Monday, May 5, 2008

When cats fly...

Much has been written about traveling with pets. And the bulk of it, seemingly, by people for whom the word “pet” is synonymous with “dog*.

I travel with cats. My cats clocked in more frequent flier miles than most humans I know. Every move, be it cross country, or across the oceans, is carefully evaluated from the point of view of a cat. I passed on a lucrative job offer in Australia due to their stringent pet quarantine requirements, and I’m not so keen on moving to the UK for the very same reason. My cats are my children, and no sane parent I know would voluntarily subject their pride and joy to the ordeal of forced quarantine.

My orange tabby is a veteran of long distance travel. His first inter-continental move brought him from Nara in Japan, via Los Angeles to Manhattan. Not too shabby for an abandoned, little stray! And his travels are not limited to airlines. He’s one of the few, special felines that completed a cross-country road trip – from New York to Seattle.

The trans-Atlantic move to Sweden was also carefully designed with the comfort and wellbeing of a Japanese shorthair in mind. The trip was broken into several legs, with overnight stays at kitty-friendly hotels in Chicago and Stockholm. The airlines were chosen based on their pet in the cabin policies, because sure as hell, my kids are NOT flying as checked luggage.

Cats travel remarkably well. They’re naturally squashy, and a proper carry-on bag ensures their comfort. Their biggest dangers are dehydration and constipation. The meticulously clean creatures that they are, they will refrain from doing their business inside the carrier. Don’t make it hard on them and their bowels and bladders – limit their food intake a day before the trip.

Just as humans on airplanes get dry and thirsty, so do cats. To ease their discomfort, I ask for a cup of ice and place it inside their carry-on. They’re reluctant at first, but as the ice melts, they can enjoy a little drink of cold water.

I am currently contemplating yet another inter-continental move with my feline children. This time to Seoul. Lucky us, Korea doesn’t require a pet quarantine for cats coming from Sweden. All there is to it is an inspection by a government veterinarian upon arrival at Incheon. Oh, the blessings of living in a rabies-free country!

Traveling inter-continentally with cats is not as bad as it sounds. Cats are tough little creatures. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

•    Have your paperwork in order. Start the preparations for your cat’s travel well ahead of time. Depending on the country of your destination (like for example Sweden or Japan) the requirements may be quite convoluted.

•    Assuming that your paperwork is in order, your cat - micro-chipped, and your pet booking is confirmed, call the airline yet again and reconfirm. And then do it a few more times. You don’t want to show up at the airport and discover that your precious fluffy has to travel as cargo, because some faceless automaton screwed up your pet-in-the-cabin booking.

•    Measure your cat carrier case. SAS is EVIL when it comes to that. Delta, JAL and Iberia were a breeze. So was Northwest and LOT Polish Airlines. And Air France. But the pet lovers at SAS whipped out a tape measure and proceeded to tell me that me airline-approved Sherpa bag was too big for travel in the cabin. What saved me was printing out the SAS instructions (scroll to number 18) from their own website recommending the very Sherpa bag they were telling me was too big.

•    24 hours before the trip, skip the food. I keep water available, and never had a problem. Plastic incontinence liners (like the ones used for old people and children, who pee in bed) are great for the bottom of the pet carrier. Just chuck them on arrival and line the bag with a new one. Easy peasy.

•    Cat harness and a leash. Essential, especially when going through airport security. Though some moronic, half-literate TSA screener could tell you that you have to take the harness off. My response – I’d sue the TSA’s bums off, if my cat escapes during their security check. The harness and leash stayed on.

•    On the plane, not much to do, other than spritz water on your babies, but that depends on the length of your flight. If you feel ambitious, take the carrier bag to the toilet, and let your baby out for a few minutes.

•    When arriving, if it’s an international flight, look for a bored customs official and thrust your pet import forms into his hands. Chances are, they won’t know what to do with them and will just wave you through. Or, they will lead you to a special room where you will spend the next few hours waiting for the approved vet to inspect your furry kids.

•    During a lay-over, get your cats out of the pet case and massage their legs to get the circulation going. You know, like your legs hurt like crazy? So do theirs! Your poor baby had to sit for many hours in a very uncomfortable position and is sore and stiff. Massage and rub like crazy. And give water. And let them walk around and explore a little.

•    Repeat the procedure for the second leg of your trip, until you reach your final destination.

I am a bit obsessive and travel with a disposable litter pan and a can of litter in my carry-on luggage, and during lay-overs look for a quite place to set up a cat bathroom. I have done it in a human restroom, in a prayer/mediation area, and in a club lounge, in other words, anywhere I can get away with it.

And a note about water. Frequently, tap water is disgusting. Many cats, especially fixed males, develop kidney/bladder problems, and require a low magnesium, low mineral diet. That includes water. Bottled water in many countries in Europe has minerals added to it, not to mention carbonation. Our friendly suggested distilled water, or purified water without any additives. But when buying bottled water at the airport to give to your cats, READ the labels. And think about (tap) water at your final destination!

I couldn’t care less about dogs. They are nasty little creatures that make too much noise, force you to go outside in the dead of winter, and then still shit on the carpet without any remorse!

1 comment:

  1. And this response from an apparent dog owner above just goes to prove my point! Thanks Insulted! That was great!