A cat named Lee who faced euthanasia after being illegally flown into Belgium has boarded a plane back to Peru to be quarantined there before being flown back to his Antwerp owner.
"Lee left for Peru this morning. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed in Peru because of the lockdown," the cat's owner, 23-year-old student Selena Ali, wrote on Facebook.
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Ali said that the cat, who risked being put to sleep because he was not certified to be free of rabies, would be allowed to return to Belgium from 1 August.
The cat's arrival to the country at the height of the pandemic caused a media stir that prompted the highest levels of government, both in Flanders and wider Belgium, to spring to action.
After being told by federal food safety agency AFSCA that Lee would have to be euthanised, Ali put the cat in hiding and launched an online petition which gathered over 80,000 signatures.
The petition prompted a back and forth between Ali and AFSCA which drew in federal and regional Flemish ministers as well as of authorities back in Peru, where Ali found the cat during a year abroad.
The agency said that, without the proper authorisation papers, it could not be fully certain that the cat was free of rabies and said euthanasia was the only solution because there were no dedicated facilities in Belgium to put pets in quarantine.
Making the announcement on Monday, Ali said she was "very grateful" to Flemish minister Ben Weyts, responsible among other things for animal welfare, for his "efforts to save the life of many innocent animals."
According to reports by Het Nieuwsblad, Ali revealed that the cat's hiding spot was an animal quarantine centre in Zaventem which was created at the suggestion of Weyts.
On 15 May, AFSCA conducted a house search but found no traces of the cat in Ali's home, suggesting the cat's hiding place was arranged only weeks after she was first notified of the euthanasia decision in late April.
The cat’s return flight across the Atlantic will be done at the expenses of Ali, her lawyer said.
According to Ali’s lawyer, his client still faces criminal prosecution for bringing the cat into the country illegally but said that the coronavirus crisis meant that she had no other choice.
The Brussels Times