Our First Foreign Service Pet, Part II

In my previous post, I talked about how the semi-feral cat living in our backyard when we started our third Foreign Service assignment in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico became our first “traditional” pet since joining the diplomatic corps. The tortoises we’d adopted in Uzbekistan couldn’t be imported into Australia, and were better off in their native desert habitat. And there was no hope of bringing a wild Australian parrot or kangaroo back to the United States, so we’d experienced lots of animal love during our first two overseas assignments with none of the permanence. But that all changed during our third tour when my husband V caught a black cat he’d been feeding and looking after in our backyard for a year and a half and took him to the vet for a checkup.

V had named our kitty ‘Dzish,’ a Turkish word loosely translated meaning “blackest black.” (It’s pronounced like “Jeesh.”) And once he came home wearing a cone, he no longer roamed free in the backyard. Instead he became an indoor cat under V’s watchful eye until we departed Post two weeks later for home leave and our next assignment in the United States.

In this January 2022 blog post, I shared a photo of V and Dzish playing as we prepared to pack out our house and leave. The photo makes it look as if Dzish were already a domesticated pet. But the first period of Dzish’s surgical recovery and becoming an indoor car was actually a little rough. He laid around in his bed, scared to be so near people, bewildered by the pain and his anesthesia experience, and unfamiliar with his new surroundings.

Sleeping by the front door after surgery, near all our outdoor plants that were wintering in the kitchen before we gave them away ~ December 2021

The first time Dzish requested food by walking to the pantry, a few days post-surgery ~ January 2022

Everything in those early days caused a meow-fest: him realizing he could stand at the back door all day and we wouldn’t let him out no matter what, me going too near him, us trying to keep him quiet and in a closed bedroom at night.

When he did start to feel a bit better, we went briefly to the home of some neighbor friends/colleagues for dinner and returned to find him totally freaked out… and no longer wearing his cone. Upon further inspection, we located the cone caught in the cheap, copper-colored aluminum mini blinds covering the small windows above the kitchen sink. Those windows looked out onto the backyard and we surmised he might have been trying to find a way to get back to his old stomping grounds.

The blinds were crumpled and bent to shit from Dzish’s wild escape attempt, and since we couldn’t chance him licking his surgical wounds for another week and a half, we unfortunately had to hold him down and “re-cone” him – something that traumatized us probably as much as it did him.

Dzish’s name written in Cyrillic on his leftover food, a kindness from V to distinguish between cat and people leftovers ~ September 2021

But, he did behave overall during those last two weeks in Juárez. He didn’t destroy anything, misuse the litter box or have any indoor accidents, scratch anyone, or even once hiss or lay his ears flat at us. Pretty remarkable, given the circumstances.

Dzish became our cat just in time to observe the nightmare that is a PCS packout ~ January 2022

It took Dzish several days to realize the staircase led upstairs. But once he did, he explored the house he had been so curious about while living in the backyard, and that now must have felt like a prison.

Second-to-last morning in our empty consulate-assigned house post-packout, looking down on the backyard where Dzish spent 18+ months growing up ~ January 2022

And of course, Dzish had managed to catch a virulent eye infection from a small sibling kitten right before he came indoors. The kitten was from a more recent litter his mother had dropped off in the backyard; hearing his tiny sad meows, Dzish had cuddled up to him and nothing could dissuade him. V had seen the kitten needed medical attention and managed to catch him, taking him to a vet in Juárez even before Dzish went to the vet in El Paso. That was as much to keep the baby away from Dzish as it was to help him, as Dzish’s scheduled surgery was imminent; in order to get Dzish neutered and healed up for our departure to Virginia, we couldn’t chance postponing his vet visit.

We later saw on social media the kitten had been successfully treated and adopted out to a Juárez family who renamed him “Whiskey.” But the antibiotics Dzish got in El Paso only knocked down his eye infection for a short while, and with the stress of his whole life changing and then driving for almost 2,000 miles, it came roaring back.

The day we left Juárez Dzish was not thrilled about being harnessed and put in the carrier, but little did he know he was going not back to the vet, but on a 1,940 mile trip to Virginia via the floor of our 4Runner

We had to stop at a pet hospital in Knoxville, TN during a blizzard as we made our way towards Virginia; Dzish could barely open one eye and looked pitiful. It took a few hours and he didn’t love the experience, but at least $300+ later he got the treatment he needed and wasn’t as miserable.

He took it all like a champ, tolerating a new motel room and litter box location every night as we made our way across the country, followed by a couple of weeks in a Virginia hotel until we moved into our new house at the beginning of February.

And over the past nine months since, Dzish has gotten more and more used to living in the house with us. We work about 80 percent from home, and go into our respective offices on different days, so he pretty much always has someone around. He’s less skittish, and never flips out about being home alone.

His favorite activities include playing with his toys in the evening, being brushed by V, hunting birds and squirrels from the windowsill, and laying on the couch on the main floor…

September 2022

…and most of all, being adored by his favorite human.

V and Dzish at home in Virginia ~ August 2022

  1 comment for “Our First Foreign Service Pet, Part II

  1. November 12, 2022 at 11:09

    I noticed afterwards this was actually the 300th blog post I’ve published on Collecting Postcards! Thanks for reading.


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