(KRON) – Tuesday’s Flying Tails is an international rescue story involving getting a cat out of war-torn Ukraine and bringing him to the Bay Area. That might seem like a lot of effort to get one cat, but it was also an effort to mend the heart of a sad little girl.
As Russian forces swept across the border into Ukraine, 10-year-old Agnessa and her family decided to flee their hometown of Odesa.
“There was no room for any animal we have,” said Maria Bezhenar, Agnessa’s mother.
They had to leave almost everything behind, including Agnessa’s beloved cat Arsenii. After a few weeks in Romania, the family was allowed to enter the United States, going to the Bay Area. On their way to San Francisco, their flight attendant learned their story.
“I once left Germany and I know what it’s like to go to another country and not know anyone or anywhere and I just felt this sense of connection with her,” said Dee Harnish, the flight attendant.
The two women stayed in touch after the family arrived in the Bay Area.
“I messaged her and said, ‘So how are you? How’s America treating you, is everything ok?’ And she said, ‘Yes, everything is good. Except my youngest daughter wants to go home. She cries every day because she’s missing her cat,’” Harnish recounted.
“She missed sleeping with her cat and she missed hugging him, she missed everything about the cat because she had grown up with him,” Bezhenar said.
Harnish shared the news with another flight attendant who rescues animals.
“She just sent me a text and asked if there was anything I could do to help with that huge request,” said Caroline Viola, the other flight attendant.
The request: find a way to get Arsenii back into the arms of Agnessa.
“And all I could think of was ‘My God, we got a war-torn country here, and you want me to get a cat out of Ukraine?” Viola said.
Viola started working on the rescue plan from her home in Hawaii — contacting an animal rescuer in Houston.
“And I said, ‘Well if you get that cat out of Ukraine, that’s a piece of cake.’ You know, get that cat back. The issue was to get him out of Ukraine,” said Angelica Chavez-Etchechury, the animal rescuer.
Bezhenar’s brother-in-law was watching the cat in Ukraine, and he laid the groundwork for the rescue.
“I say, ‘Ok, you need to get him vaccinated, microchipped, and passport,’” Bezhenar said.
He took Arsenii on his motorcycle across the Ukraine border to Moldova. The cat was then passed to a driver, who took him and a refugee family to Romania.
Arsenii spent about a month with a family in Bucharest while the rescue plan continued. It was at this point Agnessa was finally told her beloved cat might be coming to join her.
“So I say, ‘Ok, let’s pray but I cannot promise that it can happen,” Bezhenar recounted. “She was happy and she says, ‘He will come. He will definitely come. Just believe.’”
Animal rescuer Mimi Kate was on vacation in Greece and was ready to respond. She cut her trip short to pick up the cat in Bucharest and bring him home, but the Ukrainian documents wouldn’t allow Arsenii on a flight from Romania.
“All the documents must be checked for him in Romania because he just, moved from the country which is not European Union,” Bezhenar said
A tuk-tuk driver volunteered to help. In Mimi’s hands, Arsenii was on the move to wrap up the details in Bucharest. The texts and pictures started coming in as the cat got his documents and finally made his way to Athens, then Montreal, then Mimi’s home in Seattle.
At SFO, the family waited. Agnessa hadn’t seen her cat for months. Finally, after 7,000 miles, they got the reunion they’d been waiting for.