Should I Move to Japan with My Husband or Stay with My Cat?


Brandy and I have a complicated relationship with Japan. It is a part of our lives whether we like it or not.

You see, my husband is a Japanese scholar getting his Ph.D. in Japanese theater from the University of Hawai’i. For those of you not familiar with the rigors of Ph.D.-land, this means he has to travel to Japan for research all the time.

Most of the time this doesn’t bother me too much. Brandy and I are fairly adept at being on our own, and I’m not going to lie, when my husband is away I get to be Brandy’s favorite for a while. Yeah, we’re lonely sometimes, but the days, weeks, or months are often filled with late-night marathon TV watching and epic couch snuggling. American Horror Story and Dexter are favorites of Brandy and mine.

I can honestly say that Brandy misses my husband, her “first” human, dearly when he is away, but his absence strengthens the bond we’ve built over the years. Even if I am “the other woman.”

In this regard Brandy and I are cool with Japan. We both knew it came with the territory when we gave my husband permission to get his fancy “you’re studying what?” degree.

What I didn’t foresee in the midst of our Japan-adjustment period, was that with my husband away, this little cranky little calico would come to depend on me. Not tolerate me as an obstacle to my husband’s affection, but actually view me as a real honest-to-goodness member of her family.

I remember one night, barely a week into my husband’s first extended time in Japan, I was feeling especially alone in our big, stupid queen-sized bed. The months and months of “single life” stretched before me, and I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and weepy. As reruns of Arrested Development droned on my computer, my attempt at distracting myself from the husband-shaped void next to me, I felt a familiar “thump” at the end of the bed and the pressure of little paws stalking toward me.

My first reaction in this situation was to tense up. Brandy hates when I watch shows on my computer in bed, and this situation usually ends up with me getting swatted. She is a particular creature (she’s a Brooklyn-born kitty, so you know, she’s doesn’t mince “words”) and the computer is an affront to her domain.

However, something was different this time. I froze as she walked right up to my face, sniffed my nose, and then proceeded to burrow herself into my neck. And that’s where she stayed the whole night, long after I dozed off, the show ended, and my computer went into sleep mode.

She offered me comfort that night, and I have never been so grateful. Even if she didn’t know exactly what was up, she knew something was amiss, and I like to believe she found comfort in me too.

So when I decided to visit my husband in Japan for a little more than two weeks, a few months later, I severely underestimated the effect my absence would have on Brandy. Of course we’d gone on trips before, and she’d been fine. She’d usually would take up with our roommate and when we’d return, he’d regale us with stories of her hijinks.

But I’ll never forget the day I got back. I walked in the front door to our apartment, and as is my habit, called out to Brandy. No response. No chatty catty trotting up to me to tell me how her day went, no requests of butt scratches. Huh.

I went into my bedroom and found Brandy curled up under my desk.

I got down on all fours to look her square in the face. “Hi Brandy-wine, I missed you so much. How are you?” If a cat has ever looked like she’d been crying, that’s what I saw in Brandy.

She slowly came out and we sat on my bed. The first thing I noticed was her normally meticulously groomed coat was tousled and oily. Second, I noticed she was a little stinky. Oh god. She hadn’t cleaned herself in days, maybe more. I immediately started crying.

Luckily, Brandy rejuvenated almost instantly. With in minutes of holding her (which she never lets me do) and talking to her, Brandy perked up and and immediately set to work cleaning herself up. That night she hungrily gobbled down her dinner — a sight my roommate said he hadn’t seen since I’d left — and while I got ready for bed she never left my side.

It was that night with her snuggled under my chin, like she’d done so many months ago, that I realized she thought I’d abandoned her. I knew I could never do that to her again.

But now Brandy and I find ourselves in a difficult situation. Our time in Hawai’i is drawing to a close, and there is a very real possibility that my husband would need to MOVE to Japan for a year or two. There is also a very real possibility that, if he gets the BIG GRANT, that I could go with him. But what about Brandy?

At this point Brandy is not a young cat anymore. She has a thyroid condition, a kidney condition, and a heart condition. All of her ailments are under control because of careful monitoring by her wonderful, attentive vet, and obsessive attention to her diet on my part. She’s as happy and healthy a cat as she can be at this stage in her life, and I want to do everything in my power to keep her that way.

So I’m faced with a decision that is looming closer and closer on the horizon: Do I spend what could be as many as two years living apart from my husband, but keeping my sweet senior kitty well and happy until she goes to that big cat box in the sky (which if I had it my way wouldn’t be until Brandy and I are both in a senior home)?

Or do I go to Japan and send Brandy to live with my mother-in-law? Who is a wonderful person, and has the means to do anything and everything to maintain Brandy’s lifestyle, but she isn’t my husband or me. She isn’t Brandy’s people.

There’s a third option that my husband and I have thought about, and that’s bring Brandy with us to Japan. We’re lucky that Hawai’i is in a zone that, providing she has all the necessary paperwork, quarantine will be practically nonexistent. But I am concerned about finding her a vet. I don’t speak Japanese (yet), and though my husband is approaching fluency, the finer points of “hyperthyroidism” and senior cat care haven’t been covered in his language classes.

What if Brandy gets sick? What if there’s an emergency? What if the medications are different over there? How do I precisely discuss dosage? The idea of her being sick and me not being able to adequately communicate to a vet terrifies me.

Not to mention the fact that the move would be stressful and hard on her. What do I do?

As the countdown to our departure from Hawai’i grows closer, I find myself repeatedly turning over every option in my head, and the one that I keep returning to is the first option — don’t go to Japan, stay with Brandy, and make sure that if she does leave this earth, she does so feeling loved and cherished. The thought of her passing away without my husband or me with her brings tears to my eyes just typing it.

This is the only option that gives me peace.

A lot of people think I’m crazy for seriously considering this. “You’d pass up a chance to live in Japan on the government’s buck FOR YOUR CAT? You’d live apart from your husband for a year or more FOR YOUR CAT?”

Yes, I would. But it is not without heartache.

So I’m reaching out to you, Catster community, to offer any insight or advice you might have. Have any of you ever been in a situation like this? What did you do? How did you do it? Is there more I haven’t thought of? How do you say “hyperthyroidism” in Japanese?

Brandy and I would appreciate any advice you can offer. Arigatou gozaimasu.

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