Ha Jin the Korean-Canadian-Irish Cat
Another beautiful day and another breakfast out on the patio – I don’t know how I’m going to adjust when the baby arrives; for the past few months I’ve mainly been home alone with just the cat for company! It doesn’t help that I don’t have a driver’s license, but it’s on the list right after I cross off “have my life changed forever by giving birth”.
I’m not sure how the cat will react to a newborn, either. She’s been our fur baby (well, mine and then, gradually, Pat’s) for the last five years. I adopted her while living in Korea and named her Ha Jin after my favourite student, who didn’t like speaking English but did enjoy meowing like a cat.
A few months after adopting Ha Jin, I met Patrick. He grumbled as I insisted on moving her to Canada with us. He didn’t like cats. He was, and mostly remains, a dog person. I’m a dog person, too, but cats are much less work. When we move to a real house (that we own) with a big backyard, then I’ll be ready for a dog.
So Patrick and Ha Jin were wary of each other for a few years. She came to Canada with us, along with my other adopted cat from Korea, a Japanese Bobtail I called Somi. Somi was mean. She wasn’t friendly. She was loud and demanding and had a constant pained look on her little furry face. She was the dominant cat in the relationship, and Ha Jin, as far as we knew, had no personality whatsoever. She was just the “quiet one”.
After moving to Toronto, we decided to bring the cats with us on our trip home to Cape Breton for Christmas. We were taking the train, which would take about 28 hours from start to finish. The cats were coming with us, but had to stay in the baggage car with all the other pets making the trip.
I didn’t like the idea, but we bought a new carrier, put a padlock on it and put the two cats in together so they wouldn’t be too scared.
When we were about to arrive in Montreal, a voice came on over the loudspeaker.
“Will the owner of the two cats please come to the baggage car.”
Assuming they meant me, I made my way down the train, wondering what Somi had done. I was picturing her broken out of her cage surrounded by clawed luggage; Ha Jin quietly looking on.
When I arrived at the baggage car, the woman in charge (very quickly) said “I’mverysorrybutwelostoneofyourcats!” and then handed me a cellular phone with her supervisor on the other end.
He explained to me that, although he was in Montreal and the incident occurred in Toronto, one of my cats had escaped and they were doing all they could to locate her.
I started crying. I demanded to see the carrier so I could see which cat they had lost (even though I knew all along). Sure enough, reaching the carrier, I saw the door, previously padlocked, swinging on it’s hinges wide open. I looked inside to see my poor girl, Ha Jin, pressed against the back of the carrier absolutely terrified. Somi was gone.
They never found her. I don’t think they really looked. Feeling utterly helpless throughout my entire Christmas holiday, I called and called, leaving message after message. Finally I sent my best friend, who happens to be a lawyer, to the station in Toronto to demand some answers. Seeing her in her lawyer gear finally compelled them to call me back, but every conversation I had as a result began with “Well, I wasn’t working that day so I can’t really tell you what happened”.
Needless to say, we will never take pets on a train again. I can only hope some nice person took Somi in, because after all my searching (I even got her on the local TV station) and the help of the humane society, we never even found a trace of her.
If there’s any hint of a happy ending to this story, it’s that we discovered that Ha Jin actually has a personality! She really came into her own after Somi was lost, which makes me wonder if they were lying in Korea when they told me they had to be adopted together. We realized she likes to be the only cat in the household.
Soon after, she started becoming weirdly affectionate toward Patrick. He was surprised. Since then they’ve become friends. She’s adopted him. When he comes home from work, she’s right there next to him on the couch, watching the news. At night, she sleeps at his feet. She has completely changed his mind and attitude towards cats and he had no problem forking over the dough to move her to Ireland.
The other night as we were having dinner on the patio, she was lying down at his feet and he said, “I never knew cats could be loyal.”
I just think, on some level, she understands that we saved her life.
*Update: A few weeks after our baby was born, Ha Jin passed away from complications with feline breast cancer. She lasted a year with the illness, which is pretty good. We cherish the time we had with her; she really was a spectacular, brave cat.