Saving Rambo: The carpark cat in Rio with the heart-breaking secret
If you're looking for the girl of your dreams, try Rio de Janeiro. It's where I met mine: a cat named Rambo.
It's true that you find love when you stop looking for it. After a night of caipirinhas with my boyfriend in Rio's party district, Lapa, the only thing I was looking for was a bus home. That's when I saw her.
She was sitting on a ledge at a petrol station, quietly watching drunks eat burgers from the adjoining fast-food joint.
I've never been one to pass up a free cat pat. I'm also not in the habit of putting cats into boxes into taxis and taking them home. But Rambo was different: a tiny little siamese, totally unafraid of strangers, who loves a good pat herself.
That first night was a sleepless one as the sweet little carpark cat transformed into a furry poltergeist, rocketing around our bedroom and meowing uncontrollably.
It was probably her first time in a house, and she just wanted attention. But the cat also had a secret.
The vet broke the news the next day: she had no microchip but she was pregnant, at just 1 year old.
What followed was heartbreaking. An ultrasound showed her three kittens were dead.
The cat, who I'd only known for 12 hours, needed emergency surgery, followed by a four-day stay in cat hospital - for the eye-watering cost of nearly R$3200 (NZ$1300).
It was a no-brainer. There's no SPCA in Rio, but there are parks full of abandoned cats who've started their own feline communities.
And so she was stuck with me, and I with her. She speaks no English, and my Portuguese is terrible, but we're a great pair.
The cat may have been a gift from the universe, but what happened next was even more extraordinary: friends, family and total strangers hopped on board to help Rambo out, on a Givealittle page we created to help fund her surgery. One extremely generous person gave $300, but didn't leave their name.
Dozens of people shared messages of love and support, reassuring us that adopting a stray in a foreign country was a great idea.
A fortnight since we met, Rambo's doing great. We've spent hours hand-feeding her antibiotic-dipped chicken and cat treats, and setting people straight when they suggest Rambo's the first step on the path to having kids (please stop).
Rambo spends her days snoozing in a special crate and repetitively cleaning her soft toy owl, Owlvis, to the point where he might need a vet visit of his own.
In two days' time, she'll have her stitches out and finally be free from the hot pink vet-issue onesie she's been forced to wear.
What comes next? Who knows. We need a new, cat-friendly apartment, stat, then we'll consider whether to attempt the difficult, expensive battle that is getting a cat from Brazil - where rabies still exists in some places - into New Zealand, or start planning for another country.
There's one certainty: she's not going to be abandoned again.
Laura McQuillan is a Stuff reporter based in Brazil.