Just recently, my husband and I rented a cottage in a large campground in the south of France for a week, as we both needed a break from crazy work schedules. Taking our dog, Pinch, was a no-brainer because he’s a seasoned traveler who enjoys car rides and discovering new places. And while I didn’t really want to take our Sphynx cat, Skinny Mini, we ended up having no choice.
I wasn’t going to leave her alone for a week in our apartment with just a quick visit from a neighbor once a day, and we don’t know anyone who could cat-sit her at their home.
I live in a village in the French Alps where you’d be hard-pressed to find a reputable cat kennel, so my husband and I reserved at a pet-friendly campground and packed our tiny car with food dishes, pet beds, bags of food, litter-box accessories, toys, and a disgruntled hairless cat in a soft-sided cat carrier.
Now, I’m sure there are cats who don’t mind going on vacation, but in my experience, most cats get quite freaked out when they have to leave their home environments. And Skinny Mini being a Sphynx cat means that she’s strictly an indoor kitty whose exposure to the great outdoors is limited to our balcony. She’s very comfortable in daily routine, which involves napping, eating, creeping the neighbors through the window, antagonizing the dog, and snuggling. I was worried that taking her on vacation would stress her out, and I felt guilty for taking her away from her comfort zone.
I was not wrong.
The car ride there proved uneventful as she eventually calmed down in her carrier and slept most of the way. But when she realized — upon being sprung from the carrier inside the cottage — that she was no longer at her home, Skinny Mini decided to make it her mission to show me just how not okay she was with the whole situation.
Sphynx cats are by nature very curious, very active, and very intelligent. My little nudist started slinking around the cottage and went to every single window trying to see if it was open. If she had opposable thumbs, I can guarantee you that she would have slipped out the bathroom window, started the car, and drove home while my husband and I were at the beach.
But she preferred to come up with an escape plan instead, which caused quite a bit of stress and inconvenience for me the entire week I was supposed to be relaxing.
The very first night, when my husband and I got back after a few mojitos at the campground bar, we unlocked the front door of the cottage, and before I could say, “Don’t let the mosquitos in!” Skinny Mini, who had been hiding behind the curtain pulled across the door, was out and disappeared into the night.
My husband told me not to worry because she’d certainly get scared and come running back, as she always does when she bolts out into the hallway of our apartment building. But Skinny Mini was not at home in a musty-smelling carpeted hallway on the third floor of military housing; she was out of her element and in unfamiliar surroundings. She was running free, and a little ticked off.
I grabbed the modern-day flashlight — my iPhone and its handy app — and went out looking for her. Our cottage was up on cinder blocks, a good two feet off the ground, and I remembered seeing a flash of naked cat buttocks disappear under there when she had zoomed out the door. I dropped to my hands and knees and frantically shone my phone under the cottage. And as most cat parents will understand, we rarely call our cats by their actual names, but instead use a series of cutesy, embarrassing, or ridiculous nicknames. I found myself at 11 p.m. halfway under a cottage hissing, “Mama! Mama!” leading any other campers who happened to be walking by at that point to believe that I had lost my mother under there.
Thankfully, after 10 minutes of searching and some tears, my iPhone flashlight reflected off a pair of triumphant glowing eyes in the nearby bushes, and I scooped up my Sphynx and took her inside.
She managed to get out one more time during my holiday, after which my husband and I were forced to lock her in one of the bedrooms each time we left the cottage so she couldn’t escape. I felt horrible confining her to a small space (with her food, water, litter box, and bed, of course), but it was the only way to ensure that she didn’t run out and get lost or hurt. We were in a large wooded area next to the sea and a busy road, and I wasn’t taking any chances. And before anyone asks, I have tried walking her outside on a leash with a soft harness, but she was having none of that. Girl wants to streak freely.
Despite the stress at being in a new environment, Skinny Mini didn’t stop eating, and she even decided to start eating the dog’s food, perhaps in an attempt to make up for lost calories spent trying to run away. She also went on a scratching post strike, choosing instead to vent any frustrations at being locked up in the cottage by clawing at the vinyl bench seating in the kitchen area. I had trimmed her nails right down before we left home, but as soon as I saw the bench, I told my husband that we should probably just forget about our safety deposit.
By the end of the week, everyone was more than ready to pack up and go home. I left Skinny Mini’s litter box out until the last possible minute, hoping she’d use it before the long ride back. But if there’s one thing you can’t make a cat do on command, it’s their back-end business. I had to stuff Skinny Mini into her carrier with the uneasy feeling that she was not going to let our holiday finish better than it had started.
Again, I was not wrong.
Twenty minutes later, my husband was on his way to get on the highway that would take us three hours north east to our village in the Alps, when Skinny Mini let out a throaty meow followed by the unmistakable sound of a cat barfing.
“She’s throwing up!” I shouted to my husband, whose eyes were on the road but whose facial expression let me know he didn’t need me to tell him there was partially digested kibble oozing out the sides of the carrier.
Seconds later, I felt Skinny Mini scuttle to the back of her carrier, and then the smell hit.
“Oh my God!” my husband screamed, his eyes never leaving the road. “What is happening?”
“Get off at the next exit!” I instructed him, my eyes beginning to water.
Luckily we were not far from an industrial zone that had large garbage bins. My husband dangled Skinny Mini out in front of him (gagging the whole time and refusing to look), while I poured Evian water on paper towels and tried to clean her off. One of the advantages of having a hairless cat is that it’s easier hosing her down, should explosive diarrhea occur.
We got her clean, threw out the bottom liner of her carrier, tucked her back in with some fresh towels, and hit the road once again with a carsick cat, a hyperactive dog, and the windows wide open.
Do I love my cat? Yes, very much. Do I ever want to take her on vacation again? No, never.
Do you take your cat on holidays? Let us know in the comments!
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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix,Pinch, and a needy Sphynx cat named Skinny Mini. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.