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A few of you have asked about the cats, as in “What’s up with the cats?”

Well, I’ll tell you…

For much of my adult life I have lived with cats. This is not because I have a particular affinity for felines, although I like them well enough. Rather, it is because many of the women in my life have been partial to cats. It’s not quite been “love me, love my cats,” but close enough.

In my experience, Denise always had cats. And she made good cats, affectionate and responsive insofar as it’s possible to raise a responsive cat. For their part, the cats seemed to think I was a bit better than OK, and that feeling was mutual. But their true affection was unmistakably for Denise.

At the time of her death, Denise and I had two cats, Lizzie (honoring Elisabeth “Catty” Stanton) and Duffy (after a Seattle Blues Rocker.) The two girls share only an approximate age– more or less nine years old–and not a lot more in size, shape or personality. Raised indoors, they had finally joined us in the Caribbean outdoors where they adapted nicely and had four glorious months lounging about in the sunshine and eventually assuming a laissez-faire attitude with the geckos.

They seemed to really enjoy their new circumstances, so much so that on the day of our scheduled return to the other Washington they elected to remain on holiday, rather than making themselves available for the flight to the US. As it was, that journey turned into a three-day solo trial by snowstorm for Denise, while the girls and I held the Dominican fort.

Soon thereafter, I sped to Denise, leaving the girls in the care of friends and–by curious coincidence, Christin, our regular house sitter in the US who happened to be visiting her mom, vacationing in Las Galeras.

Over the course of several weeks following, in an effort facilitated electronically by a friend in DC and carried out on the ground by a substantial cross-section of the village of Las Galeras and ultimately and nimbly executed by our friend Christin who, bending regulations and violating rules with aplomb, ultimately delivered both cats safely to our home in Takoma Park.

There I quickly and completely became the primary, if not the sole object of their considerable affection. This was gratifying and comforting in any number of ways as I faced my own changed circumstances, the foremost being the circumstance of  “No Denise.”

It anthropomorphizes and probably overstates the case to say that the girls and I consoled each other, but it’s entirely accurate to say that we three were a mutual comfort in this time.

Like you, I’m aware of the commonplace advice to make no major changes in the first year after the death of a spouse. Perhaps like you, I never imagined myself in a position to experience this first-hand. We both figured that I would go first, but only after many more fine years. Making no immediate changes always seemed to make abstract sense and now I understand the wisdom of the idea and intend to make no significant changes in my life in this first year or so.

As a rule, it is pretty easy enough to do nothing.

I have had some experience with this in my life, and certainly millions of people demonstrate the possibility of accomplishing nothing every day. Some, I know, succeed in this for many, many days running.

And so I thought to continue my own life as before, more or less splitting time between the United States and the Dominican Republic, learning how to go on and wondering “what next?”

But what of my cats?

You may already know that traveling with a cat is not difficult, only a bit inconvenient.

One person traveling with two cats, and traveling in a Caribbean climate and with connecting flights is an entirely different kettle of fish. In fact, it is not possible for most of the year. It quickly became apparent that the girls could not commute and to continue with me, their new best friend, they would have to live in one place or another and that the best I could manage would be to pass in and then out of their lives every 6 months or so.

This seemed hardly fair, and so it was with a sense of gratitude and welcome relief that I acceded to the wish of one of Denise’s oldest and dearest friends who volunteered the news that her family needed cats, that in fact her sons had been asking if maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to “surprise Poppa on Father’s Day” with a kitty.

This appeared to be karma working in everyone’s favor, even if jumping the gun on the “no changes in 12 months” idea, and so we set about making the considerable necessary arrangements.

Mary, Poppa, and the boys live in the village of Herzogenbuchsee, about one hour and a half from Zurich, Switzerland. Moving the girls to Switzerland was not a simple thing. It is nothing like a drive to Baltimore, or even a flight to Austin. In fact, it proved to be a remarkably complex undertaking filled with detailed and officious requirements.

One unanticipated and quite complicated aspect of the process was contending with the changed nature of our respective relationships. Both cats behaved more affectionately with me, and I with them. They also appeared to be more affectionate and more forgiving of each other. Really, we were quite the cozy little trio, even as I set in motion all of the steps leading to our eventual divorce. This included the purchase of three different sets of carriers (don’t ask), separate veterinary certifications, shots, certified health records, chip implants, official document review and stamps obtainable only in an obscure federal office in a strip mall in Annapolis, Maryland and two separate dry runs (without the cats) to the cargo terminal at Dulles International Airport.

The dry runs proved to be an exceptionally good idea since both revealed different and correctable but shipment-stalling flaws in the plan.

And at each step of the way I felt as though I was betraying the girls and also letting go of Denise, yet one more time. Through this I remained certain that a loving and stable life with Mary’s family was in the cat’s best interest and mine. It was not easy.

Thomas and Mary were looking forward to the girl’s arrival and I was confident that much love was bubbling up, like yeast swelling bread dough in a warm corner of the kitchen. For their part, Lizzie and Duffy seemed only moderately suspicious when the cat crates materialized in their living room.

I scrubbed the new carriers thoroughly to remove all traces of the injection mold release agent, firmly fastened the water and food trays to the doors in conformance with the regulations, and collected a whole sheaf of particularly garish stickers to apply to the boxes with abandon (Live Animal! Caution!!! This Side Up!)

The girls were slated to depart on a Friday afternoon and scheduled to arrive in Zurich at 8:05 the following morning. Because it was a Saturday, Mary and Thomas intended to travel to the airport as a family to “pick up some friends of Denise,” with the idea of making a wonderful surprise for the boys.

This was before we fell afoul of yet one more requirement: the four hour rule.

The cargo facility in Zurich closes at noon on Saturday. With the girl’s flight scheduled to arrive at 8:05 AM that left three hours and fifty-five minutes before closing. We all understand that three hours and fifty-five minutes is not four hours, not by a long shot, as it turns out. This discrepancy was not in conformance with the rules, this discrepancy was not at all Swiss. And it certainly was not easy to resolve.

It took one particularly dedicated woman from United Airlines International Cargo Services a full day and a half, including one day that began specially at 4:00 AM specifically to reach an authority in Hamburg, Germany before he in turn got very, very busy with his own European workday and persuading him to modify the rule, thus permitting the girls to be loaded on the flight.

And so I plastered the crates with stickers, fed and watered the girls and spent one final night in their affectionate company. Around noon I slipped them some anti-anxiety medication (that the airline didn’t know about) and noticed that all of the brightly-colored stickers had fallen off the crates during the night.

At that point I could have used a little anti-anxiety medicine myself, but settled instead for lunch and a roll of clear packing tape. It was relatively easy for me to capture the cats and they didn’t protest very much. I knew a moment of fear in the cargo facility when the handler wanted me to take the cats out so she could inspect the inside of the carriers. I could just imagine a spirited and time-sensitive game of hide-and-seek in the cavernous cargo facility. I’d already had that experience in a tropical garden and didn’t relish the prospect of a repeat performance. Fortunately we were able to work that situation out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Duffy looked over her shoulder and through the bars at me as they both were carried away and into the air conditioned office to await loading of the aircraft. Perhaps I only imagined bewilderment and betrayal on her furry little face, but I don’t think so.

Even then, at the eleventh hour I came close to calling the whole thing off but I kept hearing Denise’s voice “They’re CATS, for God’s sake–they’ll be fine!” and I was still sure that the stability and security of family life was their best bet.

And so I let them go, and with them Denise, one more time.

They arrived safely. The boys were surprised. The whole family was delighted. The girls adjusted almost immediately. Love blossomed in the Family Kalau. And I recovered before too long.

Yet, off in the distance we could hear the faint but threatening murmur of an oscillating fan swiveling at an idle, searching for its next load of crap, which was not long in coming.

Regrettably, one of the boys had a serious and negative response to the cats, not really allergic but a response more viral in nature: fever, swollen glands, rheumy and red eyes and an uncharacteristically irritable little disposition. Over the course of several weeks many physicians were consulted, tests were done and remedies were tried without success. Even the final remedy–placement with an alternate family–proved impossible for two adult cats in the middle of kitten season in Herzogenbuchsee.

My metaphorical crap-splattering fan inexholerably came up to full speed just as the developing mess rose to meet its spinning blades with the consequence that the girls–who of course were unconditionally guaranteed and seem to lead charmed lives–returned to Washington with nary a spatter. This is more than we people can claim.

Mary, Thomas, and the boys were distraught and I was discomfited. Christin, staying in my home during my absence, was very sympathetic and yet quietly pleased–an ideal combination, when you think of it. She does love the cats.

And so we have cats.

At this time in our respective lives Christin has cats when she’s living in our house, and I have cats when I am. The Family Kalau regrettably has these cats only when they visit, but only in the US.

As for the girls, they are reportedly quite content for the moment and the foreseeable future–supposing that nothing further will change for me, or for Christin, or with them, for that matter.

So perhaps there is another river for them to cross in the future. Perhaps not–but what do they care: They’re CATS, for God’s sake, and they know nothing of life’s oscillating karmic splatter-fan.

And so now they are home, happy and apparently none the worse for wear. And I wouldn’t mind having their frequent flier miles.

This photo hardly does the girls justice, although they DO seem to be enjoying a warm step.

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