This is a two-pronged post – conceptual and practical – so before you hate on cats, read the first half and reap the benefits.
This week officially marked my sixth month living in New York City. Spending $100+ on shipping boxes was a cost I happily incurred, in the moment and in hindsight. Transporting little things on quick trips home was a breeze, especially since I’ve already weeded through and prioritized my material things in life. But the last step in this transition and relocation was the transportation of my 10 year-old feline, Alli.
Owning a cat at this stage in the game is one of the few things that goes against my potential nomadic ease. Three years of college in dorms and sorority houses weren’t conducive to hosting her, and post-college travels only had me in her vicinity for 49% of that time. For nearly ten years, my parents were wildly flexible and tolerant to house my shedding ball of love. And when the decision to move to New York called for a serious analysis of my pet ownership, I was overwhelmed at the extent to which I couldn’t live without her.
We suburban Midwestern gals tend to grow painfully attached to our household animals, and I assume this touches on a maternal reaction to a dependent’s reliance, which we embrace with fervor. We hear and respond to ‘the call’ – whether it’s directed at us or not – to serve other beings. And it hits us with a glee/glum one-two punch; the latter only for the inevitable life choices or threat of loss an invested pet owner must face.
Though I find it a ridiculous debate and one that deserve zero airtime in any arena, I know not everyone enjoys cats, hearing about cats, justifying the existence of cats, etc. And though I am scribing and cutting video with those feline travelers in mind, Alli has been an obstacle to one half of my lifestyle and a beloved necessity to the other.
Dare I say we all have similar parallels?
I know a man named Jase who could easily steal the “Most Interesting Man in the World” title away from the bearded Dos Equis gent. Though I’m not completely clued in to the inner workings of his life, it appears he has very few factors hindering him from living the life he does: one of unconventional exploration. When he’s not driving across continents, he’s bartending for first class flyers. Jase is one of the few people I know that can actually live a nomadic existence without a desire for the opposite. He’s the exception.
As my dad likes to diagnose, I have a tendency to be a contrarian, not only in the sense that I follow an unconventional job path but that I lean toward what’s underrepresented in any sphere. I was a grungy nomad with a Blackberry, a sorority girl in art school. I summon a Devil’s advocate response to any topic, but I don’t put on black lipstick and call myself a nonconformist. These aren’t conscious decisions. I keep my emotional eggs scattered in many different lifestyle baskets, to stay balanced and maintain the ability to relate to diverse people. My cat acts as my personal weight toward a more stationary and conventional path, for which I do have lingering desires. And I think most of us do, if not for that then something else.
Individually, we all tend to dabble, desire what we don’t have, and wish to do it all. If you live a committed and routine life, you probably have the occasional hunger for wildly-dangerous spontaneity. And I’ve met plenty of travelers who can’t silence the impulse to nest. Had I given Alli away in the move, I would have lost the sometimes necessary ‘ball and chain’, not to mention something I love. And had I merely left Alli where she was in Indiana, my move would have seemed an uneasy balance of two lifestyles: a nest with a false bottom or a trip that lasted too long. I desire a lifestyle that doesn’t overindulge or invest in one way but moderates with many, because things change quickly and constantly.
Never letting the dust settle doesn’t necessarily mean movement. It means variety. It means evolution. I’m not dedicated to being a nomad or a cat-wielding spinster, I’m just open to being influenced by the things, beings, and experiences that matter to me over time.
Guide to Flying Stateside with a Carry-On Cat
For those of you who don’t like cats, stop reading. This is the practical part where I cringe over the amount of bad websites on this topic in existence and my subsequent call to make my own wee guide. This being a strenuous experience for human and feline alike, the only thing that will make you feel more comforted and secure is preparation. Don’t take this situation lightly. The following relates specifically to flying with Delta, but most airlines will require some variation of these steps. And obviously, these were my steps, but everyone has differing opinions over big or tiny details. Ask your vet for reassurance.
When booking your ticket, ask to reserve a spot for your cat as a carry-on in the cabin. Each seating area only allows a certain number of animals on a flight. Do yourself and kitty a favor and book a non-stop.
Flying across state lines is surprisingly a Department of Agriculture issue. Research what is required of the destination state in terms of pet inoculations and documentation. Frequent your veterinarian to receive a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (or a health certificate), and expect to pay $30+ for these pieces of paper along with any necessary shots (often rabies). These are only valid within 10 days of travel, so schedule this visit a couple days before the flight.
Purchase a soft kennel to ensure its fit under the seat in front of you. I dug into the airline’s website to find out the specific model of airplane I was flying and the measurements of the foot storage. First shopping online makes finding specific measurements and reviews easier than at a physical store, but before I bought the kennel, I had my cat ‘try it on for size’ at the store. Some may frown on that. I smiled at it. After purchase, stick one of the health certificate carbon copies in the kennel pocket.
Leave the kennel out for a couple days prior – to make travel less of a shock and give kitty more time to familiarize with her carrier. I lined the bottom with an old mat that she recognized, along with a maxi pad to make me feel a little better about potential accidents. Packed in my other carry-on were additional mats and pads, along with food and a copy of the health certificate.
Arrive 90 minutes early for check-in, pay your animal carry-on fee, and to ensure getting the best seating arrangement. Having an empty seat beside you is optimal. And make sure you pass through security during a lull. One TSA agent asked me if I wanted do the screening in a closed room, in case she breaks loose. I felt confident I could hold onto her and take her through the metal detector. At these low traffic times, someone should be able to help you return the cat into the kennel, if that’s usually a struggle. Thankfully, Indianapolis’ TSA agents are wonderful people.
When at the gate, appeal to the attendant (if you haven’t already at check-in) to make sure your seating situation is that which will provide the least amount of discomfort for fellow travelers.
Take-off and landing are both awful, because kitty will be hyperventilating and without your assurance that everything is okay. During the flight, put the kennel in your lap, make sure enough air is hitting her, and insert your arm through the flap to hold her close to you, petting the entire time. This works for my cat, who clings to me at the vet’s office. And don’t be surprised if she slobbers excessively. Mine wouldn’t accept any water or food.
Upon disembarking, be prepared for someone to pull you aside to inquire about your cat’s health certificate. Though no one asked for mine, I think we’d all rather pay $30+ for nothing than get pulled in by the USDA.
Once at the final destination, make sure before the cat is let free that she knows where to find her water, food, and litter box. I recommend trying to maintain as much continuity as possible from her pre-flight norms – litter brands, food type, bowls, comfort toys or blankets. My cat needed a serious wipe-down out of the kennel, as she urinated a tad and slobbered her mat damp. Post-travels, it will take a while for kitty to feel comfortable and recovered from the traumatic experience. Thankfully, it’s all over now.
Kitty ended up having to relocate back to Indianapolis because I got another traveling gig. On this leg, I consulted with a vet about giving her a mild sedative, which she took right before leaving for the airport. We tested the drug on her a couple nights prior, and it hit her like a brick within 20 minutes. Unfortunately, when it came to flying time, the pill didn’t dissolved quickly, and its effects hit her five hours later back at home, swerving like a drunken sailor.
Crush up any sedative you give your cat into soft food she will easily digest. Test this practice a couple nights prior and make sure she has supervision the entire time. She will try to jump, and she will not be coordinated enough to succeed.