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Old 01-28-2002
Doreen Gounard Doreen Gounard is offline
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Cats Aboard and Abroad


The author's 33-foot home, Imani, is the only domain her family's four-year-old cat knows.

It is 7:30 p.m., the dirty dinner dishes are finding their way to the galley as a big, warm, sun-shiny full moon begins its slow creep up from the Phuket, Thailand, horizon. Sam, our four-year old, gray-and-white tabby cat begins his stop-and-start antics that we aboard Imani have dubbed "Kitty Olympics." We all giggle as he jumps at moths and stalks small birds that think they can catch a break by sitting on Imani's lifelinestough luck! We are presently halfway around the world from San Francisco and Sam, initially a companion for our 14-year-old daughter Maya, has been with us the whole way.

We've found that taking a cat into foreign waters has not been difficult because most countries merely require that the cat remain on board, effectively quarantined from land. And territorial animals like cats are usually happy to remain the lords of their domain—at least Sam is. In the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand have the most stringent and ultimately costly requirements for visiting animals. Consequently we chose to explore more animal friendly countries instead.

In French Polynesia, Sam received an additional rabies shot—rabies vaccinations must be given every year there, unlike the US requirement of every three years. And he got a tattoo as well. An identifying code or micro-chip implant is required in most countries. We went for the tattoo, due to the fact that there are several different micro-chip systems being used in the world today, consequently one country's chip may not be readable by another country's system.


The full family portrait, including Sam nestled comfortably in Maya's arms.

Four years ago, our daughter Maya chose Sam from the available kittens at the San Francisco SPCA. He was three months old, an already neutered little ball of energy. We spent six weeks getting acquainted before we sailed to Mexico. Taking a cat sailing while it is still a kitten turned out to be a great way to make a "boat cat." The boat becomes their whole world and they adapt easily. While in Mexico, we met Josh Waddington, a sailing veterinarian, on board S/V CROSS from Victoria, BC, and he turned us on to Advantage, a monthly treatment that is dabbed on the back of the cat's head that kills fleas and ticks and then keeps them away. This stuff is amazing. It quickly took care of the fleas he had and since then we have not seen another flea in years. Now we only use it when he is in contact with other animals and has an opportunity to collect the nasty buggers.

As we have traveled further and further away from the US, finding good quality cat food is not always easy. Our cat started on Science Diet and it has been a slow decline from there. If we were to start all over we would feed the cat more people food and fish instead of being so dependent upon finding good kibble. While in the Philippines and on Borneo we finally broke down and bought commercial cat food. We found that Whiskas and Friskies were in most of the big supermarkets. And thankfully, where you find cat food, you'll usually find kitty litter available as well. We have been surprised to find kitty litter in almost every large supermarket we have ventured into so far. However, the best opportunity for cruisers to buy superior quality cat foods is through local vets. If the veterinarian doesn't sell these products, they often can steer you to where you can get them.

"When we arrived at Sebana Cove Marina, we set out to find a vet. Sam's lump had gone from bean-size to egg-size."
While visiting Borneo's Kota Kinabalu, we found that Sam had a lump growing between his shoulders under the skin. We were just leaving to go down the coast to the Malay Peninsula and felt that we would have a better chance finding a vet in Johor Bahru across the Strait from Singapore. So we made our way down the coast in two weeks time. When we arrived at Sebana Cove Marina in the state of Johor, we set out to find a vet. Sam's lump had gone from bean-size to egg-size.

But the search for a vet proved to be much more convoluted than I had anticipated. We were finally able to get hold of the Malaysian national chapter of the SPCA in Kuala Lumpur. They gave us a referral to the newly formed chapter in Johor Bahru. The chapter there in turn gave us a referral to Dr. Edwin Singam at Klinik Veterinar WonderCare in Johor Bahru.

We sailed to Johor Bahru in late October, whereafter Dr. Singam removed the tumor. It turned out to be lymphoma, and he said hoped that he had gotten it all. He encouraged us to keep a close watch for additional lumps and to fatten Sam up. Sam healed rapidly from the surgery and was back to his old self in little time. Yet one month after the surgery, while journeying up the Malacca Strait we felt another lump growing where the last was removed. We arrived in Langkawi, Malaysia's last port before the Thai border, and once again found ourselves hunting for a vet.


Now, wherever Imani ventures, the Gounard family remains on the lookout for good veterinary care.
The tourist bureau there was most helpful and directed us to the government veterinary clinic. There we met Dr. Johari Bin Saad, who operated on Sam the day after Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, was completed. After the procedure Dr. Johari informed us that he was not able to remove Sam's entire tumor. It was too far into the muscle. And that was all he could do for our Sam. We all cried as the realization sunk in that Sam is nearing the end of his life. Sam is currently very much himself, still running about in the evenings when the spirit moves him and the moon is present. We all are petting him more, smothering him with our love as we say our good-byes.

The animal healthcare in Malaysia has been good and compassionate, yet far less expensive than similar procedures we're aware of in California. For example, the two-hour surgery and overnight stay that Sam experienced at the WonderCare clinic in Johor Bahru cost a total of $75. Try getting that in the Bay Area.

We have no regrets for taking our kitty sailing with us for he has enriched our lives and helped teach our children how to accept the responsibility of caring for someone else. Even in his declining days he will continue to teach all of us the greatest lessonthat life is for living now. There's no dress rehearsal.


Suggested Reading:

Cruising with Cats by Sue & Larry

Feline Friends on Board by Tania Aebi

Cruising Pets by Kathy Barron

Buying Guide: On Board Ventilation