Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cats in (and out) of bags

Several people have expressed surprise at our decision to take the cats to Germany with us. Really, there wasn’t much of an option. Most people that we know are
  1. not pet people

  2. have pets of their own

  3. have children

  4. are allergic to cats

Clearly, the 1 and 4 groups are right out. It might be ok to foist one’s felines on an unwilling victim for one month, but six? No, they would need someone who at least likes to take care of animals, and someone that can breathe in their presence.

The cats themselves have ruled out the 2 group. If their interactions with foster kittens are any indication, they would spend the entire 6 months hissing and growling at the door that separates them from the other animals. An entire house is not enough room to ignore the presence of another cat, who must be shown who is boss at every moment of the day.

Children are an unknown quantity, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially since said children are generally on the younger end of things, and we don’t want to scar anyone (mentally or physically)…

So, they had to come. Germany has no quarantine rules, and a few days of travelling was easier than arranging a 6 month hotel around their finicky preferences.

We spent a few months acclimating the kittens to carriers, leashes, and cars when we first got them. They went on trips to parks and on walks in the backyard, until Mischief announced her strong dislike for anything outside of the house. Artemis still goes out in the backyard on occasion, but we’ve generally stopped taking them on outings in recent years.

With this in mind, we weren’t really sure how they’d handle the 3.5 day car ride at the beginning of the trip. We took them on a few shorter rides, and they did a lot of complaining about being in carriers in the car. Caterwauling is really the only appropriate term here. It is as loud and grating as it sounds.

I was really looking forward to be the one playing kitty chauffeur.

Branden built a divider for the hatch back out of PVC pipe and chicken wire, so that we could let the cats out of their carriers and give them access to food, water, and litterbox while we were on the road.

There was a fair bit of crying for the first half an hour or so of the drive, but then they realized that yowling wasn’t changing much, and they settled down. The first two days of the drive were between 88 and 93 degrees, and that kind of heat definitely has a soporific effect, which probably saved my sanity. I didn’t want to use AC in the front, since the air circulation isn’t all that good to the hatch area, and their carriers didn’t provide all that much shade. So, we drove with the windows open and the wind blowing. They got ice in their water, and icepacks under the mat in the bottom of the carrier, though Mischief preferred the natural cooling of her litterbox, and spent most of her time curled up in there. (At least it was clean…) After an initial period of crying each morning, they pretty much gave in and slept the entire way.

We also weren’t sure how the cats would handle hotel rooms, but we needn’t have worried. Their only complaint was not being allowed out of the bathroom fast enough. It generally took Artemis about 5 minutes to find and scale the highest thing in the room, and only about 15 minutes before they were finished poking their noses into every last corner and had settled in as if they owned the place.

The airport was a little less fun. They object to being confined to a carrier. It is an insult to the Dignity of Cat to be refused the right to explore at will. Artemis took to body slamming the inside of her carrier, trying to get out. Head stands and other gymnastics were added to the repertoire when body slamming wasn’t dramatic enough. The airline carriers are soft-sided, and so roll quite nicely, as she quickly discovered. Within moments of being placed on the floor, she’d start rolling off down the aisle in her carrier, unless trapped between a suitcase and a chair leg.

Cats must come out of their carriers at security, so that the bags can go through the x-ray machine. They were harnessed, and we were wishing for body armor as we approached the first check point. Vets no longer recommend sedatives for plane flights, apparently, since cats can’t regulate their body temperature when sedated. There have been a number of kitty heart attacks after flying, and so they recommend that you just deal with the crazed kitty in the airport rather than drugging them. We expected this to be a lot of fun.

The cats surprised us again, and were very easy to handle. I think they knew that there wasn’t much they could do to get out of it, and that playing along was a good idea at this point. They had probably been through enough already; getting in and out of the carrier was becoming old hat. They even decided that they wanted to get back in again at the other side.

We had a long wait at the airport in Madison, as I mentioned earlier. There were almost no people around, and so we did let the cats out briefly on their leashes before boarding the plane. It’s funny how many people are charmed by a cat on a leash. You’d think they were standing on their hind legs and speaking English or something. Really, it’s not that hard to make a cat put up with a harness. You start when they’re little. You put it on them. They walk around on their elbows and look miserable for a little while (if they’re Mischief), and then they get over it. If they’re Artemis, they come running because leashes mean that they can go outside and play tiger-in-the-grass. Bold and fearless hunters love leashes.

The Madison airport was the last time out of the carrier, except for security in Amsterdam. Other than that, there was bumping around as we ran through two airports, and then getting stuffed under airplane seats, all of which they handled with relatively good grace.

I think the cats were surprised that they didn’t have to get back in their carriers on the second day in Germany. It had become such a habit at that point. It was a little odd for all of us to suddenly not be on the move for a little while. Mischief had sworn off going anywhere near the carrier without shoving, but I think she still expected to be shoved.

They’ve now settled into the hotel/apartment as if they’ve lived here their entire lives. The papasan (the only chair in the room) is clearly meant as a large kitty basket just for them, and Artemis sits proudly on my pillow when she’s not following me around.

She has discovered a love of German cat food unlike any that she has had for American food. I’m hoping that we won’t have to import cans back to the US when we leave. I’m not sure she can go back.

Mischief is taking longer to convince, at least on the wet food. We have a few cans of American food with us, so she has a while to adjust. She has been hinting that she’d be quite happy on a diet of German dry food, but that’s not so good for her girlish figure. We’ll be heading back to the pet store this weekend to buy one of everything and see what she’ll actually eat. We’ve tried 4 different kind of food so far, and all have been buried with disdain.

Mischief has forgiven her carrier, and now sits in it almost daily, defying it to close on her. She has clearly won the battle, as it hasn’t closed yet. Artemis sits in it and wonders if we’re going to go somewhere else soon.

I think she kind of likes this world traveler thing…

Or maybe it's the accomodations.

1 comment:

  1. I could not imagine attempting this sort of thing. Without reading of your experiences, I would have imagned taking cats through several airports and days of car travel would be humiliating for the animal and exhausting for the humans.

    Nothing makes a home just that so much as beloved companions.