I recently spent four days, four hours, thirteen minutes, and twenty-nine seconds trapped in an automobile with two cats, one gone temporarily feral, in retrospect, maybe we should have given the cats some catnip to eat, cats love catnip and it would have mellowed them out. That they were caged made the experience only slightly more bearable than if they were not. My husband and I had relocated to a new state 2,100 miles away. While he drove his truck and towed one of our cars, I drove our SUV with my two cats. My husband had the easy part. Previously, the cats’ longest journey had been a fifteen-minute ride to the vet – short, but long enough to give me some inkling of what to expect.
I acquired Mike and Hannah as kittens from a shelter the day before Thanksgiving eight years ago. Supposedly littermates, they are as unalike as night and day. Hannah is a 10-pound, green-eyed, gray-striped tabby. Mike is a blue-eyed flame point white 16-pounder. Hannah is vocal; Mike is quiet. Hannah learns quicker and is smarter and bolder than Mike, who is generally more fearful. When I bring something new into the house, Mike lets Hannah check it out first, and when she isn’t killed or maimed, he’ll approach. (Maybe that makes him the smarter one!) He’s not afraid of things he should be – like strange dogs and cars – but is scared by things that represent no threat at all. (Note to self: don’t hold cat while dropping Alka-Seltzer into water. Fizzing scares him).
For the trip, I transported the cats in a crate designed for a large dog. I wanted them to be able to sit upright. I outfitted the cage with their favorite rug and a porta-potty, aka a small litter box. I fitted the cats with harnesses and leashes – just in case I needed to take them out of the car. I had visions of opening the cage at a rest stop and having one of the cats escape, never to be seen again.
Even though I knew Hannah is more vocal in expressing her dislike of car trips to the vet, I figured scaredy cat Mike would be the one who would be the most freaked out by the big move.
Not so. Mike approached the trip like he was on vacation. He relaxed and went to sleep during the long car ride and strolled around strange motel rooms as if he’d chosen the accommodations himself. (I hadn’t realized until this trip that neither cat had ever seen their reflections. We don’t have a full-length mirror, but one of the motels did, and Mike stared at himself for several long minutes. When I came up beside him and he saw my reflection, I could see the light bulb go off in his furry head that he was staring at himself). He was an easy, laid-back traveler.
Hannah acted possessed. The first day, Demented Demon Kitty meowed for two and half hours straight before she finally quieted. I don’t think she ate or drank anything the first day. And once quiet, she would begin her vocal protests anew after every pitstop and every morning when we started out.
I could tell from the sound of her meow she was scared. The first day. By the second day, the tenor of her voice changed to anger. She bit the cage to try to chew her way out, and clawed at everything within her arm’s reach. She shredded two rolls of paper towels and ripped out a plant by its roots. (My husband picked up some flame tree seed pods on a trip to Thailand and planted them. He’s been nursing his 8-inch “tree” for two years. After Hannah’s attack, it may not survive).
My husband and I communicated via walkie-talkies, and I when I held the device to the cage so he could hear what she was doing, Hannah took a swipe and scratched me. (Another note to self: don’t mock the cat). Surprisingly, it seemed to calm Hannah when I sang, but she seemed to dislike the audiobook I played, even though I thought the reader had a soothing voice. She seemed to get louder when I played it, and a couple of times, I had to turn it off because I couldn’t hear it over her meowing.
It was a trying experience for cat and owner, but both cats (and owner) are now happily relaxing in their new home.
In the end, these were the lessons learned:
- Keep the large cage. It worked well.
- Putting both cats together was a risky move because there was the potential they could fight while on the road, but it paid off. In the past when I transported the cats in separate carriers, Hannah would hiss and spit at Mike for days as if she’d never seen him before. Putting them together eliminated the post travel reacquaintance/readjustment period.
- Harnessing and leashing the cats – good idea. The extra security reassured me and allowed me to keep track of the cats in the motel room (follow the trailing leash).
- Bring along their beds or blankets – having something that smelled like home helped to put them at ease – at least it worked with Mike.
- The first night, I locked them in the bathroom with their beds, the porta-potty, and food and water, but they actually adjusted better when I let them roam the motel room.
- In the future, I won’t pack anything next to the cage that I don’t want destroyed.
- Put food/water in the cage when we stop and then remove it before we get underway again. The cats won’t eat/drink while moving anyway and Hannah spills it.