Ileán Pérez, Millo, Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz

XJ8A0216aHaving animals when I was growing up was a bit of an issue for my parents, but they got used to the fact that I would rescue any cat that crossed my path. And, living in Puerto Rico where the stray population is high, did little to deter me. Fast-forward to my sophomore year in college (back in 2002) when my brother responded to a newspaper ad for a stray kitten left in a box at the announcer’s house that turned out to be Millo (pronounced Mee-yoh); to date he has been the best gift albeit unexpected, I have ever received. He is 16 years old and my best friend. We have lived and traveled together all of these years.XJ8A0199aWhen I decided to move to Spain chasing after an already forgotten love story, he moved with me and acquired his own European passport. We later moved back to NY and in August 2016 we decided to return to Puerto Rico and little did we know that two more cats would join our team.

Given that the island is going through an economic & political slump, a lot of people have opted for the mainland leaving their pets behind. Dumped on the streets or locked inside their former homes, they wander the streets and overpopulate all types of shelters. Hence, it was inevitable that at some point I would bump into needy felines.  I ended up taking in two teeny siblings that I found on the street, close to where I lived. They are Richie Ray (black) and Bobby Cruz (orange), named after two Nuyorican salsa music legends. I asked my boyfriend to name them as a subtle coaxing to have him accept the fact that they might be staying for the long run.

Then, Hurricane Maria happened and our lives were forever changed.

We used to live in an apartment with glass windows and a glass wall therefore I prepped everything as if we were moving to avoid flying hazards in case a window broke and let the raging winds in. The cats spent hours in their carriers waiting for the Category 4 hurricane to exit. I figured that they needed to be ready to run in case something happened. The next days were spent in complete isolation from the world and under a heat spell. The cats were stretched out on the floor like melted crayons. The bees were hectic all over the island since the totality of lush greenness had vanished and with it their homes, so they entered our apartment stinging Richie on the lip. No allergies to report! All telecommunications were down; all you could see was sheer destruction and zero emergency response teams for days.

I was finally able to leave when the company I used to work for in NJ bought me a ticket 10 days later. They called saying, you have a ticket for today. I decided to take Millo with me, and prepped a room for Richie and Bobby at my parents’ house, which was relatively safer. My parents were not home and since telecommunications were down, I could only leave them a note explaining what had happened and that I would be back for the cats and a proper goodbye in the near future. To this day this part of the story makes me teary eyed. At the airport, there was no a/c nor ventilation and we spent five hours just waiting for TSA. Millo seemed to be having a heat stroke and I was a bundle of nerves. I distinctly remember being at the gate and feeling the a/c from the airplane. My eyes swelled with tears because there I was dirty, smelly, leaving my family behind and being able to enjoy the simple pleasure of the a/c made me feel like a traitor.

Millo and I spent close to eight weeks sleeping on sofas and beds and inflatable mattresses all over New York while I worked to secure an apartment waking up every morning for my job. He is the perfect traveling partner, he never once complained, he was just happy to be by my side. By sheer luck I managed to rent the same apartment I had left behind in 2016.

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A friend that flew in to NY brought Bobby with her and when I returned to PR in November to move out of my former flat I took Richie with me. All the stress and change wreaked urinary havoc on Richie, and Bobby had to pay a visit to the hospital in December. But now they are happy go lucky cats with a few glitches.

Since Millo just turned 16 (he´s a Leo) I prefer that he stay home instead of traveling so he can enjoy the kitty pleasures of having a routine.  My favorite routine is bedtime.  I had to train them to sleep with me at night because I could not have them run around at night with Airbnb guests over. Therefore, they learned that after dinnertime and playtime comes bedtime. I prop my legs against the wall to read and they settle down around me, then I usher them into their beds.

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Ilean is a writer and project manager deluxe from Puerto Rico that calls Brooklyn home. She is working on a magazine called Tres Gatos and beginning a T/N/R program for community cats in Santurce, Puerto Rico.

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girlsandtheircats

Photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.

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