Words by Pat Eggleton
It is a very strange feeling to wave goodbye to your dog in Cardiff, UK and think,
“The next time I see her, I’ll be in Sicily – forever!”
But that’s what I did on May 23rd 2005.
A few days later I boarded a coach for London Gatwick and once I arrived at my hotel there, I felt better. I was a step nearer to Sicily and was physically closer to Simi. Of course, I was calling Airpets every day to learn how she was and they were very reassuring.
On the morning of June 2nd, I took the courtesy coach to the airport. Simi had left the Airpets kennels with her carer at around the same time for she would still have to be pronounced fit to fly by an airport vet. Airpets had warned me that even though everything was in order, there could be a hitch at the last minute if pet space on the flight was overbooked [unlikely] or if there were pressure problems on the flight. If this happened, Simi would be sent out on the next available flight. Forewarned is forearmed and I made a plan: I decided that, in this case, I would fly ahead, book myself into a Catania hotel and await Simi’s arrival before going on to Modica.
I was desperately hoping that all would be well and that we would fly together on our adventure, but Airpets had told me that I wouldn’t know until I got to the departure gate. By that time I was so anxious – for Simi, not for me – that a couple of stiff gins were in order, at 9am!
At the gate, the ground staff told me I would know when the flight was fully boarded but the co-pilot overheard the conversation and took pity on the mad Welshwoman who was about to board his plane:
“Come over here, love”,
he said kindly. He pointed to the window and I saw the special container for Simi being hoisted onto the plane. I was so relieved that I started to cry and the co-pilot, a true Maltese gentleman, offered me his handkerchief. He said Simi was a little stressed but not too bad and he had just given her some water.
Once I was on the plane, he came along and told me that Simi was travelling just below where I was sitting and it really helped me to know exactly where she was.
“You’ll make sure she’s taken off at Catania, won’t you?” I asked. “Please don’t fly her on to Malta!”
The whole crew must have thought I was completely crazy by then but he just patted my hand and told me not to worry.
In all my well-made plans, I’d forgotten one thing: June 2nd is a public holiday in Italy and it wasn’t until a Modican friend reminded me of this that I remembered. I knew I’d be dependent on my friends in several ways once we arrived, so I was determined to get from Catania to Modica with Simi independently. The internet saved me and after a couple of hours of research I booked a taxi for us with Holiday Taxis.com. Believe me, it is no mean feat to prebook a taxi for a two-hour journey for yourself and a dog from Fontanarossa Airport, Catania, on a public holiday.
At Catania I had to go to the Scalo Merce - goods depot – to collect Simi.
“She’s not goods, she’s my baby!” had been my reaction.
The taxi driver met me and accompanied me there. He was kindly and understood my anxiety about my dog. At the depot, I handed over my documents and a clerk did calculations on a computer for what seemed like hours but was, in fact, twenty minutes. In the end I couldn’t stop myself asking if there was a problem but she just replied,
“No, signora. But I have to calculate the local tax.”
That was my first lesson in Sicilian “pazienza”. At last, she looked up, smiled and announced,
“Two euros, please, signora.”
And then my precious Simi was wheeled out, on an enormous trolley. I opened her container and she leapt into my arms, where she contentedly stayed for the drive to Modica while her container had been loaded into the boot. Taped to the side of it was her European Pet Passport.
We drove to my friend Linda’ s house, where we were all offered refreshments and Simi had a run in the garden with Linda’s husband, Gino. Then other friends arrived and we drove, in procession, to the tiny house in Modica Bassa where Simi and I would live for the next five weeks. Simi adapted immediately, for all she cared about was being with me and I could not have got through that time without her.
Six months later a copious envelope arrived with a Catania Airport logo on it. Inside was a receipt for two euros.