A passionate animal lover spent a whole year and £13,700 bringing two feral cats she found on a lockdown holiday in Turkey back to the UK to live the good life.
Kelly Walker, 43, came across Delilah and Harriet living rough on cliffs during a trip to the seaside resort of Antalya, in November 2020.
Newly-divorced Kelly, who had moved in with her mum to save money after the break up, embarked on the winter trip after realising she couldn’t face another lockdown.
Kelly, a hairdresser from Barnsley, said: “There are millions of cats. It’s like what cat do you choose?
“But there were these two, and the littlest one Delilah, she was so thin. She was starving.”
Kelly began by setting up feeding stations to try and win the cats’ trust and, eventually, managed to get them to a local vet for medical attention.
She added: “This vet looked at me like I was stupid.
“He said [of Delilah]: ‘she’s only about six weeks old. She’s got parasites and she’s got all these different issues. She might not even live because she’s quite close to death’.”
Kelly paid £3,000 upfront to get Delilah and Harriet vaccinated, neutered and looked after at the veterinary surgery while she returned to England using cash she had earmarked for a home deposit.
“I’d saved up to buy a house,” she said.
“That money wasn’t just for spending on nothing, but I just couldn’t leave these poor little souls like that with nobody to help them.
“I thought ‘well, it’s not that bad’. People in this lockdown have been buying dogs for like thousands of pounds, and I’m actually helping two cats.”
Kelly planned to fly to Romania on January 9th, then onto Istanbul and finally onto Antalya, where she would collect the cats from the vet and take them back to the UK.
But strict Turkish lockdown rules prevented her from leaving the airport and reaching Harriet and Delilah in Antalya.
She said: “They checked my passport and ask me where I was from. They said I had to isolate here. It was a Turkish hostel, and I said, ‘No I can’t do that’, and so they said: ‘You can’t leave the airport’.”
Kelly was trapped in Istanbul Airport for days frantically trying to find a solution while sleeping on the terminal’s seats, with no shops or restaurants open where she could buy food.
She added: “There was nothing to eat, nothing to drink because to get something to eat or drink, you had to go through to the departure.
“This American couple gave me a child’s pack lunch. I don’t know if they were residents there, but they could go through.”
Finally, dejected, Kelly returned to the UK without seeing her kittens, taking advice that she could either let them back onto the streets or put them to sleep.
But luckily, Kelly was able to find accommodation at a ‘pet hotel’, where Delilah and Harriet were looked after for a fee while she waited patiently to return once more to Turkey.
On October 8, 2021, Kelly was reunited with Harriet and Delilah for the first time in nearly a year in Antalya, after flying out to take them home.
But heartbreakingly, when she arrived at the airport for the second time, she was prohibited from flying again due to strict export protocols on live animals.
Kelly said: “I went to the airport with the cats, obviously, to get myself back to the UK, and I was told point-blank: ‘This is not possible. You cannot fly these into the UK from here.’
“I’d spent £12,000 by that point, so I was just totally defeated.
“I went from one airline to the other airline asking, and basically, getting the same reply.”
Kelly returned to the UK without her precious feeline cargo, then contacted an animal rights group that operated an international pet courier service from Turkey via Bucharest.
She said: “I thought, well, it’s like this: ‘I’ve got to do it’. I was scared, and I thought, ‘I don’t know these people. Will it work’?”
The journey took place from Sunday, October 18, until the following Saturday, October 23, and during this time, Kelly didn’t get any updates from the organisation.
“I thought ‘Is it a scam’? I was out of money and I’d started this Just Giving page. My clients were helping me. I raised £1,700,” she said.
But finally, she heard the news that her two moggies had safely landed in Britain, with both Delilah and Harriet joining her at her home in Barnsley.
Today, Kelly believes the difficulties that she faced and the money she spent were totally worth it.
“I absolutely love animals. They’re my passion,” she said.
“I know that I spent that money, and I don’t make a lot of money. I’m only a hairdresser – but it made me feel like I’d done something worthwhile.”