Placido wouldn’t calm down. He yowled and drove his face into the stretchy mesh of his airline-approved bag, two angry raw spots appearing on his nose. The vet warned against giving him tranquilizers, so I did the only thing I could to calm him: take him into the airplane bathroom.
I sat on the toilet and unzipped his bag on the floor. He quieted, periscoped his head into the open, sniffed the mix of soap and urine, and ducked back under. We stayed in the bathroom long enough to relax without raising suspicions.
We were only seven hours into a 24-hour journey. An hour later we repeated the same steps. Placido would lose hope, try to power his 15 pounds of panther through the mesh, and cry as loud as he could with his hoarse voice. My husband and I took turns.
It was my idea to bring our cat to India. My husband warned me it would be bad for Placido, that he would end up stuck in a hot Indian quarantine and we’d spend thousands of rupees to get his lifeless flea-ridden body out.
“Let’s wait until we’re settled,” he said. “Until we have a place to live.”
The thought of staying with Placido and his litter box in a hotel room was unappealing, as was the thought of keeping this strong-willed animal inside a duffel bag in coach class.
But the prospect of being alone in a new place without him was worse. Placido had a job: To give me some semblance of home and comfort while I set up house and started reporting in India. I needed him to keep me company while my husband travels the country on business.
I did hours of research. I consulted vets, a forum for expats in Mumbai, a sister who’s taken dogs and cats to live in Central America and Africa.
With a little work and quick maneuvering, it was clear we could take Placido, no quarantine. (It turns out only some countries and states quarantine animals, mostly islands like Hawaii and England.) India didn’t care if we brought a cat. We could have brought two, for that matter, as long as they had all their shots, and we could show proof.
When we got off the plane, and were ready to put our luggage through the X-ray machine in customs, it wasn’t clear whom I was supposed to tell about Placido. Documents in hand, I marched up to some men in uniform.
“I have a live animal, and I can’t put him through the X-ray.”
“Show me. Unzip your bag.”
“I can’t quite unzip it, or else he can get out.”
“No, it’s fine. Unzip and show us.”
“What is that?’
“It’s a cat.”
“That’s a cat?”
Once we were through customs, an agent we hired to help us with Placido’s documents met us on the other side. He had bad news: there was another “very important thing to do”. In the next few days, we would have to report to the Indian quarantine office with the cat and our documents. So they could “see” the cat.
The quarantine office is located in an industrial area on the outskirts of Mumbai, 90 minutes away in traffic. After sitting in a car that long, I worried my healthy cat would look unfit to stay in India.
At the quarantine office, we were told to wait inside the car. The vet would come out and “check” Placido. After 30 minutes, a man in an oxford shirt, and teeth covered in red betel nut juice, came out. He looked in the car and said, “That’s a cat,” signed a form, and walked off.
I can only guess this has something to do with Indian disdain for cats. Indians don’t keep cats in the home. They’ve started to keep dogs, but cats here are bony street beggars. I’ve read some vets in India won’t treat them.
Enter Placido: a fat, satin tuxedo cat lolling about the flat all day. The cook and maid are perplexed. “Is that a cat? Does it bite?”
I can’t finish this post without an update on Placido’s wellbeing. For the first few days, I worried this was a mistake, that the noisy streets outside our apartment and the heat would always unsettle him (the way they affect me).
He hid in our closet where it was cool and quiet for the better part of a week, but now he struts confidently about his new manor. Our apartment in Mumbai is larger than what we had in Cambridge, with ample windows for Placido to watch birds.
Most of all, we’re home more than we were in the states and he loves the attention. He doesn’t kvetch here the way he did in the states, meowing for what seemed like no reason. There’s no doubt Placido is adjusting better than we are.