Cat relaxing in a car harness.

Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part I: “THEY ALL SAID I WAS MAD!”

Note: I link to some products here, but I’m not getting compensated for anything. Trust me, I don’t think any of these companies actually wanted to be associated with this idea.

This was not the post I planned to write.

This was not the week any of us planned to have.

Let me start from the beginning.

Neither my S.O. nor I have family in the area. I left the house I grew up in pretty much the second I was legally old enough to do so, and have moved wherever the wind blew me more times than I can count. He left home for college and job opportunities, to pursue his dreams. The end result is that we’re here pretty much alone, though his family has always been just a phone call away when we needed them. Unfortunately, this awesome family sustained a terrible loss.

Tl;dr: With pretty short notice, we had to find a way to get to a funeral in Mississippi.

We looked up plane tickets — $857 worth of no luck.

We looked up Amtrak — 44-odd hours of no luck.

He didn’t want to be away from home for too long if he could help it. I didn’t want to leave our cats alone if I could help it. We’ve had them for a little over a year and, in that time, we’ve discovered that Pyewacket needs more daily mental stimulation than a human toddler, and Kiko has separation anxiety that will make her try to destroy doors and hit the road in a bid for a Homeward Bound-esque reunion. Since they are both rescues, we also didn’t want to put them through the experience of being taken and dropped off in a kennel-like boarding facility. We also haven’t had to use a sitter in the past, so we didn’t really have anyone we knew well enough to trust them with.

(By the way — If anyone tells you cats are independent creatures, laugh at them. Laugh the high, gibbering laughter of the mad.)

We love them, but they are weird, weird animals. Ultimately, we decided that the simultaneously-most-sensible-yet-most-ludicrous solution would be to take the cats on a road trip.
Yeah, I know.

Two cats. Five states. One car.

It should be noted that these nerds hate being in carriers. They had a vet appointment for some boosters and a general yearly checkup two days before we left, where they sat in the waiting room growling at each other, Pye hissed at everything, and the vet came right out and said, “Yeah, this trip? It’s a pretty bad idea.”

Nevertheless, I kept on keeping on with my dumbass plans.

I’m not gonna lie, this was a long, strange journey. My S.O. was a surprise pallbearer. We visited a rad occult shop in Memphis. Mississippi poisoned our car. I’m going to have to break this up to keep it from turning into some kind of novella.

Cat relaxing in a car harness.
Pye relaxing on one of my S.O.’s old dress shirts.

So! How did we manage to make it through five states to Mississippi and back with a pair of questionably enthusiastic cats? We were fortunate that taking a road trip with pets was actually easier than either of us anticipated, as long as:

  1. We ditched the carriers. Well, not entirely — we used a combination of chest harnesses and pet seat belts to secure them in the car, and saved the carriers for transporting them to and from the hotels. As I figured, they responded way better to the car ride when they were not confined and could see us and what was happening around them.
  2. We made sure they had the right harnesses. Some cat harnesses fasten around the cat’s neck and stomach area. These are alright for walking a relatively docile cat, but not super great in a car scenario — if you stop short, all of the pressure is placed on their throat and stomach. Opt for harnesses that cover the cat’s chest, so pressure is distributed more safely.
  3. We gave them litter box access at all times. Our basic setup was this: Pye buckled in the back seat behind me, a litter box secured in the middle, and Kiko buckled in behind my S.O. The cats’ seat belts gave them just enough slack to hop in and out of the box easily, but not hassle each other. A combination of World’s Best Cat Litter and regular scooping at rest stops kept things odor-free.
  4. We worked to make sure they drank enough. My ex-boyfriend has a cat that developed about $2000 of bladder issues and scared us half to death in the process. Ever since, I’ve been somewhat fanatical about making sure everyone gets enough water (especially male cats. Their longer urethrae make them more prone to blockages). Our guys have a fancy fountain with a filter to encourage them to drink enough, but bringing and using it in the car wasn’t really an option. Cats can also be picky about water, so I was concerned about them not wanting to drink the tap water in a strange city. Solution? We offered them fresh water every time we stopped, loaded up on canned cat food (Solid Gold Mackerel & Tuna Recipe in Gravy, not pâté. It mixes better), and I stirred a little extra water into each serving to dilute the gravy. They tore it up, and got some extra hydration in the process.
  5. We got them fancy beds. Kiko spent most of her time snuggled right up in hers with her little white paws propped on the armrest. Pye decided he did not like beds, and preferred to lay on the floor like the trash gremlin he is.

    Cat resting in a litter box in a car.
    Kiko, bellied up to the side of her litter box so she can see through the windshield. (Just ignore the dusty cat prints on the back of the seat.)
  6. We stopped more frequently. Not by a huge amount, either. We just threw in a couple of extra stops so we could make sure everyone was fed, watered, safe, and relaxed.
  7. I kept an eye on them (especially Kiko). Pye is a big, chill boy whose only cares in life are playtime, getting to put on his Adventure Suit, playtime, getting his face rubbed while he naps, making sure he has enough chicken stars in his bowl, and playtime. Kiko has her tiny anxieties, like the smoke alarm that makes her hyperventilate and the vet’s waiting room that also makes her hyperventilate. While my S.O. did all the driving, I was on cat duty to keep an eye on things and occasionally stick a hand in the back seat to scratch cheeks and rub ears. At one point, a huge semi came roaring up behind us, which startled Kiko and made her pant. At the next rest stop, we moved the litter box so I could hop in the back seat between them and help her settle down. A few minutes later, she was snoozing with her cheek and paws propped on my lap, and that was the end of her fear of trucks.
  8. We had health certificates. These are usually used for shipping or air travel, but it’s better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them. If the car broke down and we found ourselves having to fly, or if a hotel required them before they’d let us get a room, we wanted to make sure we had documentation that they were both healthy, flea-free, and fully vaccinated.
  9. We had a list of pet-friendly hotels and emergency vets along the route. This is pretty self-explanatory. We didn’t want to be left hunting for a hotel in the middle of the night that’d let all four of us stay, and wanted the peace of mind of knowing a doctor was nearby in case anything went wrong.
A cat snuggled up in a hotel bed.
Pye, skooshed up on some cushy hotel pillows.

Really, the two of them were better behaved than either of us anticipated. While I did not think the gloom-and-doom predictions for this trip would be entirely accurate, I still expected them to have more tiny opinions about sleeping in strange places and being forced to hang out in a car for hours at a time. Kiko, who is usually the far less vocal of the two, spoke up regularly when she wanted more food or water. Pye, whose favorite hobby is wandering through the apartment talking to the furniture, napped the whole time and meowed exactly once — after we’d had to pull off a ten hour marathon and he was bored.

If we had to do this again, we would likely try to shorten the trip (as in, drive all thirteen hours at one go), install one of those cameras that lets you facetime with your pets, and pay for double-sessions with a pet sitter to make sure Kiko gets cuddled and Pye gets played with enough. Still, it’s great that traveling with cats wasn’t the disaster we were warned it would be, and it’s good to know that we can do this again if we need to!


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