Cat Is My Copilot: I Take my Cat on Roadtrips to Visit Family


Most indoor cats aren’t travelers. They’re sedentary and homebound, staying where they’re safest and have much-needed control over their environment. (I’m not so different, in that respect.) So when my mother suggested in 2008 that I bring my cat Perdita with me the next time I visited her and her boyfriend Cal in Fresno, I was skeptical at best. But I went ahead with it. Several times. As of this month, Perdita has become quite the professional traveler, and now I can hardly imagine making the trip (which can be as long as four hours) without my cat.

Like all cats, Perdita hates getting in the carrier, and preparing it for the trip is the closest I get to playing chess. I have to strategize and time it all perfectly, because she will run and hide if she hears the carrier — so much as the creak of its little gate from outside the bedroom door. I also have to pack my own stuff as innocuously and nonconsecutively as possible. And if I move her food and water or litter box before I try to get her in the carrier, it’s all over.

Once she is in the carrier, she complains about it, but not nearly as much as she used to. It has evolved from that piercing cry of abject terror that we all know so well into a sound of annoyance. Basically, in 2008 it was No no no no no get me out get me out get me out! In 2012 it’s Oh, this business again? Really? Okay, fine. That’s how I anthropomorphize it, anyway.

Perdita adjusts to being in the car much faster than before as well. The first time we went to Fresno, she cried for the first couple of hours. On the most recent trip, she was asleep within 30 minutes — before we even got out of San Francisco. I think it helps that I keep her carrier on the passenger side, facing me. I might be the evil biped responsible for putting her in the cage to begin with, but so long as I’m close, she’s okay.

I have perpetual dibs on the corner guest bedroom at my mother’s house, and as such it has become Perdita’s headquarters as well — so much so that my mother’s cat, Shaggy, and her dog, Spooky, give it a wide berth year-round. Whether Perdita is there or not, that room is Perdita’s territory.

Shaggy is a recent acquisition, having only come to live with my mother and Cal in 2010, but he had previously been in a house full of cats that beat up on him, so he’s more than happy to avoid Perdita on general principle. Shaggy is bigger, but Perdita could take him in a fight, I’m sure.

Same with Spooky, for that matter. While the closest Shaggy will get to Perdita is considering her from across the room — and in those cases, I don’t think Shaggy was expecting Perdita to emerge — Spooky will sometimes go up to Perdita in an attempt to be friendly. Perdita has absolutely no interest in being BFFs with a dog, so she goes into Halloween-Kitty mode, hissing and raising her fur and swiping a claws-out paw toward Spooky, who inevitably walks away looking a little dejected. This happens once or twice per trip, and when my mother or Cal witness this, they inevitably laugh and even say "Good for you, Perdita!" If that’s not hospitality, I don’t know what is.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Perdita is necessarily brave or anything, because she still freaks out at strangers and sudden noise or movement, which usually involves hilarious sliding on the hardwood floor, which we do not have at home. There are also big windows looking out onto a spacious a backyard to provide endless fascination — we have a window and a backyard at home, but neither are, well, big. My mother’s house also has other interesting textures and environments to explore, such as the big planter by one of the windows. Nothing like that at home in San Francisco, either.

As a rule, Perdita ventures out of the bedroom only when she doesn’t hear a lot of people, so on Christmas or other times that the family beyond my mother and Cal are present, she stays in her HQ where it’s safe. (And because she’s a cat, she’s typically snoozing under the bed.) My mother is somewhat concerned that Perdita will find her way to Shaggy and Spooky’s pet door, but I’m not too worried, because the door is way on the other side of the house, and such a trip would involve making it all the way through the kitchen. Yeah, I really don’t see that happening, unless we stay for more than a week.

I do worry that if we stay too long Perdita will start to adapt too well, not realizing that we’ll be going back to our apartment in San Francisco eventually, that she will forever have to share territory with a dog and another cat. Indeed, I feel like the first couple of times that we returned home, she was somewhat confused, like she was thinking, Oh, this place? I thought we were done here! Again, I’m anthropomorphizing her reactions, but what else am I to do?

Beyond the fact that my mother and Cal genuinely wanted to meet Perdita — pets are family members with us, and certainly the closest I’ll ever get to having children — I know one reason my mother originally suggested I bring Perdita (and why she’s so glad that it’s worked out as well as it has) is because it means that I can stay longer when I come to visit. And I’m okay with that. My mother gets to see her daughter for more than a few days at a time, and I get to see my mother and my daughter (Perdita), so everybody wins.

Top Photo: Moggie Kittens by Shutterstock.

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