Twice a year, we travel between the northern coast of California and Miami. With a cat. The Humane Society recommends that you not put your animals in cargo, warning that the airlines might put them in an unheated or unpressurized bay, or crush the carrier with heavier baggage.
Okay. We purchase a high-end, soft-sided case, purported to fit under the seat in front of you (in place of your feet). I should have known not to trust the young saleswoman who promised we'd have no problem if we gave the cat a light sedative. She went on to say that she drove her own cat a hundred miles round trip each week to visit a pet therapist and fed it daily half-doses of Prozac to keep it from peeing on the sofa.
"Does it work?"
She thought for a moment. "He doesn't seem to do it as often."
Our former cat got so old, he went along with the program. California? Fine. Florida? Fine. House? Apartment? Whatever. His only desire was to roll in dirt and deposit quantities of it on our furniture. But that cat is gone. Our new cat is a year-old male Abyssinian. We picked the breed out of a cat book, where the cats were described as regal, affectionate and intelligent. Not a word about aversion to travel.
This is a cat that practices total silence. The tiniest squeak of remonstration when we come in after a day away. If he wants something, instead of meowing, he nips the back of my calf. Since he doesn't break the skin, I take this as a sign of affection.
A cat with nothing to say until you put him in a moving vehicle. The bawling and howling start up with the engine. We drive four hours to San Francisco trying to play the radio louder than the caterwauling from the back seat.
We sneak him into the no pet motel, running with the luggage cart (Les' leather jacket thrown casually over the cat carrier) from the underground garage to our room. Once inside and free, Cassius (named for his lean and hungry look) reverts to his monklike ways.
The next morning, we try to decide when to give him the sedative. The vet said 1/4 of a pill should be enough to quiet him down for eight hours; whatever happened, we were not to give him more than 1/2. The plane ride lasts six hours. Returning the rental car and getting through security will take another hour at least, plus the waiting time at the gate. We grind up 1/4 of a pill and mix it with baby-food chicken.
Once through security (they make you take the cat out and run the wand over him in case he's ingested a tiny handgun), we stuff another 1/4 of a pill down and sit as far from the other passengers as we can. Cassius sinks into sullen silence. The stuff is working. Through the mesh of his carrier, half-open yellow eyes watch us with intense dislike.
On board, the roar of the engines covers the occasional screech. I've never been so glad for noise.
An hour out of Miami, the stuff wears off. The anguished whooping resumes. I stare around with the other passengers. Where can that be coming from?
Les wrinkles his nose and points. I unzip the carrier and take a peek. Reaching in with a Kleenex, I pick up several globs of what the cat has left there and hide them in the vomit bag. God help the cleaners of this plane.
We land. Getting off, I carry the cat low with the other luggage, hoping no one can pinpoint the source of the ripe odor and cries for help. Ducking into the first ladies' room we pass, I deposit Cassius at the baby-changing station and, with copious use of wet paper towels, attempt to clean him and the carrier.
In the taxi to our condo, I am limp. All we have to do now is get him unseen up eight floors and down a hall. Cassius is worn out, too. From inside the carrier under Les' jacket, he sounds like a little old lady locked in a car trunk.
We close the door to the apartment and collapse. I keep remembering the man from the rental company van. Packed with people and luggage, I stared straight ahead, ignoring the howls from the carrier. He spoke without smiling. "You'll be lucky not to get murdered."
Six short months and we get to do it again.
- Freelance writer Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal.