How I Escaped Hurricane Rita with My Two Cats


It’s hurricane season, and there are tons of tips on what to do with your cat before and during a storm. Today, however, I offer not advice for the future, but rather the tale from my past — namely Hurricane Rita, my generous friends, and how I probably made them all sorry that they ever took me and my cats in.

Hurricane Rita came right after Katrina in 2005. Rita is lesser known. It didn’t turn out to be the huge storm that Katrina was, but it had us all on the Gulf Coast freaked out. Houstonians had just seen the wrath of Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi, and we were afraid, so hundreds of thousands of us evacuated. That’s when the fourth-largest city in the country learned that hundreds of thousands of people cannot evacuate at the same time. Humans and their animals were on the road to Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi for hours and hours, running out of food, gas, and patience. My sister was on the road to Dallas — a trip that would normally take five hours — for more than 24 hours.

I am a procrastinator. My ex-boyfriend and I looked at the forecast and decided to wait things out. It wasn’t clear whether the storm was going to hit us directly, and we each had pets to contend with — my two cats, Cheetoe and Dapple, and his two guinea pigs, Magnet and Queek.

When it became clear that the storm was going to hit Houston, we reluctantly decided to pack up the animals and go to Austin, to my friends’ house. The storm was less than 24 hours from hitting. Houston was boarded up and spray-painted and empty at this point. It was a little eerie.

In this mindset I began to pack up the cats. They didn’t want to go, and I wasn’t even sure about taking them. I lived on the second floor of a place far inland from the storm surge. In hindsight, I could have left them there with a pile of food and it would have been fine. I also could have just stayed with them. We all would have made it through, nary a flickering light to bother us. But these things are unpredictable, and I am a sensible person with a great love for my cats, so I stood in my apartment, my important things stacked and leaning in the hallway, and weird shadows everywhere from the taped-up windows.

I talk to my cats when I’m freaked out.

"Okay, guys, look. Here’s what’s going to happen. I need to put you in these carriers. It’s going to suck. I understand this. You understand this. You already can tell that something terrible is happening. You’re going to think that I’m trying to kill you. I am not. I am trying to save your lives and ensure that you don’t end up as one of those sad pets on the roof, surrounded by water, being interviewed by some newsperson from a helicopter. They will say something like, ‘What’s this all about? Why didn’t your owner take you with her?’ and you’ll be like, ‘She didn’t love us enough. Someone come save us? We’re really quite nice cats.’ Which is a lie, and you all know it, but I won’t be there to defend myself, so why don’t you just get in the carriers without all the drama and we can go to Austin, where we can find a store that will outfit you in head-to-paw tie-dye? Yeah? Sound good?"

Meanwhile, I’m stuffing their paws and heads and more paws and heads and paws and tails and more and more paws into the carrier. It’s like Whack-a-Mole. They’re both strong-willed cats who hate carriers and they know how to fight. It took at least 15 minutes, and by the end I was bloodied and crying.

Once we were all on the road — me, the boyfriend, the moaning cats, the befuddled guinea pigs — it was a short, sunny drive to Austin. The roads were clear of the evacuation tangle. It was kind of a pleasant trip, aside from the dramatic cats. We’d turn around to check on them to find them uncomfortably wadded up and panting. "Guys, really," I’d say. "You’re kind of overdoing it."

When we made it to Austin house, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. And it didn’t. I let out the cats to try to give them food and water, but they just scurried under my friends’ bed and refused to come out. I was relieved, really. Better than having them roam and destroy things, which is what they would do at home.

Exhausted and in a house packed with refugees, we finally unwound with drinks and pizza, then fell asleep on whatever surfaces were available. I had a half-inflated air mattress on a wooden floor and it took a long time to fall asleep. It wasn’t too much later that I woke up to the sound of my friends in the laundry room, trying not to wake anyone up with their whispering.

I would find out the next morning that Dapple had finally come out from under the bed in the middle of the night, gotten on the bed, and peed on my friends as they slept.

I was mortified. She’d done this only once before, when she was much younger. I was embarking on a trip to Los Angeles, flying only for the second time in my life, and I’d been up all night worrying about the plane crashing. She was a really sensitive cat, always seemed to absorb my worrying. I was in bed the next morning, getting out a final, small sob, when she climbed up on the bed with me, stood on top of me, and peed.

My friends were incredibly gracious about it. It was just one more small, silly thing on top of having the floors of your house lined with people. We all cleared out two days later, after the storm had passed. This time the cats were easy to handle; they seemed to sense that I was taking them home. They were mostly quiet as we traveled back to Houston with thousands of other people, back to our minimally damaged homes.

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