A cat rescued from the Cairo streets during the chaos of the Egyptian revolution of 2011 has not only become one of the best-known felines in the region, she was also the catalyst for a deep friendship between her owners and a group of nuns in Williamsville.
“Shu Shu has brought so much activity into our lives; we have met so many new people because of her,” said Tim Craig of Buffalo. Craig and his wife, Harolyn, often walk in local parks, pushing a pet stroller happily occupied by their long-haired cat. When people say hello or ask about Shu Shu’s unusual appearance – she has the round face of a Persian, some tabbylike stripes and the ear tufts of a Maine coon – the Craigs tell the story of her interesting background.
During a walk in Niawanda Park in the summer of 2011, the Craigs encountered a small group of Franciscan nuns on an outing from St. Mary of the Angels Regional House in Williamsville. Sister Marcia Klawon, perhaps the most serious animal-lover in an order named for St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, spotted Shu Shu’s carrier. “I just had to see, and I asked them,” she said. They struck up a conversation, and the nuns were intrigued by Shu Shu’s origins. The Craigs were invited to lunch at St. Mary’s, and their friendly cat was invited to visit the sisters who love cats.
“It is amazing, to hear Shu Shu’s story,” said Sister Alice Gilabert, who works in communications at St. Mary’s.
Tim Craig grew up in the Town of Tonawanda, but his career as a college administrator has taken him all over the world, including 16 years in Hawaii, where his wife’s family has lived for more than a century. In the 1980s, the couple lived in Cairo, where both worked for the American University. “We grew to love the country,” said Harolyn Craig, so when they had a chance to return in 2010, they did so.
Harolyn Craig said she will never forget the beginning of the popular uprising against the Mubarak government Jan. 25, 2011. From their 12th-floor apartment, she said, “I heard the noise of the voices, and we looked down and saw marchers in the streets.”
Although the demonstrations grew daily, martial law and a curfew were imposed, and military tanks lined the streets, the Craigs never felt personally threatened. But many businesses were affected by the unrest, including banks and shops. On Feb. 6, the couple set out to walk from their apartment to a bank and then to buy food.
Along the way they met a young neighborhood boy they knew. As they greeted him, Harolyn Craig spotted a fluffy young kitten near the boy.
Cairo has many “big and tough” feral cats, her husband said, but this cat was different. They decided that the dirty little bewildered kitten “was someone’s house pet that was put out to fend for itself when the owners fled the country due to the revolution.”
Before they left to do their errands, Harolyn Craig said that if the kitten was still there when they returned, it would be coming home with them. When they returned an hour later, the kitten was peering at them from under a car. “I called and she came out,” so Harolyn picked her up and began to carry her home. When the kitten started to squirm, “Tim said, ‘Maybe you’d better put her down.’ I thought, ‘If she’s meant to be with us, I’ll put her down and she’ll stay.’ And she did.”
Inside their apartment, the “very thin, dirty and very hungry” kitten devoured some tuna. Sand collected from outside filled a makeshift litter box. A visit to a vet where the kitten was treated for fleas and ear mites turned into an hours-long ordeal as their taxi driver encountered roads closed by demonstrations.
They gave the kitten a typically Egyptian name. “Little girls in Egypt are called by nicknames,” Harolyn Craig said. “And if their names start with the letter s, their nickname might be Shu Shu.”
Her husband said Shu Shu “became the center of attention for us and like heavenly grace; she took our minds off of the situation outside and the uncertainty of our future as we deliberated on where to go after Cairo.”
Finally, with their apartment lease ending and Tim Craig’s consulting work diminishing, the couple decided to relocate to Western New York, where Tim’s mother lives. They got Shu Shu vaccinated, completed the paperwork, and on May 25, boarded the 12-hour flight from Cairo to New York City. Because they were able to keep her with them in the cabin, the cat stayed calm as the hours passed. At John F. Kennedy Airport, they let her loose in a fenced pet relief area, but she “just looked around,” Tim Craig says. Finally, 22 hours after leaving Cairo, they arrived in Buffalo.
The Craigs found a home in Buffalo and began enjoying life, walking with Shu Shu in the parks. “She became an instant celebrity at Delaware Park and at the Niagara River walking path,” Tim Craig said. “We have actually made friends because of the little Egyptian princess.”
The random encounter with the nuns has added another dimension to the Craigs’ lives. On her visits to St. Mary’s, Shu Shu rides in her pet stroller to the activity room, where sisters gather for crafts and games. Nuns and staffers come in to greet the gregarious and curious cat, who explores the room without disturbing a thing.
“All the sisters who like cats come in to see her,” said Sister Alice. “We really enjoy her visits.”
“It’s hilarious to watch the nuns with her, they have really adopted her,” Harolyn Craig said. “Truly, Shu Shu is the way we got together.”
Do you have an interesting story about an animal whose love has changed a person’s life? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop a note to Anne Neville, The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, Buffalo, N.Y., 14240. Be sure to provide your contact information, including a daytime phone number.