventured past the 3rd floor, even though there is absolutely nothing stopping her.

She pleaded to keep the hutch.  It had to go....

She pleaded to keep the hutch. It had to go…back to help decorate a Cracker Barrel.

All this means that she really can’t – and doesn’t explore much here.  She likes the balconies at the front of our place and side where she can watch the goings-on along the seawall.  She most likes to hike down the breezeway and check out other peoples’ side balconies, where she’s been rescued more than a couple of times.  Jody and I have always felt bad for her because of this, and since our condo has relatively low ceilings (eight feet or so), we knew we had to do something.

Cat Castillo; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Castillo de Gato; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Thank goodness the Japanese have a robust love affair with their cats!  A trip to Pet Box and roughly $200+ later, we’re home building what has become Cleo’s new home away from her home, her very own high-rise Catland Condo.  In the little Spanish I do know, I heard her instantaneously correct our labels by quite clearly saying, “CASTILLO!!”  There’s no point in arguing with her.

"See, it says right here, "Cat Castillo"!'

“See, it says right here, “Castillo Condominio de Gato”!’

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo takes the stairsCleo’s Castillo is truly her place, err, PALACE.  Here again she has those high places to jump and climb to, but more so, the corner post perches all supply those high, relatively inaccessible places that make her feel so secure.  She sleeps, err, rules from her perches most of the day after her breakfast and morning forays outside.  She lounges, err, holds court up there (when not demanding from her servant Jody to drink from Jody’s bathroom sink) during the evenings when not playing or otherwise interacting with us, or the outdoors.  She even has a $100,000 (basically the expense of renting our place over three years) view of the East China Sea and some truly magical sunsets from her cathedra….

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow....

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow….

There’s little doubt that every dollar spent on this giant cat toy is completely worth the cost; it is a small price we pay for the upheaval we have caused in Cleo’s life.  And there’s even less doubt that Cleo appreciates this act of caring kindness, as every night after the lights are out and things have quieted down, she meanders into our bedroom, jumps up on the bed with a small meow, and chooses to sleep with us, her lowly subjects, in our low and lowly bed, quite removed from her highness.

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo in her new home

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.

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Tora Tora Tora, The Attack on Pearl Harbor 1941

Tora Tora Tora, The Attack on Pearl Harbor 1941

Tora! Tora! Tora! (Japanese: トラ・トラ・トラ) is a 1970 American-Japanese war film that dramatizes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  The film was directed by Richard Fleischer and stars an ensemble cast, including Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, Sō Yamamura, E.G. Marshall, James Whitmore and Jason Robards, and uses Isoroku (Admiral) Yamamoto’s famous quote, saying the attacks would only serve to “… awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve….”  The title of the film is the Japanese code-word used to indicate that complete surprise had been achieved over Hawaii.  Tora (虎, pronounced [tòɽá]) literally means “tiger,” but in this case it actually served a duality, encompassing both the strength, stamina, and agility of the carnivorous hunter t which it refers, as well as an acronym for “totsugeki raigeki” (突撃雷撃, “lightning attack”).

Tora Tora Tora Surprise over Hawaii 1941

Tora Tora Tora Surprise over Hawaii 1941

That’s all well and good.

But “Tora” is also the name of my Okinawan-born cat, adopted by my then family in 1999.

We had left the states on “surprise” orders to Japan.  At the time I was what the Navy labels one as “Not Physically Qualified” (NPQ) for flight, suffering from chronic and debilitating back pain and serious sciatica resulting from a severe back injury in high school.  Due to this status, I was not slated for a Department Head squadron tour, and since such billeting is required to advance in the aviation community, I become for Naval Aviation the proverbial round peg that can fit most any square hole.  Are there are always a lot of squares that no one wants anything to do with.

Japanese Influenced Tiger

Japanese Influenced Tiger

So, after 9 months of living overseas in Italy (they “stashed” me there on short-notice after a reservist backed out of NATO-based orders), I came home to reassignment to somewhere I had, and never had any intention of living, let alone traveling:  Japan.  It was a one-two-three combo knockout blow.

Or so I thought at the time.

Combo #1, a stiff right jab to the nose:  “You’re getting orders to Japan.”  I stumble back a step, somewhat dazed by the sharp pain of the words.

Combo #2, crossing blow from the left to the check:  “It’s a non-flying job.”  Confusion starts to reign as the throbbing realization of not being able to fly sets in.

Combo #3, a right hook square on the chin:  “…and you’ll be assigned to a ship….”  Tunnel visions and stars orbiting my psyche as I think about being “stuck” on a boat for months and years at a time….

Down to the mat I go, unreactive and stiff as a board, bouncing lightly upon first strike.  But as quickly as the Detailer – the guy who assigns orders (jobs) every two to three years – dropped me with this TKO, his gloves were found to be over-weighted with a healthy dose of misinformation.  The fight was called; a draw ensued.

Japanese Warplanes 1941

Japanese Warplanes 1941

It wasn’t Japan, but Okinawa to which I was being assigned.  And there is a serious difference between the two.  It’s like trying to call Hawaiian or Puerto Rican culture as the same as “American.”  Okinawa happens to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, all just an easy shore-dive away.

While it was a non-flying job, I was able to maintain flying status the whole time, which meant I didn’t have to give up my special “Flight Pay,” which at the time made up a significant portion of my pay.  Discretionary income became very important for scuba diving, and using the island as a hoping-off point for some massive travels.

And, most importantly, I was not assigned to a ship, but to a Flag Staff on Okinawa while ashore, and when required to go underway, I was assigned to an Amphibious Squadron Staff, which is in no way, shape or form to be confused with “ship’s company.”  Who the hell joins the Navy to be ship’s company anyhow?!?

Cats in Japan have a Long Loved History

Cats in Japan have a Long Loved History

The news had to be broken to the family, which, at the time in mid-winter of 1999, was made up of my spouse, my two kids Danny (10) and Naomi (6), and our cat “Tiger.”  My ex took the news well; she’s one to take on adventure, in particular those involving traveling in and around Asian (she’s of API descent, a mix of European and Philippine blood lines).  While we were most worried about our daughter Naomi, it was Daniel, our son, who took the news the hardest.  And, as you may know from reading my previous blogs, all my cats speak Spanish and I can barely understand a word.  I really have no idea how Tiger felt.

Our Cat Tiger, 1999

Our Cat Tiger, 1999

It certainly didn’t interrupt her sleep schedule.

My ex and I decided that since this move involved so many unknowns, extra expense, and quarantine issues regarding our cat, that it was best to leave our cat in the United States, were at least there is a fellow immigrant feline fraternity for her to converse with.  I had strong suspicions that cats in Japan would not only NOT speak Spanish, they would frown upon such a furry fake amidst their company.  We found a great home for Tiger with a good friend, and in order to make this arrangement palatable to my daughter – a tomcat like me (at least in character) – I had to promise her that as soon as we were settled on Okinawa we would rescue a cat and bring her home….

Weird Japanese Anime involving Cats

Weird Japanese Anime involving Cats

Fast forward a few months and we are moving into our home in Okinawa, a very large multi-story, multi-bedroom “mansion” worthy of most connotations of the word (but a word often misused and abused by the Japanese!).  We went to the shelter on Kadena Air Force Base, and strolled through the strays and rescues.  It’s a daunting process, trying to determine which furriness would become fast and ferocious friends.  I pointed one cat out in particular to Naomi and the family – a clam, quiet cat with salt and pepper whiskers who was demure and classed amidst the wild chatter and meowing of every other cat scrambling for a quick escape.  She literally was not making a sound, and simply tracked our movements with an interesting gaze from the depths of her cage.

“How’bout this one?”  The staff comes over and says she’s a stray, probably about 3-4 months old, current on all her shots, and still with claws.

“Look at how clam and classy she is, and I love her black and white whiskers!”  It doesn’t take much to convince a six-year-old homesick little girl who’s missing one of her best four-legged friends.

She’s ours.

Tora, Summer 1991

Tora, Summer 1991

On the way home we start to brainstorm for a name.  We already knew that “Neko” was Japanese for kitten (we tried to keep a stray kitten in our temporary lodging, but got busted by management), and that didn’t seem fitting.  We threw around a lot of the more obvious names, playing on characteristic of our new-found friend.  None of the suggestions, from any of us, seemed to be…quite…right.

And then I said, “How’bout ‘Tora’?”

My ex, sitting in the passenger seat of our car, looks over at me while thumbing through her Japanese dictionary.  While she’s searching, my son asks “Why, what does that mean?”

“Well, it’s a word from a movie I saw a long time ago called Tora Tora Tora.”  To tell you the truth, I had no idea of its meaning, literally nor its use in the attack on Pearl harbor.  “I’m not sure what it means.”

“’Tora’ means Tiger in Japanese,” my ex proclaims with a knowing smile.

“That’s it, that’s it!!” Naomi quickly shoots back, excited about the coincidence of this particular label.

Naomi & Furry Four-Legged Friend Tora, circa 1999-2000

Naomi & Furry Four-Legged Friend Tora, circa 1999-2000

The Desiderata states clearly that the universe unfolds pretty much how it should, and this was one of those times in life where all the right pieces fit all the right places.  We named this newest Okinawan addition to our family to recognize both her felis catus heritage, as well her spatial and temporal relationship to the piece of our American family left back in the states.

Tora is still with us today, and lives with Naomi in South Florida.  Except Naomi is now a 20 year-old college student, and Tora is a distinguished and less active but more charming old lady at 14.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen her since leaving Okinawa (the second time) in 2005 during separation prior to divorce, but she will always live on in my heart as one of most favorite and cherished “my cats.”

Cleo, our current cat traveling to Japan, has large paws to fill in Okinawa this time around, but I do believe that she is filled with, as the Admiral hauntingly proclaimed, a terrible resolve to be surprisingly victorious….

Tora, Tora, Tora!!!

The Current King Family on our way to Japan!

The Current King Family on our way to Japan!

Feline Fiasco!


“Cats don’t like change…without their consent.” ~Roger Caras

Furry Friend Happy Owner

My cat only speaks Spanish.

This is a loose reference to Baxter the dog in Anchorman (the movie), and a constant joke in our household.  And besides, I can’t understand a word my cat says, much like my Colombian in-laws.

And that’s both good and bad.  Bad because she’s moving to Japan, where she won’t be able to get away with feigning ignorance of indigenous language.  Good because I don’t understand the bitching I’m sure she’s doing while we are packing…and that to come while we are moving.

This is close, but not true.

This is close, but not true.

And she also doesn’t understand how closely she came to NOT going to Japan with us.  You see, the Navy and the government are involved in most every aspect of this move.  Need I say more?

Way back when, months ago, when Jody put in our travel request, we made it very clear that we were traveling with pets.  Nothing abnormal that would or should cause any concern, like, say, an Asian Tiger, for either the Navy or the somewhat proud owners of a smallish female Tabby who, in our backyard, tends to think of herself as said Asian Tiger….

This is true for all cats I think.  Except the fat ones.

This is true for all cats I think. Except the fat ones.

If you agree, you’d think wrong.

You see, the first hurdle in traveling with pets to Japan is actually with the Japanese.  However, having been there – with cats (yes, plural, *sigh*) – I had a leg-up on those requirements.  Time being the main concern.

While I understand that no country wants to import animals with disease, how is it that the humans they do allow in are not screened at all?  It’s a very odd situation if you think about it.  Aids, SARS, influenza, hepatitis, typhoid, small pox, yellow fever, chicken pox; one would think all these diseases would be at least of equal concern!  However, Cleo, our cat (“Cleopatra” is her full name, sister to Alex “Alexander the Great,” who went missing 15 months ago *SIGH*), has these requirements placed on her:

  • Be micro-chipped….  Check.
  • Have two rabies shots…30 days apart, and prior to 6 months entering the country….  Check.
  • Have a blood titer drawn and confirmed…at least 180 days prior to import….  Check.
  • Submit notification to import a domestic animal to Japanese authorities…and have it approved…at least 10 days prior to travel….  Check (ApprovalNonF_EN_sofa).
  • See a USDA-certifying vet within tens days of travel to have issues an International Health Certification (which itself is only good for 10 days)….  That’s for next week….

However, the most important requirement is to figure out transportation for your animal so that she can actually get to Okinawa!

Okay, not hard.  Many families in the military have pets, and surely the Navy knows how to arrange transportation!

Not for us.

We get our flight arrangements – finally – after waiting like 2 months, and we are being forced to utilize a military charter flight referred to as “AMC:”  Air Mobility Command.  While this is nothing more than a chartered commercial airliner, complete with civilian aircrew, it is the biggest red-ass you can ever imagine.  More on that in a bit, or, better yet, see my previous blog on AMC buffoonery!

Fine.  Red our asses, Navy, it’s all part of the “fun.”

Except our cat is “not confirmed.”

What?  What the hell does that mean?  Unfortunately for Jody and I, we mistook or misinterpreted the flight email to imply that they would keep trying to confirm our pet…mainly because that’s exactly what it said.  You know what “they” say though, don’t you:  you can’t trust the government.

After weeks of hearing nothing, and after fighting the Navy for some domestic travel arrangements that actually make sense, and after planning to spend a day getting to Seattle, getting a hotel room, and then catching the AMC flight the next morning, we finally call about our pet and, well, they’re sorry, but “they” made mission by getting us on an AMC flight, and that “they” were worry but the pet is really “our concern.”


It's in Spanish.  No idea what it says....

It’s in Spanish. No idea what it says….

There is only one flight a week to Okinawa from the states, at least on AMC.  Fine.  I understand that quite possibly – although I remain unconvinced – it is cheaper than commercial ticketing.  However, why on earth would “they” not put on us an AMC flight that had a pet allocation for us?  The flight the week before AND week after both had room for our pet, but changing our plans so late in the game would cause a whole cascade of issues.  Like pet-friendly room-arrangements in Okinawa.  Like we already have a renter for our house and we have nowhere to live.  Like the moves are all set up and we are losing the vast majority of our schtick!  Changing the AMC flight is really not an option, or, not a very good option.

Oh, but the Navy has a solution:  we are allowed to “delay up to 20 days en route.”  So, this is what “they” expect, given this authority.  We go to Seattle, and hope that, by using some form of Harry Potter magic that a pet slot opens on our flight (not likely).  If not, we stay in a hotel – in a city we don’t know, without a car but with a cat, who relies on an international health certificate that is only good for 10 days, AND, to be renewed, has to be done by a military vet OR a USDA official….  Really?  It’s really beyond belief that this is an approach that the Navy would take, an approach that would negate any cost-savings from flying AMC since “they” would be reimbursing us for hotel and per diem fees!!

Okay, Plan B…C…and maybe Q.

First.  Can we send the cat as cargo?  Oddly enough, we can.  It is not easy, nor cheap, AND, the cat can only be sent once we are in-country in Japan, so we would have to rely on some very good friends to help us out.  We don’t have many of those.

My dream for Cleo:  Marry into Japanese Shogun Royalty.

My dream for Cleo: Marry into Japanese Shogun Royalty.

Next.  How can we get out of the AMC flight?  The one that requires TWO days of travel and showing up for a flight at 2:30am for an 8:30am departure (true story), AND, stops twice in Japan before we get to Japan?  Well, there’s an instruction called the “Defense Travel Regulations….”

The DTRs state that the “mode” of dependent travel cannot be specified, or at least cannot be specified to either a military aircraft or military contracted aircraft.  So, I play the “I’m not playing your game Navy and you can’t make me play” game!  This would result in Jody, as the active duty servicemember having still to fly AMC, but me – and Cleo the non-English speaking cat – to fly commercial.  Fine.

Before forcing the issue, Jody has the good (common) sense to contact her detailer (the person in charge of the permanent change of station) to ask some advice.  Her detailer has an even better, if not graceful solution:  “circuitous travel.”  This means that we fly commercial, that we pick the routing and flights (where we can ensure that Cleo has a seat as well), and that we avoid two full days of travel (for only one) and the silly-assed rules and requirements that the Navy puts on flying AMC….

So, after three more days coordinating pet travel with two different airlines and agricultural officials at Narita airport in Tokyo, Cleo is going with us.  But nothing’s quite that easy, is it?  One leg requires us to have our cat in the cabin, while another requires us to put her in the cargo hold.  So, we will be hand-carrying a soft carrier and checking a hard-case!  That’s a lot of luggage for an eleven pound cat.

Who doesn’t even wear clothes or use a toiletry kit.

The water bowl however can always be half-full.  Even though we don’t have a military vet in Pensacola and now have to travel 1.5 hours (each way) to Eglin AFB for Cleo’s health certificate – and she really hates car rides, we are all traveling together on this great adventure.  And I’m sure that Jody is, at least, relieved to have Cleo with us physically in the cabin most of the way.  After all, family is family, and while the Navy doesn’t seem to realize or acknowledge this, our pets are every bit part of our families as we are.

Measured by the way we treat our animals.

Measured by the way we treat our animals.

Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  I’m not sure what Gandhi would think of our situation, but…

…I sure am glad Cleo only speaks Spanish.  She remains blissfully ignorant of moral issues involved in her moving to Okinawa!

Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo!!

Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo!!