When Sharon and Richard decided to move from the Greek island of Rhodes to New Zealand, they started researching what they needed to do to take their cats with them.

They found their cats abandoned near some rubbish bins as tiny kittens — about three weeks old. Grey tabby Nelson is a big boy whose hobbies revolve around food and eating. Never more than a few hundred metres from his food source, he loves people and cuddles, and even managed to convert his owners’ landlady from being terrified of cats to adoring him and feeding him tuna and chicken.

Ginger Kasper is the family adventurer, comedian and show pony. Sharon and Richard recall the day he came indoors screaming. Convinced he was badly hurt, they leapt up to find out what was wrong…he’d simply got wet in a downpour and was now wondering how long it would take to get his hair right again.

These two boys also had a beautiful sister, Nazdaneh, but tragically she was killed by a car in Athens just three days before the family moved to Rhodes.

Although Nelson and Kasper are actually in the air right now en route for New Zealand, it very nearly didn’t happen…

For starters, the draft import standards for animals entering New Zealand were in a state of flux at exactly the time the cats were to travel. Richard and Sharon decided to work towards meeting the new draft standards, even though they might not come into effect before the cats were to fly. This involved getting various rabies blood tests and other analyses completed in double-quick time.

Sharon and Richard spent many hours waiting at their very supportive vet’s, cajoling tests out of reluctant path labs, negotiating with the animal imports department at the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), getting advice from Kate at Canterbury Quarantine kennels in Christchurch, New Zealand, and keeping in touch with Animalcouriers to book, cancel and rebook travel arrangements.

Then, just as everything was looking good for a flight the next day, Nelson developed a chesty cough! At the time, the cats were confined to the house so that Sharon and Richard knew exactly where they were. Kasper was so fed up about the situation that he tried to escape through a very small window above Sharon’s head while she was in the shower: the window flew open and hit her near her eye, causing impressive amounts of bloodshed. She now has a small scar below her right eyebrow as a permanent souvenir of the occasion!

While waiting for the vet to examine Nelson and his cough, Sharon heard that he’d failed his second rabies test.

By now almost at their wits’ end, and convinced the two boys would never make it to New Zealand, Sharon and Richard decided to look for a new home for them; or at least a foster home in the UK while they explored other options that would let them travel.

At Kate’s suggestion they got back in touch with MAF, who eventually offered a one-off risk assessment of Nelson. As part of the risk assessment, Sharon and Richard had to provide official proof that the cats had always lived in Greece (their vet and a local animal welfare organisation wrote letters for them); and that Greece had had no rabies notifications during 2011 (the government vets on Rhodes refused to do this, but Sharon and Richard tracked down a sympathetic member of staff in a government department in Athens who came up trumps).

In the meantime, the couple had cancelled their flights, assuming they’d be spending the summer on Rhodes. But at the end of last week, they heard that Nelson had passed his risk assessment and that both cats were therefore cleared to enter New Zealand under the new standards.

So they got back in touch with Animalcouriers, who rebooked the cats’ flights from Rhodes to Christchurch via London, and sorted out the paperwork including transit documents and import permit.

“From your comments I’m guessing that most shipments go a lot smoother than this,” wrote Sharon in an email. “I am pleased, as I would hate for you guys to go through this stress and constant crisis and changes with all of your clients! Thank you for being so patient and helpful and supportive with all these complications… if we were there we would give you a big hug of thanks!”