Bringing Big Aria home or: My Spanish cat adoption No. 3
Happy International Cat Day! Last not least, after adopting our sweet Siamese Leia from Barcelona and our Moody Maite from Andalucia, here is the story of my Spanish cat adoption No. 3, a huge Siamese-tortie mix called Aria.
First, a disclaimer: I know Barcelona is the capital city of Catalonia which for many years has tried to be independent from Spain. While I do refer to Barcelona as in Catalonia, Aria was picked up in Ciudad Real which is in Central Spain, was nursed back to health at a local shelter and travelled to Barcelona on a pet transport after I had reserved her to fly out from Barcelona so I guess that still makes her my Spanish cat adoption.
Every year without fail, I manage to fly into a honeypot over-touristed place without fail, and usually, I blame others for it. Last year, it was a work reunion in Florence. Nothing the year before, but I did take a bus to the Amalfi coast in 2016. This year, let’s top it all off by going to the place with perhaps one of the worst reputation for overtourism, where local residents have started anti-tourist campaigns telling them to go home or kill themselves.
I blame the cat. My Spanish cat adoption had not been going to plan.
You couldn’t say no to that, could you?
Barcelona in August? I must be crazy
Please hold your guns before telling me to keep quiet about this. Everyone should have the freedom to travel where they want in their leisure time, right? And Barcelona, though smaller than Berlin, is a big city. And in pre-COVID-19 era, it has been one of those cities that were overvisited: mass market cruises, boozy party trips, football fans, sun seekers to the Costa Brava beaches, city trippers…
Just disperse a tiny bit from the prime overrun spots of Las Ramblas, Sagrada Familia, certain sections of Passeig de Gracia and Parc Guell, and you’ll be fine! And honestly, both flights were full of Spanish or Catalan-speaking people about to invade Berlin or returning from their Berlin city trip. I cannot count the times I have politely shown foreign visitors how to use the ticket machines at Berlin airport or shepherded them to Alexanderplatz on the weird local train connection (now changed).
Hoardes of people behaving badly are bad no matter where you are in the world. We have issues here in Berlin with lack of living space because landlords prefer to AirBnB, and like Barcelona, the local government has taken steps to tighten the laws on holiday letting especially for those commercial operators of apartment that are removed from the general rental market, causing rents to increase and supply to become short.
Anyway. I hadn’t planned to go, leave alone on an ultra-cheap airline I do not like to fly with, or stay anywhere but a hotel. But the short notice, high season and work schedule left me no choice to become the worst of tourists: flying an ultra cheap airline, staying in an AirBnB and travelling in high season.
How we met Aria
I admit I have a weakness for cute cats. My first cat Leia the First was a tortoiseshell domestic cats whom I adopted with my then boyfriend in 2002 who lived to almost 20. And although I particularly like Siamese cats and Russian Blue cats, but did not have the heart to go to a breeder when there are so many friendly cats in shelters that need homes. A few weeks after my first cat had died, I started browsing breeders association websites for rescue cats or retired cats. I came across a website called “Rassekatzen-im-Tierheim” which connects rescue organisations and potential adopters and specializes in pedigree cats or mixes.
Before I knew it, I had Leia the Second. A year later, Maite joined us. And as soon as I wanted a third cat, of course another beautiful girl caught my eye. A cute mix between tortoiseshell and Siamese, waiting for her new family in a shelter in Ciudad Real.
Aria was picked up by local police in a housing estate in central Spain, full of wounds and half starved to death, but wearing a frayed collar. She was brought to the local rescue, nursed back to health and her owners were searched for. After a few months and still no one coming to claim here, she was put up for adoption and reached a German animal adoption site.
So my relentless browsing on cat adoption websites and falling in love with yet another cat led to a few weeks of very hard persuasion work and finally reserving the cat, completing pre-adoption checks and then waiting for a fight guardian to fly within a 300km radius of our hometown, then reschedule a clinic and book a day off.
About four weeks before our kitty was due to arrive, we received a message that, due to illness, out flight guardians may not be able to fly.
It took me a day to decide, then to book a flight for Aria and me home and then find an ultra cheap flight out that would not interfere with my work schedule. For the return flight with the cat I booked a direct flight on Vueling, who carry small pets in the cabin. I spent the next three weeks dithering occasionally online after work and looking for half-decent hotel in the centre which wouldn’t charge me 150EUR per night or more. I almost stayed in university accommodation, but the shock of moving between 6sqm rooms in different cities just over 1 years to go sat too deep, so I booked a private room through AirBnB. They have to have licences in Barcelona, by the way.
The Practicalities of rehoming a cat internationally (within the EU)
All the cats I had since I was an adult have been rescue cats, and I love them all. Leia, my first cat was adopted when I lived in London and came home to Germany with me. I had her for 16 years, and given she was an adult when we adopted her, she must have been 18-20 years old when she passed away. I wallowed in pity while casually browsing pet adoption sites when Leia 2.0 found me. Trouble was, she was in Barcelona, and this is how we adopted a cat from Spain! Leia is the most wonderful cat but gets a bit bored with no companion, so less than a year later, we adopted a sister for her, also from Spain. Maite is a bit of a special girl, but we love her all the same, and would not give her up for anything in the world.
And now, we were ready for yet another feline to turn our house upside down. “That’ll be the last one” my husband said. And rightly, our house and garden can easily take three cats, but the practicalities of feeding them, taking them to the vet, taking them to the cat hotel when we are going on holiday, is… easy with two, more challenging with three. Also, we had to rely on the cats getting on, because there was absolutely no way we would return the cat.
Any decent rescue will prepare the cat well in advance for international adoption. They will be spayed/neutered, have a microchip and get an international pet passport. The rescue will also book them onto a flight. Law dictates that they be accompanied – usually pet-loving volunteers who are on holiday and agree to take the pet onto the flight and hand it over at the airport. We had one cat fly in the cabin and one in the hold – both were fine.
Before any adoption, someone from a local partner organisation will do a home check or, if you live too far, you must supply some evidence that you’ll take good care of the cat, send photos/videos of your house and garden etc. Different organisations have different rules, for example, with some you will only keep the cat indoors, others say the cat must have a cat flap, etc. It took us some time to find the right organisation, but we are entirely happy with the ones we worked with.
The adoption fee is something like 200Euros, higher than a local adoption, but will include vaccinations, spay and neuter, the microchip and the flight. Also an adoption contract is usually drawn up and signed before the adoption. Some like to stay in touch after the adoption, some don’t.
My high season trip to Barcelona for my Spanish cat adoption
I flew out on a Thursday night on Ryanair, taking a 30l backpack that had a folding pet carrier compliant with cabin size carriers in it, a water bottle, camera, a dress for ultra-hot summer days and a change of underwear.
I arrived at midnight in a sweltering Barcelona, took the airport bus and then walked to my AirBnB room in El Poble-sec. Good random choice, by the way, safe, pleasant, few tourists, good public transport. I fell into my single beds listening to conversation in Spanish across the narrow road until 4am. At least I was renting someone’s spare room and there were two people actually living in the flat ratehr than commandeering a flat on my own as a tourist.
Bits of sightseeing before bringing Kitty home
The next morning, it was still super humid, but at least not as sweltering as the night before. Time to do sightseeing! I took the metro to Passeig de Gracia (super touristy) then walked up into Gracia neighbourhood, where the Festa Major de Gracia was just revving up. Great fun but a bit early for beer by the litre… fortunately I had somewhere to go, having booked a ticket to see the Casa Vicens.
I know Gaudi is super hyped, and I really like his buildings, but I wasn’t ready for the circus of the Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo. I walked a lot, criss-crossed Eixample, viewed loads more buildings, some of them by Antoni Gaudi.
I view a few more but less colourful buildings by Gaudi and his contemporaries. Aside from the Passeig de Gracia, the roads were not terribly busy. August is high holiday time for the locals, too.
Last not least, the Festa Major de Gracia was a local affair only. This was relatively early in the day. When I passed there on the night bus a day later, the party was in full swing, and I was too tired to get off, having endured two nights of very loud conversations in the streets of my room, and very little sleep.
I ended up at Mercat dels Encants. It was interesting, if only for the gold tinfoil-like roof structure and the ultra-cheap fabric. However, given the balance between quality and price, I rather stuck to the pair of reputable textile shops just north of Placa Urquinaona, Donna Teixits and Ribes & Casals (small chain with shops in other cities). Both are great although Donna Teixits was altogether cheaper for the same quality. . Another one, Gratacos in Gracia, was on holiday.
Then I took my tired feet on a looong bus ride along the sea front back to El Poble-sec and one of the many small restaurants in Carrer de Blai. I fell into bed knackered, thinking I would sleep but was treated to another late-night conversation. Yes, even with earplugs I felt like I was sitting next to them.
So, not much about the cat yet? Well… I arranged to meet the lady who had helped me with the adoption the next day. She had already helped me to adopt Leia the Second, and I was curious to finally meet her! Before meeting, I took a short trip to the old Sant Pau Hospital.
This is a pavilion-style hospital designed by Domènech i Montaner and opened in 1930 before closing as a hospital facility in 2009. It is pretty much as work in progress as a museum, but what is open, is beautifully renovated and I highly recommend a visit. You can then walk down to the Sagrada Familia and join the jostle while tehre were about five people in the entire complex of the hospital.
We met up and had a pleasant afternoon walking along the beach, sitting in various beach cafes along the packed Barceloneta Beach, then had dinner in El Born. I also managed to squeeze in a visit to my favourite eyeglass shop (Etnia) for a useful souvenir.
Then I got to meet Aria for the first time! She had come with a pet transport the previous week and was boarding with my intermediary, along with her own cats and two or three cats who were awaiting flights to Germany. She was right by the door when we arrived – and immediately friendly. She was also HUGE!
A memory of my first meeting with Ari. I had also just walked up the hill behind the new Sant Pau hospital in 35 degrees heat and was accordingly red and sweaty.
Another cat was arriving that night with the pet transport, and I tagged along. It is so heart-warming to see how many people in Barcelona adopt animals from shelters, and to see so many happy faces! We picked up a sweet red-point Siamese boy who was also being picked up by his new family. A drink and tapas later, I hopped on the night bus, excited about our new family member.
Travelling Home with a cat in my hand luggage
I rose early, had coffee and a croissants at my corner cafe, then walked to our meeting point. Soon, a taxi pulled up, with my contact and Aria in her folding carrier in the back seat. Aria is not a seasoned traveller, and she let us all know.
We decided not to give her a sedative, so I checked in at Vueling with a loudly protesting cat. I was given a seat right in the back of the plane. Then, security control. Of course, they wanted me to take the cat out of the bag, which I refused and summoned the Guardia Civil, who then, rather than arguing with me, took the carrier containing the cat through the security gate and that was it.
I travelled with Aria in an Amazon Basics soft cat carrier. Ultimately cheap but not very long-lived, Aria managed to rip through the seams on her second trip when I took the cats to the cat hotel. I managed to sew it back together, but only use it for transporting the cat in the car or as a backup. I now have a Sherpa Forma Frame Pet Carrier, which is also crashproof, and that’s a lot sturdier.
We found a relatively quiet place to sit and this is where Aria calmed down, helped by a few snacks. It’s better to stock up on snacks before, because entering any shop with the cat was a big no-no – they looked at me like I’m the Antichrist, and shooed me out of the shop – even a paper shop. Hygiene, I guess – or some rule I hadn’t observed. At least Aria was calm and ate her Cosma snacks without protesting further. I do admire people who go the extra mile and volunteer as flight guardians! You never know how a pet will behave, you will be restricted, but ultimately it’s the most sustainable way to transport pets.
The plane was full – of course it was summer!- but my seat neighbours were tolerant. Tolerant of me keeping a cat in a soft carrier on my lap and discreetly scritching her head. After the start, I kept the carrier on my lap, and had a calm cat for nearly the entire flight bar start and landing.
Once we got to Berlin, my husband picked us up, and once we got home, I placed Aria in her carrier in the bedroom, where we had prepared a bowl with food and water. YUP. Not suepr hygienic, but since all cats are allowed to sleep on the bed… We were both knackered and slept for acouple of hours, Aria close to me as if she had always belonged here. She also started eating pretty much right away, and showed great interest in exploring the rest of the house.
Aria is completely different to our other cats! Aria is boisterous, aggressive and not terribly interested in other cats but she loves humans. At first, we were worried that we had upset the balance between the two older cats, who were getting on really well, and to this day, Aria and Maite are still no friends but all three get on. This is the only thing – adopt a cat from abroad and you really have to have a long breath and patience to settle the cat in and socialize them with existing cats, and have firm arrangements in place should the adoption not work out.
Our Rescue Cats
Leia is a sweet Siamese, vocal, playful and friendly and very Siamese in a way. She talks nonstop and is the most gentle cat we have. It doesn’t stop her from having her moods when she runs round the house like crazy with her tail a thick furry column and demands play time! She was abandoned when she got pregnant and picked up from the streets heavily pregnant.
Maite a quiet somewhat stubborn cat which I think is typical for a Russian Blue. I have no idea whether she is pedigree, not that I care. She certainly wouldn’t win a prize at a cat show with her tabby pattern showing through and her altogether somewhat wonky build. But this is something we really do not care about. She was also picked up in the street – probably abandoned, too, she just was found in the street miaowing and begging.
She has a few strange tics, too, but we say, well, that’s just Maite. Lucky she came to live with us, because we are really tolerant of her not being a cuddle cat. She does things on her own terms, and that is to be expected when adopting an adult cat.
We are also lucky that all cats are in good health. They had their checkups before adoption, and we feed them good grain-free cat food and have a good de-worming and flea-check schedule and they go to the vet at least once a year for a check-up and their vaccination, but we have some reserves should they become ill.
This is a picture of Aria from the first weeks at home. We found out she tolerates a harness, so we took her on little walks in the garden to get her accustomed to her new empire while keeping her in the house for about three weeks. She now has outside access during the day, just like our other cats. She is a much-loved family member, well settled in and is currently lying loaf-like next to me on her scratcher. In just over a week, we celebrate her second adoption anniversary.
Happy International Cat Day, Friends!
Please consider adoption when looking for a feline companion. So many friendly and beautiful cats are waiting in shelters all over the world, one will be for you.
Here are the shelters we have adopted from.
Aria: Protectora La Bienvenida Ciudad Real
Leia: Adagats Animales Barcelona
Maite: Estepona-Katzen (web site in German)