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mao’s great voyage

With the attention-seeking princess Purdy sucking up the admiration of the masses, I think it’s about time that Mao’s story was told.


Mao is a great adventurer. Not only is he the only cat in the world who can say his own name, but his brave and never-say-no attitude makes me proud to call him my own.

Mao was born in a cage. Separated from his parents and with his siblings sold months before, his access to love in his infancy relied exclusively on his breeders. He was, to put it bluntly, the runt of the litter. The one left behind. The unwanted one. So our first meeting became a rescue mission. He was so small, even at 15 weeks, and with eyes and ears so big we wondered if he would ever grow into them.


Only the owners of Burmese can understand how they are. Burmese demand a level of intimacy usually reserved for lovers. They sleep in your bed. They kiss. They want to be on your naked skin. I’m not trying to puke you out here, I’m trying to tell you that living with a Burmese is a passionate thing.


Mao grew into a beautiful and regal animal who solicited adoration from everyone he met. But he was also shy and would only share himself in a particular way. There were some people he inexplicably disliked – but they were mostly of the small and annoying kind. Some people mistook his guardedness for neurosis, so typical of humans who have no sense for understanding. He wasn’t some ordinary moggie, he deserved respect!

Anyway many of his quirks were run-of-the-mill Burmese characteristics. Mao enjoys long and loud conversations. He likes his own personal space and will hide there for days if necessary. He likes to play fetch in four-hour marathon stretches. He has a taste for cockroaches, those two-inch beauties you only find in Sydney. Crunchy.


I wouldn’t say Mao was an easygoing cat nor one I would expect to embrace change. Although he cried to be let out into the apartment corridor, he did not like leaving the building. He hated going to other people’s houses to be minded and would promptly disappear into some obscure space for the duration.  He only knew one other cat and he despised all other animals. I would say that his state of mind at this time was not entirely robust.

When I announced I would bring him to Portugal the brevity of the mission was summed up succinctly by my sister as “If he can’t stand 10 mins in the car how the hell will he cope with 36 hours on a plane!?”


no cat bowls thanks, we're burmese

But I had no choice but to take the risk. We had already been apart for two years, and rather than forgetting me and moving on, when we were reunited he was so glad to see me it almost broke my heart. So we found a pet shipper we could trust, someone who sympathised completely with owner-related anxieties and I kissed him goodbye, promising that I’d be waiting for him on the other side of the dark time travel tunnel.

Mao was collected by the pet shippers a few hours before I was due to leave for Portugal. I knew the whole travel cage thing would be a drama, but I wish I hadn’t been there to witness the 45 minute fight to get him in there. He did not want to go. He couldn’t know his destination but he sure as hell was NOT going anywhere in that thing. So I boarded my own flight somewhat traumatised. I had to avoid getting inside his poor little head in a cage in the dark pressurised hold alongside angry Alsatians and whining wolfhounds and sinister sausage dogs. He’s alone and cold and frightened. He can’t move, he can’t sleep and he can’t get away from that doggy smell. I had nightmares.


I arrived in Lisbon in the morning about two-and-a-half days later and the first thing I hear from Sydney is that no one knows where he is. Lisbon’s morning is Sydney’s evening so I had to wait all day until they woke up again. I tried to sleep in the back of the car. I felt sick.I checked into a hell hole hostel and waited for an appropriate hour to call Sydney again. My sister has been making calls to the pet shippers and we are texting and trying to call and email and it’s all taking a very long time. The official word is – he is lost. His flight to Kuala Lumpur was delayed and he missed the connecting flight to London. He had left Malaysia, it was sure, but they couldn’t find what flight he went out on. Chaos reigned.


I felt awful. No I mean really awful. The hideous affects of jetlag gripped me like a psychosis. So tired. So tired you can’t sleep. Delusional. Hallucinating. Sweating. And now Vomiting. And Diahorrea. The worst diarrhea I’ve ever had actually, no small feat considering the dirty corners of the world I’ve been. Man, I’m sick. Very sick.

And then I remember dinner with an old friend just before leaving Sydney. He’d gotten up during main course to throw up. Just a 24 hr thing he said. A 24 hour thing for a big man, perhaps, but it’s a near death experience for me.

I can walk again by about 2am so I take myself off to hospital leaving the poor hostel staff to clean up the unfortunate mess I’ve made of the room. At the hospital I’m put in a queue behind people whose conditions are not nearly as fatal as mine. They can sit up, for example. They are not green for example. They are not seeing things.  I go to the triage nurse twice to beg but she ignores me despite throwing up in her wastebasket. Then a breakthrough comes when I start uncontrollably sobbing in the corridor and that upsets people. I get seen to finally, and have never been more grateful for a needle in the bum in all my life.


I don’t remember much more of the hospital except how agonising it was not to have a bed, and the waves of sickening terror that Mao was dead. A nurse finally helped me lie down and while pulling a blanket over me I whispered a thankyou so feeble and broken like I was taking my last breath.

The next morning I was still alive and while Sydney had no more information for me I went to the airport. They confirmed that Mao had still not arrived, even though they had expected him the day before. Now it’s Sunday, and Sunday night in Sydney. But the pet shippers were doing their best to contain the disaster and were putting in some double time along with their global airport contacts. First they were able to confirm that Mao had left KL on a flight to Amsterdam. But nothing else. And there was a problem. If he arrived in Amsterdam they would stop him there and “process” him, as it would be his first entry into the European Union.

Good people, the Dutch. Several hours later they had located my cat, alive and well. He’d been out of his cage and was being patted and spoilt. But where, exactly, was he?






He would be here tomorrow, then. But no! Tomorrow came and Mao didn’t. His paperwork, a vast volume of credentials about his health and vaccinations and destinations, had only been included in Portuguese and not English and certainly not Dutch! And to further complicate things it was now a public holiday in Australia and nothing could be done.


So I drove home and built a kitchen from old wine crates. That night they were able to say that they had found someone in Holland to translate the documents and that he’d be ready to fly on Tuesday. Cargo space pending…

Back I went to the airport and several hours of to-ing and fro-ing and he was coming and he wasn’t coming, and he’d landed and was fine and he had landed and there was something wrong! And they’d sent him back to the vet!

Wait. Wait. Wait. A very nervous young woman approaches me. Ele… não tem dentes? Yes, he has no teeth! I tell her, much to her relief. Mao has no teeth, and that’s OK.

The blokes in the cargo pickup queue were mighty curious about what a girl was doing in their queue and all the attention she was getting from the airport staff. So curious in fact, when my crate finally arrived they all gathered around it. I was so nervous I almost chucked again. I very carefully opened the cage door and put my hand inside…

and Mao was purring. Purring madly. It had been a great voyage!




  1. jean-marc et Magali March 20, 2012 7:13 am Reply

    Emma, ici, coté france, nous avons trois chattes qui sont “Elles” et viennent nous aimer comme elles le peuvent. une vie très compliquée, on les a sauvé deux fois, il y a des douleurs et des tendresses.
    Elles ne seront jamais a nous, elles restent hors de notre contact, et il a été difficile et coûteux de les stériliser.
    mais maintenant elles ont une vie heureuse, et malgré que Lisa, la chienne, trouve ces présences peu tolérable c’est un bonheur de voir arriver ” les chats” (anonymes: juste les chats)…dire bonjour a la porte.
    alors, on peut comprendre, bien sur.

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    Emma   Reply: March 20th, 2012 at 9:21 am

    quelle histoire douce! j’aimerais avoir trois…

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  2. spownall March 20, 2012 9:51 am Reply

    Only one picture of Purdy Princess? Tsk.

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  3. Dasi March 20, 2012 11:51 am Reply

    Hi Emma, this was a very interesting story to read (to say the least). I can only imagine the nightmare you went through. I’m so, so glad that Mao arrived safely and that he is happy with you. Love your blog, by the way. I’m from (near) Lisbon but have been away for a long time. It’s great to know how things are through your point of view. Please give a big hug to Mao (if he lets you :D). Cheers.

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  4. Katharina March 20, 2012 11:57 am Reply

    Give him a big kiss and cuddle from me. He is such a special cat and I never forget how he played fetch with me for hours.

    I miss you all!!!!

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  5. Sami March 20, 2012 1:11 pm Reply

    What a lovely story Emma. I can just imagine the upheaval his loss caused you! What a cute picture of him hugging the other cat. Why doesn´t he have teeth? Is he old?

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    Emma   Reply: March 20th, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    The teeth thing sounds scary but isnt. About 5 years ago a vet discovered his gums were very infected so they took them all out. Two days later he was eating like he’s never eaten before. He eats dried food, one piece at a time, with his paw, and eats so much he does get fat sometimes, and never gets bad breath!

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  6. cecelle March 20, 2012 6:20 pm Reply

    Great kitty and great story, now blubbing! Understand fully as I have three cats too. Was considering permanently moving over there and thats when I discovered Bella my Devon Rex has a heart defect – so I stayed. Hugs to Mao. xx

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  7. sarah Whitehead March 20, 2012 7:27 pm Reply

    you made me cry

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  8. Emma March 20, 2012 10:25 pm Reply

    Thanks everyone! He settled in very well after his trip, enough that I thought he’d be ok if I got a puppy. After a few slaps around the head, wookie worked out his place and they became friends. People who visit from home remark on what a changed animal he is, he is much more relaxed and happy here, and although he never ventures far, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the rare shy brown pygmy panther lurking in the great outdoors. He adores The One, (who doesn’t around here) who has never had a cat that smooches and is happy to oblige Mao whenever Mao gets the urge. Mao is yet to sleep on his face, but I’m sure that day will come. And then there’s Purdy – a relationship we can’t quite work out, but luckily she does love it when he bites her neck and licks her ears. 🙂

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  9. Emma March 21, 2012 4:12 am Reply

    I can only imagine your anxiety, having shipped our 2 (now deceased) moggies from London. I loved BA staff for their kindness and humanity at such a distressing time in my life. The boys, after ignoring me for a few days, were happy with their new home and having sheep to chase!

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  10. Kathleen March 22, 2012 4:36 am Reply

    What a story! I loved it – especially the good ending. Hugs to Mao and the rest of your ‘zoo’ :-)!

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  11. shiralee April 25, 2012 2:03 pm Reply

    Hi Emma — have become a big fan of your blog since my partner and I decided that life in rural Portugal looks far more attractive than scrapping by in inner-city Melbourne. Just hope that we are not totally deluded 🙂

    We also have a much loved but rather old cat and worry about how she’d stand the transit. If you have the time, I’d love to know which pet shippers you used and how much they cost.

    Hope to make your acquaintance in person some day — cheers, shiralee

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  12. Jan wynne-jones July 14, 2014 7:56 am Reply

    Fantastic story…. I have 2 Burmese, a brown called fizzy (see catster.com fizzy’s page, and blue Burmese girl, Jodie. I also had a lilac Burmese called pidgeon aged 20 and b4 that 2 other Burmese back in the 80’s, so many years with Burmese …. They are very special cats, I hope you will read my catster.com page to confirm what you already know about them, thank you…. Jan

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