Saving Rambo: The carpark cat in Rio with the heart-breaking secret video

LAURA MCQUILLAN/stuff.co.nz

Rambo lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She loves cleaning her owl and hanging out in a onesie.

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.

Rambo in her hot pink vet-issue onesie, building a fort in the washing.
LAURA MCQUILLAN

Rambo in her hot pink vet-issue onesie, building a fort in the washing.

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.

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The rescued cat's first night in a house.
LAURA MCQUILLAN

The rescued cat's first night in a house.

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.

Rambo and Owlvis on day one of their stay at the vet, shortly after surgery.
LAURA MCQUILLAN

Rambo and Owlvis on day one of their stay at the vet, shortly after surgery.

What followed was heartbreaking. An ultrasound showed her three kittens were dead.

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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.

Rambo with her best mate Owlvis, on a rare occasion that she's not giving him a tongue bath.
LAURA MCQUILLAN

Rambo with her best mate Owlvis, on a rare occasion that she's not giving him a tongue bath.

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.

 - Stuff

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