Have you ever bonded with an animal abroad?
I mean like, have you ever become unusually attached to an animal that you briefly interacted with while traveling in a foreign place? To the point where you–however fleetingly–may or may not have considered whether or not you could get away with smuggling it back home?
Allow me to introduce “Leo”, one of the countless free-roaming cats of Thailand.
I snapped photos and ooh-ed and aah-ed over many of the stray cats we came across in Asia, but Leo was different. We met Leo while staying in a minuscule, sweltering hot jungle hut on Koh Phi Phi. We had just checked into our hut and were unwinding on the front porch after a long day of flights, taxis and ferries, when we spotted him lurking near our porch.
He hopped up and began frantically pouncing on the lid of the water bucket near our porch steps, used for rinsing the sand and dirt off your feet after walking back up from the beach along the overgrown jungle trail.
I slid off the hammock and crouched down to watch him.
“I wonder if he’s thirsty?” I said to Derek. I carefully scooped up the tiny cat and set him on the porch, so I could remove the lid and fill the ladle with some water. As soon as I placed the full ladle on the ground, the cat began drinking…and drinking…and drinking….
My heart melted instantly. This poor kitty had probably been roaming the stifling, humid island searching for water for who knows how long–and I was sure most of the other travelers probably just ignored him!
“Don’t worry kitty, you can stay with us,” I declared. When he was done drinking, I picked him up and snuggled him close to me. He was so absolutely freaking sweet and adorable–he didn’t resist my cuddling and fawning at all. He spent a while napping and playing on our porch, but when we came back from dinner, he was gone.
However, we spotted him near our hut and in the area several times over the next few days, and we always made sure to share our water and scratch his soft little head. On our last afternoon on Phi Phi, we were taking shelter from the heat on our porch when I saw him strolling along the dirt path up from the beach. I grabbed the ladle and filled it with water, and carefully carried it down to him where I set it on the ground and waited for him to drink. A few backpackers walked past me and snickered, giving me a “wow, what a crazy cat lady” type of look, so I lured him back up onto our porch where I could give him water free of judgment.
When he was done drinking, we spent a while petting him and holding him, before he hopped in Derek’s lap, curled up, and fell asleep. “What should his name be?” I asked. We tossed around a couple ideas, before landing on the perfect one: Leo, named after Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in the iconic movie The Beach which was filmed on Phi Phi Leh.
As we sat on the porch with Leo napping on Derek’s lap, the wheels in my brain began turning.
“I wish we could take him with us.”
“Would you ever want a cat?”
“I reaalllyyy wish we could take him with us.”
“Do you think anyone would notice?”
“What if we tried to hide him?”
“What if I carried him in my jacket?”
Eventually, Derek convinced me that there was no way in hell that we’d be able to sneak him onto a plane, nor was there any way we’d be able to do it legally. Not only that, but Leo was probably (hopefully!) happier on the beach–he probably had a whole cat family on the island with him, and after growing up here, he’d probably feel very out of place in a midtown Houston apartment.
Still, I was head over heels for that sweet little kitty, and would love to know that he’s being taken care of over there on the other side of the world.
So, what do you think? Am I insane for becoming so attached to an animal in another country? Has this ever happened to you?