GEORGE NEWS - Wilderness has a new resident: Charlie the cat, all the way from Kabul in Afghanistan. Charlie has come a long way from the dangerous Afghanistan to the safety of the Wilderness in the Southern Cape.
All the thanks must go to Kathy Whitehead, a South African-born journalist working in Kabul. She told the George Herald by e-mail that just over three years ago a friend in Kabul asked her to take in a rescue kitten.
"The little thing had been picked up along some dusty road and was no more than five days old. This tiny creature, that fitted into the palm of my hand, was in an awful state and quite frankly I did not think he would survive - especially as there was no kitten formula to be found in Kabul."
With a syringe and some creative thinking, Whitehead was able to concoct her own formula of sorts that fortunately worked. She called him Charlie and slowly but surely he grew stronger. During a trip home, she visited the George Animal Hospital.
"Armed with healthy probiotics I returned to Kabul and was able to resolve what had been a real problem for both Charlie and I. My boy grew steadily and for three years he was my shadow in Kabul. Together we moved houses a few times and endured many explosions, rocket attacks and random shooting sprees. As one can no doubt guess, each explosion was a terrifying experience for him - especially one brutal bombing a few hundred meters away that blew out our doors and windows.
"Desperate to find somewhere to hide, I realised amidst all the chaos that he needed his own bomb shelter. Myself and colleagues that lived in the house at the time had one. It was a safe room with a heavy blast door and was the place we'd run to for cover when needed."
Whitehead realised she had to think outside the box.
"Eventually someone brought me a large, bright red, plastic storage box. I taped the lid to the box and cut a small hole on the side. Inside was a blanket and the box was placed up high - on the top shelf of a wardrobe."
A few months ago Charlie went missing. Somehow, he managed to get out of the house and for three days he was nowhere to be found. "By the third day I was a basket case and my housemates decided to offer a reward for his safe return. The word went out on the street to all the guards, police and soldiers stationed in the area and at 06:00 on day four my Charlie was found. Covered in dirt, exhausted, hungry and super thirsty, Charlie cried when he was handed back to me. He drank lots of water and slept for the next three days."
This was the turning point.
"As much as I wanted him with me in Kabul, the time had come for me to do what was best for him."
So began the process of getting him home in South Africa. Charlie first spent about six weeks in an animal shelter in Kabul (an NGO called Nowzad) where all the necessary blood tests and documents were drawn up, until one Friday in early October the South African authorities issued his import permit.
From Kabul he flew to Dubai and then took a connecting KLM flight via Amsterdam to Cape Town, where he arrived on 10 October. After a six-hour road trip he arrived in Wilderness on 11 October, where he is being looked after by Whitehead's partner, Hester van der Merwe.
When the George Herald visited Charlie on Tuesday, Van der Merwe said he is doing fine and adapting well to his new situation.
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