If you live on the east side of the Wirral you may have come across a white three-legged moggy called Achilles.
He belongs to 33-year-old Chris McKinnon and, at first glance, looks like your average cat. Only, Achilles and Chris have an amazing story to tell of Achilles’ life-and-death journey from Greece – where Achilles was born – to his new home on the Wirral.
“Achilles was found in an area of Kos called Tigaki – which is a quiet area of Kos – around April or May 2009 when I was a holiday rep out there,” Chris tells us on a sunny afternoon in Benricks Café, Woodchurch road.
“I was a rep at a local hotel and there were usually a group of cats outside. On closer inspection it was a group of kittens with a mother cat, and I saw that one of the kittens had a broken leg.
“The staff at the hotel were aware he had a broken leg but didn’t seem too interested. Achilles had apparently been asleep under the wheel of a car and couldn’t get out the way in time when the driver started it up.
“His back leg was destroyed. So I put him in my car and took him to my apartment, left the air conditioning on to cool him down and de-stress him, and went back to work.
“He didn’t seem in any pain; that stage had long passed but he was in obvious discomfort. When I finished my shift Achilles was dragging his foot around with him and his foot had started to decay. I was worried and, with the heat and chances of infection, the likelihood was that he would die.”
Stray with me
Being a stray in Greece is usually a death sentence with the problem dealt with more harshly in other parts of Europe, with strays typically seen as vermin be they cat, dog or other domestic animal. Chris had struck up an immediate friendship with Achilles and knew he had to act.
“I took him to the vet – the only one on Kos in 2009 – and was surprised to find him in his swimwear! He gave a diagnosis in his trunks; he said that Achilles, obviously, needed his leg amputating and I asked if he had ever done one before. No, he replied, but he’d read a book on it…
“The options were the operation or death, and I was only on a holiday rep’s wage, about £450 a month.
“I went back to the office and designed a poster to try and generate money from the other reps and had a chat with some of them who were willing to put it in a kitty (no pun intended). I also spoke to the manager who asked how short we were and put the rest in.
“I also bartered with the vet and he threw Achilles’ neutering in for free! We left the cat with the vet and it was nerve-racking, amputation’s a very complex procedure and I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
“I’ve always been a cat lover. Eventually the vet called and said Achilles was ready for collection, and he was still asleep from the anaesthetic when I went. After two operations in one, he was a bit distressed when he came around.
“I was up all night with him as the vet hadn’t supplied any pain killers and he was trying to walk. I managed to fall asleep in the early hours and when I woke up again he was fine! He had learned to walk with three legs almost immediately, the operation was a total success.
“After two or three days Achilles had his strength back, had learned to walk and taught himself how to go the toilet. He had even started to run. A few months passed and we’d formed a bond, but my placement was coming to an end.”
Take a look at meow
With Achilles’ immediate health secured the problems began to mount for Chris. He had a job to return to in the UK but nowhere for his cat to stay.
“I didn’t want to leave him on his own in Kos. If he became a stray again that was it for him, he couldn’t jump like a cat normally would amongst other things. I was worried so I looked into how to bring him back with me to the UK, not realising that it was incredibly complicated.
“It was going to take a long time. To enter the UK Achilles would require lots of vaccinations, a passport, a microchip, a white blood cell test that took six months to get the results back as well as organising the journey. Luckily the decision to spay him during his amputation was a good one, as he would have needed to have been castrated, too.
“I was warned there may also be quarantine time for UK testing. The UK’s one of the strictest nations for having strays from other countries come in. Initially I wasn’t sure on bringing him back, but the bond had been formed.”
Luckily, you can always rely on the kindness of strangers, even as far away as Kos. Or so Chris thought…
“As my season finished that year I managed to find an English lady – last minute – that lived in Kos. I flew back to the UK and left Achilles with her as she was willing to keep him over the winter months. I couldn’t stay in Kos; the plan was for me to sort everything out online when I got home.
“I didn’t know much about this lady but she was British and had lots of stray animals in her house that she looked after. I had no other option; again it was life or death. So I left the cat with her and took her details to set up a PayPal and send some money her way.
“I rang her one day to see how Achilles was and she told me that she had to go to the vet because he was unwell. Communication was difficult; sometimes she wouldn’t answer her phone. She told me that he needed an operation and hit me with a large figure of money. It was in excess of £500; she said he was awfully ill, the vet had told her he needed this operation, and he was going to die.
“I sent her the money only to be told he was dead the day after. I was devastated, then had a thought; there was only the one vet, so I called and asked what had happened. He hadn’t seen Achilles since the day of the amputation.”
You’ve got to be kitten me
“She was lying. The only way I could get through to her was to leave her messages saying I knew what she had done. I was angry; I pestered her and she wouldn’t reply. In one of the messages I had mentioned I had a friend who owned Taurus Sports Bar in Kos called Nicos.
“Before I knew it Nicos got in touch saying Achilles was there with him. She had taken him and left him with Nicos. I had lost this money but still had my cat.”
By this point Achilles had lost a leg, had to learn how to live with it, and been subjected to international fraud – all while lacking a permanent address. Chris simply couldn’t return to Kos, and had to try his luck as a rep again next season.
“Nicos couldn’t look after Achilles for long though. I managed to find someone else in the area on the internet – all while waiting for the blood test results and more back in the UK – and found a lady who said she could take Achilles but would have to keep him outside as she owned a dog.
“It was my only choice. Worse, I couldn’t get Kos again for the next season as a rep. Only Rhodes. It’s not too far away, though, and where there’s a will there’s a way. I got back to Greece in April 2010 and asked my manager if I could have a day to go pick Achilles up.
“I hired a car and got on the boat with a carry case and went to find him. I drove all the way to the other side of Kos, wandered around in a rush because I had to get the boat back, and finally found him sat on a bin. He was tatty and overgrown and was sat there with his three legs. I got him, and took him back to Rhodes.
“I looked after him all Summer in my apartment but still didn’t have any paperwork back. The apartment didn’t have air conditioning either so he was getting hot and burned. it was my seventh year as a rep and I resigned to take on a PR role at a bar so I could look after Achilles.
“I had the days to keep him cool and worked at night but the end of the season was approaching. I had made good friends with a guy ‘Faliraki Mark’ who lived in Rhodes and took Achilles on. Mark also had his own cat called Schnapps!”
Thanks to his friends, things were looking up for Chris and Achilles. Except, there was to be one final twist in the tale.
“Finally all the paperwork came through and all I had to do was organise the journey. Another friend, Andreas, was coming back to the UK in his car to Dover so I said I would meet him if he brought Achilles.
“Achilles had to have an injection 24 hours before coming into the UK. That was a rush for Andreas who had to go to the vet in Rhodes and time it right, and when he got to Dover there was a problem in Achilles’ vaccination book.
“They had a look in it and the vet hadn’t put the vaccination in there. They said Achilles would be quarantined or put down unless we got hold of the vet in Rhodes to clarify that he had had this specific drug. It was a serious problem, in Greece they have a siesta during the day and I was worried the vet wasn’t going to be there.
“Luckily he answered the phone and clarified he had the drug and was finally free to enter the UK. I picked him up and brought him to the Wirral.”
Throughout the interview Chris’s love not just for Achilles but life itself pours from his mouth. He evidently has a heart of gold; Chris currently works for Autism Together and is looking to become a probation officer, working with offenders to help reform them.
And there’s more to tell about Achilles. Chris is looking to turn Achilles’ story into a book to highlight the dangers stray animals face abroad and raise awareness about their plight to hopefully tighten up standards and improve their situation.
“The book is in progress. My mum’s writing it as she was there with me for the whole thing, and is writing it from her perspective.”
“Achilles loves the Wirral. He’s six now, and I spent about £1,400 in total getting him here. He’s been through it; he’s a lottery-winning cat, I think. He’s settled but still has a little wild instinct. He’s with my mum at the moment because it’s quiet and there’s a lot of space in the garden. It’s perfect for him.”