By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Editor’s note: It appears that sometime when one of our staff writer’s laptop was left unguarded, another sort of “lap top” took over the keys to editorialize about the state of affairs of traveling pets. We present it to you for your careful consideration.
Dawgs! They seem to be just about everywhere in the RVing community. And that’s all great – provided you’re a “dog person.” Let me explain this from a slightly different perspective. Having been traveling with my folks for all 15 years of my life, I can tell you that RV traveling with a member of the feline species can be every bit as rewarding as doing the highway with a dog.
Yes, we cats are “different” than dogs in terms of temperament. And from a practical standpoint, it’s tough to find any one of us that would necessarily bail out of the rig on a leash at every rest stop to visit the “pet area.” There are other considerations, too, and since I’ve managed to swipe the keyboard from Pop, I’ll share my observations, and those of my predecessor, T.F. Kitty.
First, a little advice about the laws of physics. The thought of a cat (or even a dog) necessarily running around loose in the rig while rolling down the highway sends chills down my furry spine. I’ve seen a few traveling pooches perched in the windshields of passing motorhomes, and all I can envision is the horrific splat that a flying Pekinese would make if the brakes had to be suddenly jammed, or worse still, a collision took place.
My folks’ first traveling cat, T.F. Kitty, came to them as a feral cat who, after being seriously injured, learned to get along with humans when she could no longer live outdoors on her own. Getting her maneuvered into a carrier would be tantamount to unleashing a nuclear weapon, so during her tenure on the road, she preferred to stay on the dinette seat in the family truck camper, with a short leash attached, not to a collar, but a harness. There was one memorable day in the family travels when a passing motorist honked the horn and frantically waved – pointing behind. A quick stop was made, only to find the back door of the camper wide open in the breeze, and T.F., nonchalantly snoozing on the dinette a couple of feet from the doorway. Talk about scary!
T.F. was with the family until she was 21, and somehow Pop, as chief driver and cat-lover, managed to convince Mom to get another cat. I was a few weeks old, a “shelter drop off” who’d been left in a box with my siblings at the door when the place was closed. They gave me the moniker, Ithmah, which is Hebrew for “orphan.” My folks thought I’d be a rather small thing, but I fooled ’em. Maine Coon cats are anything but small. Now I’m 15, and scale in at a pound for each of my years.
Some of my earliest memories were of the folks plunking me into a travel crate. Some might think of it in terms of a prison cell, but I find it a secure place to hang out. When Mom or Pop blows a fuse for whatever reason, the crate’s the place I want to be. When the folks fire up the tow rig, I ride in the crate up in the cab with them. It gives me great environmental control, no matter what the climate where we’re traveling. The folks also feel a little more secure having me at hand — should an accident occur or something traumatic befall the trailer, they can scoop and run as needed.
Mom says that because of an unnerving and costly habit (having to do with my claws and an expensive couch) I’m not allowed free run of the house or the trailer. Instead, the folks put a half-high partition door between the trailer bathroom and the rest of the rig. The “door” is fitted with a metal grill that allows me to keep an eye on them, and it’s easy enough to vocalize about any issues I may have. My travel crate is outfitted with a comfortable sleeping mat, and it rests in the shower stall, which is outfitted with a curtain, rather than a door. Food and water dish are placed on the floor in a throwaway aluminum pan so if food or water slops, cleanup is a breeze.
But now, about that kitty comfort station. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not particularly a fan of public revelations. When the folks stop for rest breaks, they often transfer me in my coupe directly back to my “bedroom” area. That allows me time to stretch my legs, grab a bite, and “powder my nose” as required. I know some cat-travelers have their litter pans in the shower, but you’d never get that past Mom or her overly sensitive nose. So Pop hit on a clever idea.
On the other side of one of the bathroom wall partitions is a storage compartment where Pop has the rig’s batteries. He outfitted the partition wall with a “cat door” from the hardware store, and in the compartment he parks my litter loo. I can simply push the door open to gain access to my traveling bathroom, and pop back out when I’m done. Still, Mom’s overdone olfactory organs complained, so recently he cleared everything out of the compartment and shot down all the seams and corners with rubber paint. That seemed to fix the problem, but he’s still good about cleaning the pan every day.
It’s nice to be able to get a view of the great outdoors. If the folks want to take me outside, free of the travel coupe, they fit me up with a harness and link a stout leash to the harness. No getting away from them, but Dad always snickers that he’s not taking me for a walk, maybe for a drag, instead. I also have access to “fresh air” when we’re parked, because Pop designed a screen-door that he can put up in place of the compartment door. The frame is equipped with hardware cloth, built stout to keep out unwelcome visitors.
If we’re parked for longer periods, Pop had a contractor friend build what they call a Kitty Kondo. It’s a wooden box-like affair with screened windows and a showerproof lid. My litter pan fits back in a non-windowed corner, and the rest of the area lets me lay “outside” and pursue my hobby: bird watching. Access to the Kondo is likewise from the battery compartment but through a second cat door built into the back wall of the trailer. When the condo is “knocked down” and stored away, the outside connecting door is locked up tight. He’s also fitted the batteries so I can’t get onto them and get into trouble.
So chalk it up: If your physical mobility limits you a bit, traveling with a cat doesn’t require those mandatory “canine strolls.” We eat less. Cleaning up after a cat is a breeze with clumping litter. And tell me, when you need comfort, when was the last time you ever heard a dog purr?
Meow for Now! —Ithmah J. Katz