Let’s Talk: Do Your Cats Love or Hate It When You Leave Town?


I love traveling, and I love being at home. I love a journey, whether it’s a camping trip, travel for book promotion (yes, even that!), or a journey to a faraway place. The only thing I don’t like about traveling is being separated from my cats. I think about them the whole time I’m gone, and I miss them.

Surprisingly, I think they feel the same way. They’ve shown me in no uncertain terms that they miss me when I’m gone. Here’s the behavior that makes me certain.

1. They ALL pile on the bed at once and guard me with jealous glances.

The bed is coveted territory in our household, especially if the humans are in it. Since we often shut the door at night so we can get some sleep, the cats get extra tenacious about trying to slip into the bedroom if we’ve been gone for a few days. Bedtime becomes even more precious.

2. They start acting up, play fighting, and howling.

My partner says, "They didn’t do any of this while you were gone." This is funny. I think they must be showing off for me. We have seen discernible changes in behavior when I return after being gone for a few days. What are these cats up to? Any ideas, behaviorists?

3. They ride my shoulders and refuse to get down.

I’ve had a few shoulder riders in my years of caring for cats. This seems to be a behavior that some cats learn more easily than others. Jamie (my second cat, who lived to be 21) adored riding shoulders. He was very good at it and learned to drape himself around my neck. I could walk anywhere with him and he would stay securely fastened to me. Jamie Bluebell, Jamie’s successor, is also a good shoulder rider. On the other hand, Chester (orange tabby male) can stand on shoulders but can’t master the draping part.

Caveat — If you love to do shoulder-riding with your cat, keep their claws short in case they get excited and inadvertently dig into the skin around your shoulders.

They instantly revert to my schedule of feeding them, even if my partner or cat-sitter fed them on a completely different schedule.

It’s amazing! Somehow, they know that with me, they’re generally going to get fed measured amounts, once in the morning, and once at night. With my husband (who has a soft heart when it comes to food), the cats know they’ll probably get a lot more food, possibly several times a day. This is why the cats gain weight if I’m gone for an extended time.

They do those cute things reserved for when I am home.

For example, Chester only comes on the bed when I get in, but he sits on my husband’s chest to look at me. I love to observe my cats — apparently they are rewarding me for my watchfulness! Who says cats are aloof and don’t care about us? My cats — and yours too, I bet — go out of their way to show me they missed me.

They make an extra effort to drag the toys out of the corner.

Balls are batted, a catnip pillow toy is smacked across the floor like a soccer ball, or a floor-length curtain becomes a soft barrier for two cats to bat at each other while they roll around on the rug. What can I say? Utter cat cuteness. Who can resist a cat’s invitation to play — especially if you’re feeling guilty for having been gone.

They purr in unison, loudly and all night long.

We hear them since sleep is impossible with two people and five cats on a full-sized bed. My partner says a king-sized bed would be so wonderful, but I bet the cats would still be all over us, just the same. It’s not the size of the bed — it’s the proximity of the humans.

I love traveling, but I love coming home even more, because my cats are there to greet me! What do your cats do when you return home from being gone? Do they show you love? Are they annoyed? Blissed out beyond belief? Do they modify their behavior in interesting ways? Share your stories!

This is an expanded excerpt from Catherine Holm’s Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, a memoir about life, love, and the human/animal-companion bond, and available at www.catherineholm.com.

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