Moving to a new state is never easy. Add a cat or two, and it can be downright maddening. But that’s exactly what I did a couple months ago when I moved from New York to North Carolina with my cats, Nora and Ida.
I wasn’t particularly worried about moving with Ida. She’s a bold cat who loves to explore and doesn’t mind being in unfamiliar situations. Nora, however, has always been more skittish and nervous and I worried that she’d be anxious the whole time. Because we use a mobile vet, neither of them has ever spent much time in a car and I didn’t know what to expect.
My first concern was getting an idea of what they’d be like in the car. Ultimately, I wanted to know how anxious they’d be and whether I should talk to my veterinarian about sedatives.
A week before the move, I packed them into the car for a test drive. We drove around town for about two hours, running errands with a friend. The test drive wasn’t long enough to get a reliable handle on how they’d be after being cramped in a crate for eight hours, but it did make me feel confident that neither of them would need to be sedated. They were shockingly calm and relaxed. In fact, neither of them made a peep the whole time.
My second concern was the transportation. The drive would be so long that I didn’t want to stick them into small carriers. I wanted them to be able to get up and stretch every once in a while, and I knew they’d be calmer if they were together instead of in separate carriers. Plus, I wanted them to have access to a litter box whenever they needed it. After considering my options, I settled on a large dog crate, which I borrowed from a friend.
Both cats had been abandoned at different points in their lives, so it wasn’t hard to scoot them into the crate when the time came. They were just thrilled to discover that they were coming with me. Even though we had an easy test run, I spritzed the crate and car with a pheromone spray and fed them a few treats specifically formulated to be calming, just to be sure. I stuck a small litter box (that was really a dish pan) in the back of the crate and stuffed their favorite bed into the front. Those two things made the crate a bit cramped, but I thought they’d squish the bed down and it would be fine.
An hour into the trip I noticed that Nora had been sleeping in the litter box the whole time and Ida was taking up all of the free space on the bed. When we stopped for food I took the bed out of the crate and replaced it with my hoodie, which was the only other soft thing I had access to without opening boxes. I regretted that decision later, as the sun started to set and the temperature dropped, but it did help Nora leave the litter box and snuggle up with Ida for the rest of the day.
While packing, I had to make a split second decision about whether to take my bookcase or the cat tree with us. I had miscalculated space and couldn’t fit both. I figured I could easily replace the bookshelf when I got to Asheville, but that the cats deserved something well-loved and familiar after being such champs. So we tied the cat tree to the roof rack before setting out. We got a lot of stares driving down the highway. But, hey, a crazy cat lady’s gotta do what a crazy cat lady’s gotta do, right?
Somewhere around Pennsylvania, dark clouds rolled in and threatened to soak the tree. We pulled off into a gas station just in time to wrap it in a tarp before the downpour started. The strong wind from the storm blew the tarp around a bit, but the damage was minimal.
We spent the night at a friend’s apartment outside Washington, D.C., and I let the cats out of the crate. I worried that I wouldn’t find them again, with so many hiding spaces, but Ida stayed close to me and Nora was nice enough to hide under a chair, where she was easy to grab when it was time to go.
The second day was easier, as far as logistics go. We all knew what to expect, and all of the kinks had been worked out. The only hitch was the length of the drive. Even though D.C. was halfway, the second leg of the trip seemed significantly longer. It turns out that Virginia is a very wide state that can take almost a whole day to traverse. By the end, Ida was sticking her little nose out of the crate and mewing at me. We were all exhausted when we rolled into Asheville and ready to eat, stretch, and nap.
We’re all settling in nicely. There are a lot of birds fluttering outside our windows here, so the cat tree has been a popular perch. I’m glad I chose it over the bookcase. With a move this big, there were so many things that could have gone wrong. I’ll admit that a lot of my success came from simply having two easy-going cats, but much of it also came from planning ahead.
I learned a valuable lesson during this move: Know your cat. Know how she’ll respond to the change and unpredictability. If you don’t feel sure, do what you can to test the situation beforehand. Having all the tools and knowledge on hand to minimize stress will make the difference between a good or bad experience for everyone.
About the author: Andee Bingham is a freelance cat writer from Asheville, North Carolina. She lives with her two sweet and sassy cats, Nora and Ida, and occasionally fosters others. When not snuggling with or writing about cats, Andee loves to read, write fiction, and explore the mountains. Learn more about Andee at her website and Dear Nora.