Cat: Justine (Black domestic shorthair) – Seoul, South Korea

Pet cat: Justine - Black domestic shorthair

Cat: Justine (Black domestic shorthair) – Seoul, South Korea – (Died Sep 1, 2018)

Justine — world traveler, namesake of a great novel and lover of plastic bags and toy mice — died Sept. 1 in Seoul. She was at least 12.

The cat, a black beauty with green eyes befitting of an Egyptian goddess, had used up most of her nine lives before coming to me and I only learned snippets about her past.

She was born in the stairwell of a Cairo apartment building, one of the hordes of strays that usually end up roaming the streets of Egypt’s dusty capital.

Justine was saved from life as a street cat by an American reporter living across the hall.

It was a mixed blessing. That reporter was traumatized after being kidnapped and returned to the United States, leaving Justine behind. The cat was passed around among war correspondents until she finally ended up in my care.

I took her in after moving to Cairo in 2010 following three years reporting for the AP in Baghdad. She had matted hair and spent a month under the bed. The only way to coax her out was tuna.

And so the spoiling began. Eventually she warmed up to me and her black coat became sleek again, although the claws still came out if anybody tried to pick her up.

Justine, named for the heroine in Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet,” was a patient companion as my life took some unexpected turns.

She survived the Egyptian revolution. I was on assignment in Baghdad when the protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak began on Jan. 25, 2011. Justine was left in the care of a fellow reporter who was visiting Cairo.

As chaos ensued, I spotted my cat-sitter’s byline in another city. I panicked as the Internet was cut off and I was unable to make sure the cat had food and water.

I was quickly called back to Cairo and was relieved to discover that the cat was fine, and oblivious to the clashes and bonfires outside.

A few years later I was selected for a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan. Justine was finally headed to America. But first I had to get her into the airline-approved Sherpa bag.

Getting through the airport was another challenge since security requires that pets be taken out of their carriers and carried through the metal detectors by hand.

The Egyptian security guard relented when I showed him the scratches on my arm from the fight to get her inside. The TSA agents on the other side of the Atlantic were not so accommodating, but we managed.

She was a surprisingly good traveler once we got on the plane, sitting quietly through the 11-hour flight to New York and the subsequent flight and drive to Ann Arbor.

The first stop was the pet store so I could buy a litter box and cat food for my otherwise empty new apartment. Furniture for myself came later.

Ann Arbor was a welcome respite for both us after years in the Middle East. I enjoyed a year of learning and meeting new people while Justine watched the birds and squirrels outside from her favorite perch on the kitchen table.

I decided not to return to AP after Ann Arbor. Instead I took a job as correspondent in South Korea for Stars and Stripes newspaper, beginning in April 2016.

That meant another epic battle to get Justine into the carrier and a nearly 14-hour flight from Detroit to Seoul. She was a trooper.

Justine took up new habits here. She was able to jump on the kitchen counters and became obsessed with licking water from the tap and a glass I kept full in my bedroom. She loved sliding on plastic bags and playing with cat-nip filled toy mice.

She’d also sit for hours staring out the window from the top of the sofa, though I’m not sure what she could see from our 35th floor apartment.

Justine was a fighter, but nothing could stop the tumor that was quietly growing inside her middle ear canal. I knew it was time to let her go when she climbed into her carrier with little resistance.

They wrapped the urn containing her ashes in plastic. She would have liked that.


  1. Justine had a great life thanks to Kim taking such good care of her. I had the honor of meeting Justine a couple of times, and she even let me pet her! She was saved from life on the streets and given a warm and safe home by Kim.

  2. What a loving tribute! Her story brought tears to my eyes. Although, our cat Gigi, was not Egyptian, Justine reminds me of her. We lost Gigi a year ago June. She too, traveled with us and had a lot of “adventures”!! What a trouper they both were. God bless their sweet little souls.

  3. How fortunate Justine was to have you- a “cat whisperer” —for her final human companion! May her memory be a blessing. Sending you hugs and kisses!

  4. wonderful story – I am glad I was able to meet Justine during our time together in Ann Arbor. You are also a true heroine for making sure she was so well taken care of.

  5. This tribute to Justine reminded me of what a great cat mom you were. When I met you in Detroit moving to Ann Arbor, I remember it was all about Justine and finding the nearest pet store. We went on to find your apartment and all you worried about was making little Justine comfortable. She seemed to adapt pretty well and pretty quickly finding the windowsill she was going to sit on. She was such a beautiful cat but most of all such a great companion for you. We all miss her and send love and hugs to you. What a beautiful article you wrote.. Love

  6. Beautifully written. So sorry for your loss. She had a remarkable life. Her experiences were wider and more varied than most humans. She had a rough start, but in the end she was sheltered in the arms of a wonderful loving cat mom. You showed her love, patience and comfort. She was so lucky to have you in her life, as am I. I love you Kim- my heart breaks for you.

  7. Justine was an elegant kitty. She took her time to decide if you were worthy of her attention, but it was worth the wait. RIP Justine. You are missed.

  8. Dear Justine,
    Fond memories of meeting you in Cairo when you allowed us to share Kim with you. Remember that Carl enjoyed playing with you and hope you enjoyed it too.
    We have a lot of cat nip in our garden so I will pick some and think of you.
    Love Elisabet

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