Sometimes, very rarely, we get a glimpse of what it really means to get into the Christmas spirit. Or more particularly the bit that highlights goodwill. This story needs to be told because it shows just how generosity of heart can make a real difference.
It is the story of Lilly the kitten. A little soul who stood a snowballs chance in hell of surviving, but against all the odds, she triumphed.
I first me Lilly when she was tiny and showed up on the path that I walk along to feed the cats at Sveti Jakov as part of my morning ritual. When I first arrived in Dubrovnik 5 years ago, I realised that I couldn’t ignore the plight of the starving cats who have been dumped on the streets by their heartless owners. Most of these people would probably tell you they are good Christians who believe wholeheartedly in the spirit of Christmas. Well, Mahatma Gandhi once said “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals”.
Lilly was with her three other siblings, all were mal nourished and looking very ill. She looked as bad as any and was so timid that she would not come out from behind a fence for food even though she was starving. Having seen at least one hundred abandon kittens on my walk fail to survive, I didn’t give these new arrivals much of a chance and certainly not Lilly, the weakest and most frightened of them all.
But, as is my way, I started to feed them along with their other unfortunate colleagues and for weeks Lilly’s brothers and sister would wait on the path for me while she hid behind the fence. It didn’t take long for them to start to disappear. It is a precarious place for tiny kittens due to a family of owls living on Lokrum Island across the way who have grown used to visiting the area for a little snack. Not to mention the near impossible task of trying to survive on one meal a day at that age.
Within a month, Lilly was the only one left, probably because she was frightened and never came out into the open. Every morning she would cry as I walked down the path and sit behind the fence while I passed food in to her. Then one morning a transformation came over her and she jumped through the fence, ran to me and was incredibly affectionate. She had found her voice and began to chatter away, even as she gulped down her meal.
Every now and then a very special soul like Lilly comes along and she began to get into my heart. Generally, I try very hard not to let that happen as so many cats only last a few weeks. I did all I could to find a home for her. There was “no room left at the inn” (my house), so I rang the one lady who had all the contacts – Ljubica, the Mother Teresa for Dubrovnik cats. She tried but was unable to find Lilly a home. More on Ljubica latter.
As the day for me to leave and go back to Australia for a prolonged trip came closer, I grew increasingly worried about Lilly’s future. The winter was coming, and she would be forced to struggle with her fellow sufferers to find the meagre amounts of food in the sparsely populated Sveti Jakov area. I knew that by the time I returned she would be finished.
Then one morning a ray of hope arrived in the form of Elisabeth who was on holiday from Austria. She had fallen head over heels in love with Lilly as she was walking in the area one morning. There she was desperately trying to convince a young couple of Croatians walking by, who lived in Germany, to take Lilly back in their car, so she could then be taken to Vienna by Elisabeth. Indeed, it appeared that she had succeeded as the couple agreed to meet her the next morning and take Lilly. Of course, it goes without saying that they disappeared without a trace like so many people I meet here who talk a lot and deliver little. For two mornings Elizabeth was devastated, visiting Lilly and realising there was nothing she could do but fly back home to Vienna. On her last day I gave her my email and said that I would give her some feedback on Lilly’s situation.
The bond between Lilly and Elisabeth was stronger than anyone could have imagined as by the time she had reached Vienna, she had decided to come back and save her little kitten. The race was on to try and find a vet to have Lilly’s passport and vaccinations done so she could travel before I left for Australia. I had to get all that done on the day Elisabeth contacted me in order that enough time had elapsed after Lilly was vaccinated so she could travel.
Then, the next problem was finding a flight for Elizabeth that would allow her to take a cat. She spent hours trying to contact airlines to confirm details including a specialised travelling bag with no success. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. She finally got confirmation of a flight which would allow a pet to travel. These details had to be right as she could hardly leave Lilly in a garbage bin if things didn’t go to plan while boarding the flight. In the end there were no cheap options, and Elizabeth would have to spend over 500 euros to fly to Zagreb, wait, then transfer onwards to Dubrovnik, where she would again wait at the airport for half a day and then take the next flight back the same way on the same day.
Elisabeth’s fight was not for a few of weeks, and now Ljubica re-enters the story. Ljubica took Lilly in, even though she had a garage full of other needy cats, and cared for her until the day came for her to fly to Vienna. This wonderful lady devotes a large proportion of her spare time and money towards helping sick and needy cats. Driving every day after work from Zupa to various destinations around Dubrovnik to feed and care for souls who have been let down by the local people. It’s a great shame that a lot more people in this town, who sit around cafes and whinge about how bad things are while their partners are working out of Dubrovnik and chasing their fellow workers around the office, don’t get out and do something for some other needy person or animal.
Finally, the big day arrived and after another bout of high drama with Ljubica stranded in Split due to heavy rain and struggling to get back to meet me with her fury guest, I finally got Lilly to the airport on time. Yet more drama occurred when the airport authorities insisted that a terrified Lilly be taken through the body scan.
Lilly left Dubrovnik and can look forward to a loving and happy white Christmas in Vienna with her new family.