After a night of worrying whether or not our boat would be able to sail from Malta to Sicily, we were relieved to reach the port and find that the container ship we were booked on was indeed scheduled to leave.

On board with us were seven cats and three mice belonging to Julie, who works for Defra, and Colin, who designs video games. The couple arrived in Malta last year from Grimsby with three cats and three mice. Black-and-white mouse Jasmine and silver mouse Pearl were destined to be snake food before Julie rescued them. Brown mouse Bud was a wild mouse rescued from the jaws of Meo the cat — Bud stayed on with the family after convalescing.

Living next to a field in Malta, Julie and Colin were soon adopted by a family of seven more cats! When the time came to return to the UK, Julie would have brought all of them with her, but felt that three of the kittens were simply too feral to make the move. So she went to great lengths to introduce them into an outdoor cat colony, which worked out very well. So travelling with us are the three mice, the three original UK cats, and four Maltese cats: mum Grace and her three kittens.

Julie realised how easy it is to become involved with the cats on Malta. If she and Colin had stayed longer, she was planning to work as a volunteer with the colonies. The strays we saw and blogged about in our last post all looked remarkably healthy — unlike some of the places we visit, there seems to be quite a lot of harmony between the cats and the local community.

At the port we were once again amazed at how pets can be a great leveller. A very strict-looking port official checking our van broke into a huge smile when he saw our cargo of cats. ‘I have 11 cats,’ he told us, and proceeded to make cooing sounds and pretend tickles with his fingers. He was clearly hoping we’d open the compartments so he could give them all a cuddle!

From Sicily we crossed to the Italian mainland and headed to Bari, where we met up with courier M2. He took charge of Julie and Colin’s family to speed their journey to Nottingham in the UK, while couriers J and M continue towards Greece.

Waiting to board the boat to Sicily

Waiting to board the boat to Sicily

Our cat-loving port official

Our cat-loving port official

Julie saying 'au revoir' to her cats

Julie saying ‘au revoir’ to her cats

Pretty Grace, the kittens' mum

Pretty Grace, the kittens’ mum

Sam who has a cute black spot on her nose

Sam who has a cute black spot on her nose

Dave

Dave

Cleo

Cleo

Dave and Cleo snuggled up together

Dave and Cleo snuggled up together

Shy Meo finally popped out to say hello

Syd and Chockie simply didn't want to know at first…

Syd and Chockie simply didn’t want to know at first…

…but finally emerged to show us how gorgeous they are

…but finally emerged to show us how gorgeous they are

Jasmine, representing the mouse contingent