My husband was never a cat person. He didn’t grow up with animals and was not relaxed around them. When we met more than eight years ago, he wasn’t even comfortable around my rescue cat, Nala.
In April of last year, my husband was sent to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for three months on business. He was staying in a hotel and would often eat at a small shawarma stand near where he was staying. He’d tell me stories about his days and his job, but in every call, he’d always make mention of one thing: a dirty black-and-white kitten that begged for food at the shawarma place.
He said she was as small as his hand and knew how to manipulate the customers for a piece of meat or a french fry. To get their attention, she would make a little noise we now call a “meep” instead of a meow. He would feed her every time he’d go to the place, not being able to resist her sweet little face and eyes.
In late May, he was walking by an ice cream shop close to the shawarma stand when he saw the same little kitten struggling to walk. She'd take a step or two and then her rear legs would crumple underneath her, causing her to drag them behind her body. It was obvious she was in pain, pulling herself to a hiding spot behind a fenced-in generator. He wasn’t sure what to do, so I told him to take her to a veterinary clinic.
A couple of days later, walking back to his hotel from dinner, he saw the little kitten lying in a patch of dirt, trying to lick ice cream out of a cup a shop worker had brought out to her. It was late at night; the veterinarian’s office wouldn’t be open, so he had to decide what to do. He knew the hotel had a no-animal policy.
He didn’t want to leave the kitten on the street, so despite the hotel’s rules, he decided to sneak her into his room until he could bring her to the clinic the next day.
He scooped the kitten up, smuggled her into the hotel past the receptionist, and put her in his empty bathtub with a towel and clean dish of water. The kitten lay on her side in the tub, looking dirty, tired, and miserable.
The kitty in the bathtub of his hotel that night.
After he went to the store to pick up some wet cat food, he e-mailed me a picture with the message, “Meet our new kitten, Jeddah!”
After he came back from work the next day, the kitten had pooped all over the bathtub and moved around in it, getting even filthier than before. My husband brought her to the Jeddah Veterinary Clinic, a 10-minute drive from his hotel. The doctor and his staff were fantastic! They gave her vaccinations and a bath, and treated her for fleas, ringworm, and a fractured leg.
After cleaning her up, he could see her real coloring. She transformed from a dusty, muted grey to a bright black-and-white cow cat with a quirky little mustache.
Because he couldn’t take her back to the hotel, he visited the kitten at the clinic every other day. Farah, the veterinary assistant at the clinic, told me later that every time the clinic door would open, Jeddah would run to the front of her cage to see who was there, and if it wasn’t my husband, Jeddah would slink back to the corner and lay down, disappointed. When he would come, she’d get excited and meep loudly until he took her out of the cage to snuggle. He brought her toys and played with her for an hour or more every other day for a month -- Jeddah would prance in front of the other cats at the clinic as she played with him, excited and proud that her special friend was there.
The day finally came for Jeddah to come home to America. My husband had bought a small carrier for her, lined with a puppy pad. He drove to the airport with papers and kitten in hand to start the long journey home. He had no problem getting her through customs, because the veterinary clinic helped to smooth the way with the necessary paperwork.
He walked with her on the plane, carrier tucked under his arm, and settled down with her in the cabin. It’s hard to believe this little kitten went from the streets of Saudi Arabia to business class in such a short time!
Jeddah was well-behaved the whole way home -- she barely made a sound, but because she was so nervous she kept passing gas! When my husband arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, he called me on Skype and I was able to see her on webcam. She was so cute! Her little green eyes and white-and-black face peered out of the small carrier mesh window at me.
Finally, after 20 hours, the plane arrived at Washington-Dulles International Airport. I was worried customs officials would confiscate her and tell us she needed to spend months in quarantine, but a few minutes later my husband came around the corner pushing a luggage cart with his two big suitcases, and perched on top was a tiny carrier, which I knew held our new baby.
I hugged and kissed my husband and then immediately focused my attention on the little kitten. “So this is Jeddah?! She’s so tiny!” I said. I couldn’t believe how small she was and how she could have survived on the streets alone.
Jeddah has been a joy for us since she arrived. She is full of energy, and curious at everything around her. She loves to cuddle with my husband and walk outside in the backyard in her fancy hot-pink-and-black halter. Our other cat, Nala, tolerates her, but there are still hisses and growls as they adjust to each other. Over the course of the last year, Jeddah has grown into a beautiful cat, and it’s been fun to watch her discover the world around her.
It’s hard for me to believe my husband was never a "cat person." He showed compassion for an animal in need, and I will always be proud of him for that. And I know he will always be Jeddah’s hero.
Oh hai! Jeddah hanging out in her new living room. Way better than the streets of Saudi Arabia!