Moving is hard. Moving with pets is harder. And moving cross-country on an airplane with two terrified cats squished in a single carrier under the seat in front of you? A tale of pure torture that I -- and the cats -- somehow survived, and feel compelled to recount as a warning to others insane enough to consider the same path.
Last year I moved from San Francisco to New York City, and took my two cats, Goat and Gracie, with me. But guess what? Cats don't like to move. It's bad enough for them to be uprooted; throw in a 2,500-mile trip 5,000 feet in the air, and their anxiety is amplified tenfold.
To prepare, I took my felines to see a veterinarian to make sure both were healthy enough to fly. I asked if she would recommend a sedative for the cats for the flight, but she said no.
"Sedating animals who are already in fight-or-flight mode can cause problems with their breathing, especially with in-flight cabin pressure changes," she explained. "But if you're nervous, maybe take something for yourself!"
I asked if she could prescribe to humans, but no dice.
Soon, it was Move Day. Time to put the cats in their soft carrier -- an exercise in futility in the best of circumstances. To ease into it, I picked up the gentler of the two, Goat, and shoved him in the carrier.
Then I lifted Gracie gingerly and pulled back the zipper. But she wasn't having it. Gracie alternated between splaying her legs and clawing at me to protest her proposed confinement. Then, just as I stuffed her in, Goat got out and bolted.
This charade went on for a half-hour: I'd get one cat into the bag, and the other would pop right out. Cat in, cat out. It would have been a comedy had the clock not been counting down to our one-way ticket to New York. Just before I gave up hope, the stars aligned and I was able to secure both cats inside the carrier. Racing in the cab to the airport, I relaxed. I was in the clear!
That's before I learned that TSA agents, in order to inspect my bags, would have to take the cats back out.
As soon as I let it be known that I was carrying two very confused and angry cats, I was shuffled over to the side for special inspection.
"Hey, Tom," one TSA agent said to the other. "You wanna screen this bag with two cats?"
"Felines?" was Tom's terrified response, as if I'd just announced I was carrying plastic explosives. The agents volleyed the task back and forth until one lady finally relented.
"Do we have to take them out?" I pleaded with her.
"Yes, we do," she said.
Knowing that I'd never make it to New York if she unzipped that carrier, I whipped out the last ace literally up my sleeve: my arms -- which, after this morning's ordeal, were a shredded, bloody mess that said all too clearly, Open that bag, and you're next.
Suddenly, the TSA agent experienced a change of heart.
"I'll just pat your bag down," she said.
A few wary pats on my cat carrier later, and I was free -- but not before the TSA agent wheeled me around on my heels, pointed my body in the direction of the nearest bar and all but ordered me to have a drink. I had two.
Later on, after I boarded the plane with a mewling Goat and Gracie, I could sense the other passengers shift in their seats nervously. No one wanted to sit next to two angry cats for a five-hour flight, and I can't say I blamed them. But by that point, I couldn't care less. I'd paid my fare -- including a fee for both cats -- and had made it this far without having a major coronary event or losing a pet.
In the end, I'm happy to report that we all made it to New York in one piece. It took a solid week before the cats got brave enough to venture out of the closet and into their new home, but in due time, they were back to running things like a couple of tyrants. The moral? If you're moving with pets, know full well that they're resilient creatures that will bounce back in due time. As for humans … well, I'm still recovering.