My daughter and I may have departed Guinea earlier than planned, but we have brought a little something from the country with us – our new Diplocat, Ramen Noodle.
We lost one of our diplo-kitties, Tikus, when in Malawi, and I had promised my daughter that she could get a kitten though noted, given the challenges of moving with pets, it would be best to wait until after our arrival in Guinea before we found our newest furry family member. Our Guinea kitty.
Before arriving in Conakry, I had heard there were quite a few feral kittens at the Kakimbo residences where we would live. I figured once we got a bit settled we could pick out one of those kitties. Turned out they were super feral little beasts that were nearly impossible to catch. On several occasions I found myself running around the parking garage trying to capture one. It did not seem like it was going to work out.
At a Country Team meeting where I was the new person and did not really know what to say I blurted out I was looking for a cat for my daughter if anyone had any leads. Lo and behold the Peace Corps Director announced that if I am looking for cats, she has cats. A whole bunch of them running around her front yard. Though she fed them, she isn’t really a fan of cats, but is concerned for their welfare when she would depart in two months. It sounded like a plan.
Therefore on July 11th, a Monday holiday in Guinea, I celebrated by taking one of my very first (rather terrifying) drives over to the Peace Corps Director’s house to capture our new kitten. We had initially planned to grab one of the older cats but the Peace Corps Director thought maybe it would be better to adopt a younger one. And just then this little orange tabby streaked in front of us and C knew that was the cat for her. With a pillow case and a can of tuna and five people we managed to corral that ball of fluff into our carrier and we took him home. We dubbed him Ramen and guesstimated his birthday to be April 1.
At home I placed the unzipped carrier in one of the bathrooms, set out a little food and a litter box, and then closed the door. Just to get him acclimated. When I looked in 20 minutes later, he was gone. He was not in the carrier. He wasn’t in the bathtub. He wasn’t in the under the sink cabinet even though I found a hole where he might have accessed it. I looked and looked in all the same completely obvious places where he obviously was not. I began to think I had imagined the whole thing – the drive down the narrow streets, the catching the kitten, everything. But then after a few hours, Ramen the kitten crawled out of a hidey hole in the back of the commode!
So here is something else about Conakry. Before I bid on the assignment I watched a Post bidding video – a recruitment video of sorts. One thing that was most definitely highlighted were the number of pets in the Embassy community — and I distinctly remember something along the lines of what a great Post Conakry is for pets. Well, uh, that might have been a slight exaggeration.
I heard there were basically two vets for the expat community – one who spoke English and one who spoke only French. I went with the former, a lovely, good-natured man who I think was doing the best he could with what he had available. But it sure did make for some interesting times.
I needed to get Ramen fixed so I called on Dr. K to perform the procedure. One nice thing for Conakry is the vets make house calls, even on the weekends. Dr. K arrived at my apartment with his scrubs on and carrying his vet bag on a Saturday morning. We would be conducting the procedure on the coffee table in my living room. Yes, you read that correctly. A veterinarian would be conducting a minor surgical operation in front of my television set. I brought out my tie-dyed towel from Jamaica to make it extra special…
I had not realized that I would be serving as the vet assistant. I held Ramen as the vet injected the anesthesia. I did not have a great grip and he bucked as the needle went in — probably a good thing as I learned later the vet was more than a little generous with dosing. I assisted as the vet shaved the area and also made the incisions. This was not how I had initially seen my day going. Dr. K wrapped things up with some sutures, handed me a prescription for some painkillers, and headed out.
There was no cone of shame. I wish I had known that Dr. K had very little supplies as I would have ordered one from the States and waited for its delivery before the procedure. The lack of that cone became problematic. But that came later.
I headed out to get the meds at the pharmacy, then I came home to monitor Ramen. He was loopy, like really loopy, for a what seemed a really long time. But then again normally, in the places I have been where my pets have had surgery (the U.S., Indonesia, Malawi), you drop off your pet in the morning and the veterinary staff will monitor the animal for several hours until you can pick them up in the afternoon. I would say usually I do not see my pet until 6-8 hours after the procedure. It was quite strange to see him so groggy, his eyes unfocused, his third eyelid visible.
Over the next few days Ramen seemed very off. I kept trying to give the medication as prescribed, but the pills seemed large for a 5 pound cat. I conducted a little Google sleuthing and discovered that the vet had prescribed Ramen 150 mg of doxycycline each day. I had felt bad that the pharmacy had only had 100 mg pills. Yet, it turned out the typical dosage is 2 milligrams of doxycycline per pound of body weight – or only 10 mg for a five pound cat! The vet had prescribed 15 times that dosage! Once I discovered this, three days in, I stopped giving the medication altogether. He got his energy back, but developed a weird cough. A week later he ripped out his stiches and one incision site looked bad. Online I learned that usually stiches are not even necessary for neutering. I was beginning to worry he was not going to recover from what should have been a fairly straightforward procedure.
Luckily he did.
I also had Dr. K given him his first rabies shot and microchip. Dr. K told me he had no microchips so I would have to order one and he would inject it. I bought a pack of two off Amazon. After the insertion I gave the extra one to Dr. K and he was ecstatic. He thanked me profusely. He said it was one of the best gifts he had ever been given. I wish I had ordered a ten pack.
Ramen grew on us quickly. He is the mushiest cat I have ever had. Most nights he slept draped across my daughter or curled up near her head. A couple times a week I was the lucky one to have him join me for a snooze. He was (and still is!) naughty as well. He refuses to use the cardboard cat scratchers and he and his claws kept me in terror of his ripping up the faux leather sofas in our Conakry apartment or the carpet in our Virginia housing. We have showered him with cat towers with sisal fiber joints that he does at least sometimes scratch, and I have acquired a spray water bottle for when he invariably attempts another scratch location.
He is a rather extraordinary cat. We taught him to play fetch with some small bouncy balls and now when he wants to play he will jump up to the bed or the sofa carrying one of the balls or even one of his mouse toys.
He is also so, so good. As a young, energetic cat who gets a serious case of the zoomies twice a day I had no idea how he might respond to being cooped up in his carrier for the duration of our flight from Guinea to the United States upon our departure. Because the EU put new guidelines in place in early 2022 that require all transiting pets to meet EU pet import requirements, we could not fly through Europe. (The guidelines require a titer test for all pets coming from “countries of concern” for rabies. The test necessitates at least a three month lead time. Both the blood draw and laboratory testing for the titer would be difficult, if not impossible, in Guinea.) Therefore, we had to fly through Addis Ababa – an eight hour flight and a one hour stop in Abidjan – going in the opposite direction first. Then the 17 hour flight from Addis to Washington, DC via Dublin. All told our two cats – Kucing and Ramen – spent about 34 hours in the carriers going door to door. Ramen made not a peep.
And now we are back in the U.S. Well C, Kucing, and I are back. This is Ramen’s first time here. We lived first in temporary housing for 2 months and then moved into more permanent housing, meaning within the first year of his life Ramen has lived in four locations: Peace Corps Director’s yard, our home in Guinea, our temporary quarters in Virginia, and now our apartment in Virginia. He has a long way to go to catch up with Kucing, who has lived in six countries at a total of 14 addresses, but he is well on his way to being a proper Diplo-cat.
P.S. It turned out that the rabies and distemper shots Ramen got in Guinea were for dogs. We found out at his first vet check-up in the US. This could explain his interest in playing fetch….