Who doesn’t love going on vacation? Change of scenery. New adventures. But the happiness is always bittersweet, because leaving your cat behind breaks your heart.
You know you are doing the right thing. A cat won’t have a good time inside a tent — scared of being eaten — while you go hiking. Neither will he enjoy being stuck in a hotel room while you get lost in a big city.
Our feline friends love their territories. They can adapt to new ones, but only if they have to. So including your cat on a weekend or even a weeklong trip does not give him enough time to acclimate. It won’t be fun for anyone.
But every once in a while, there is that wonderful exception to the rule. My boyfriend and I had the opportunity to stay in an apartment in the mountains for almost three weeks. Suddenly the idea of taking our cat, James, to be part of the experience seemed possible. All we needed was a little planning and a lot of patience.
What followed was a four-part miniseries.
You know very well which one. The one your cat gives you when you mention the word “vacation.” The weird stare. The ears pulled back. The tense body. His way of saying “you are leaving me again, you ungrateful human?” My cat is fully bilingual, being Puerto Rican and all, so he understands it in English and Spanish. It doesn’t matter if you are just suggesting a place to go sometime in the future. As soon as he hears the word his whole demeanor changes. It gets even worse when he sees the suitcases on the floor. Impossible not to feel guilty.
But this time was different. Only he didn’t know. So we happily dealt with the look while preparing his suitcase: food, bowls, toys, favorite blanket, litter box, vet records, etc.
After the nerve-racking moment of slipping James into the carrier, securing him in the car was easy. He couldn’t do a thing about it. He was stuck until we set him free. The look changed from guilty to hate very quickly, and after noticing that it only brought out smiles from the crazy humans, he changed his tactic by turning around and giving us his best “kiss my ass” pose for the rest of the drive.
We finally made it and decided to use the master bedroom as the cat’s safe room. This was the place where James would stay until he was ready to go out and explore the rest of the house. Owning a little territory goes a long way.
We set it all up before letting him out of the carrier. Litter box in the closet. Food and water on the opposite side of room. Blanket on the bed. RELEASE THE CAT!
Now, on the subject of cats and new places, my experiences have been varied. I’ve had the cat who hid under the bed for days, as well as the one who owned the new home the minute he stepped out of the carrier. James is kind of in the middle. Not fully confident, but not so scared, either. As he started investigating every inch of the space, we ordered pizza and had dinner in the room with him. This had worked before, us hanging out in the “safe room,” making him part of the deal and not trapped in a lonely place.
After two days of acclimating in the room, it was time to show him around a bit. The best sign that he was comfortable in his safe room was the moment when he felt overwhelmed and went straight back to it and took a nap. It had become his new territory.
On the third day, we left the door open all day. He never ran back in fear. Too much to see. Big territory to make his own. He ate. He played. He used the litter box. James was king of the apartment! The humans let out a sigh of relief. Their vacation had finally started.
The next few weeks went by blissfully. His days were spent sitting and watching the snow fall while secretly laughing at the poor dogs who had to go out in the cold to do their thing. The evening’s routine consisted of lying by the fire after a delicious dinner followed by napping on a human’s lap.
As for me, all I can say is that I have enjoyed amazing experiences when traveling, but nothing compares to that state of complete happiness I felt when sharing this time with my two favorite cats: the human one and the feline one. No guilty feelings here. Just peace.