Naeila El Shatir considers her cat Sherry to be part of the family. When the Syrian refugee was given the chance to make a new life in Canada, El Shatir was determined to find a way for her beloved cat to join her in Regina.
"I've had Sherry for five years. He came to our home as a gift for my sister, who was disabled. My responsibility was to take care of him. She loved him very much," El Shatir said.
'This cat suffered as we suffered in the war.'
- Naeila El Shatir, Syrian refugee
El Shatir cared for her older sister, Rsmiah, in Damascus, Syria. Rsmiah had been paralyzed in a car accident in her twenties and was constrained to a wheelchair.
Then, during the war, a bomb destroyed a nearby apartment building and sent chunks of metal flying through their balcony glass door. The debris hit and wounded Rsmiah's legs.
The two sisters decided to flee to Jordan along with their cat, Sherry. El Shatir says she had to sweet talk a Jordanian border guard to allow them to cross the border with their pet.
"This cat suffered as we suffered in the war. He was always afraid," she explained. "He spent a very difficult time with us. He always looked at me to ask, 'When will all of this end?'"
Sadly, Rsmiah's leg wounds became infected and she died three weeks after arriving in Amman, Jordan.
Honouring sister's memory
For El Shatir, who counseled refugee children with psychosocial issues, taking care of Sherry became a form of therapy and a way of honouring her sister's memory.
In February, El Shatir and her elderly mother were accepted as government-sponsored refugees in Canada, but pets were not allowed.
"There is no chance," El Shatir said. "There is a big list of what you can bring and can't bring. I can't bring cats or plants."
El Shatir was torn over whether to leave Sherry behind. In the end, she entrusted Sherry with her brother who promised to complete the extensive medical screening and paper work required to ship a cat to Canada.
"He has formal paperwork more than me," El Shatir joked.
A family friend who knew how much Sherry meant to El Shatir and her deceased sister, offered to pay the cargo fee — but refused to tell El Shatir how much it cost.
The final leg of the trip, from Toronto to Regina, cost about $200.
Now reunited with her cat, El Shatir is grateful that Canada has welcomed not only her but also Sherry.