The Cost of Moving a Cat
I’d never say that I was worried about moving. Instead, I’d say I was worried about how my cat would handle it.
My cat Reggie does not understand English. (She doesn’t understand Spanish or French either. She’s a cat.) But I will never stop trying to tell her things. This is one of the great benefits of having a pet. They are perfect receptacles for your anxiety; they enable your neuroses. Simply by being there, they give you the permission to vocalize your fears without actually admitting they are your fears.
So I’d never say that I was worried about moving. I was worried how my cat, who has spent almost her entire life confined to a small one-bedroom apartment, would handle the move to another, even smaller one-bedroom apartment.
“We’re going on an adventure!” I told Reggie. “We’re going to make a better life for you!” trying to convince myself as much as her. She blinked slowly, barely able to stay awake for the news that would change her life and mine: after seven years of living in Chicago, my boyfriend and I had finally made the decision to move to New York.
Reggie was born on the streets of Chicago and we adopted her from a shelter at five months. She is a Midwesterner, and if she liked getting wet, I’m sure she’d prefer Lake Michigan to the ocean. Now we were taking her from the only home she’d ever known and I worried how that would affect her (again, that’s just code for me worrying how it would affect me).
I’m not originally from the Midwest, but I moved there when I was 21 and spent my entire twenties growing up in Chicago. So I wasn’t just leaving, I was saying goodbye to my youth. I was newly 30 and freaking out about what would happen if I stayed and what would happen if I left. Reggie absorbed all my anxieties, which manifested in my obsessively talking to anyone and everyone about the logistics of transporting a cat across the country.
When people asked me about the move I would tell them that we were going to bring our cat on an airplane and how crazy was that? I told them how we were going to the vet to get meds to sedate her and I told them about my fears of bringing her through the TSA line. Too many traumatic Homeward Bound viewings as a child had turned me off to the idea of ever stowing a pet as cargo. I knew I wanted Reggie close but I also wanted the trip over with as quickly as possible. This is why, even though we had movers driving our stuff across the country, we decided against renting a car solely to transport the cat.
One month out from our move date, we visited the vet to get a clean bill of health and those all-important sedatives. If you’re flying domestic with a pet, your appointment needs to be within a month of your travel date. We carried her from our apartment to the vet inside of a new soft carrier, “approved by most major airlines” according to the tag. This carrier was bigger than the tiny one we bought a few days earlier, which she just barely squeezed into. We kept both so we had options on the day of the flight. Together they set us back $60.
Reggie checked out fine. She was on her best behavior, perhaps sensing what was to come. As she silently explored the exam room, the vet gave us dosage amounts and told us to do a trial run the night before, to see how she’d react to the medication. I boldly asked what would happen if we didn’t give her anything and the vet looked at me sternly over the top of her glasses. “Would you want to be on a flight next to a crying cat?” At the checkout counter I was given a small pill bottle with two little red pills totaling $68.
That Friday, before heading out for one last great night of Chicago pizza, we crushed up a sliver of a pill and mashed it into a serving of wet food. We tried our best to hide it, but when we returned that night, her food was barely touched—and through the shreds of chicken and goop, the little red pill remained.
By Saturday night she still hadn’t eaten the pill and we were beginning to reach panic mode. On Sunday we woke up at 4:00 a.m. in anticipation for our 7:30 a.m. flight, and forced the pill sliver down Reggie’s throat until we saw her swallow. This was not how we planned it, but I tried not to spiral into the “what-if” game. We hadn’t even made it to the airport yet.
At the checked bag line we told the ticketing agent that our cat was one of our carry-ons. We were charged the American Airlines one-time domestic carry-on pet travel fee of $125. We got a ticket for her, too, but it did not say “Reggie” like I had hoped.
Our final and most treacherous hurdle to overcome was the TSA line. Once, a few years ago, Reggie snuck out of our apartment and clawed her way up to the next floor. After a ten-minute frantic search, I found her frozen on the top of the stairs. This meant that neither my boyfriend or I had any confidence that she would stay in our arms if we had to remove her from the carrier. This was what the TSA agent instructed us to do, but we asked if there was another option.
Begrudgingly they allowed us to step out of the line and go around back to a secret security room. You don’t need a cat to take advantage of this option, but as it’s kind of a hassle for everyone, the agents will likely not offer it to you if you don’t ask. The security room was tiny, so I stayed outside and watched our bags while my boyfriend waited in the room with Reggie. The TSA agent exited with the empty carrier and ran it through the X-ray machine. He returned to the room, and a minute later my boyfriend reappeared with Reggie inside of the carrier like magic. “What, did they think we were using her as some kind of drug mule?” I said, acknowledging I watch too much TV.
From the time we boarded our flight to the time we arrived at our apartment, Reggie barely made a peep. Maybe it was the meds, or maybe she had reached a state of inner peace I had yet to achieve. After close to five hours in the luxury pet carrier, we unzipped the top and let her free. We left the apartment shortly after to buy a litter box ($24), huge bag of litter ($30), litter scoop ($10) and a 5 lb bag of premium, organic dry food ($23) from a boutique (expensive) pet store in our charming ($$$) new Brooklyn neighborhood.
When we got back home, Reggie was still holed up in her carrier. Later that night she crawled out and affixed herself to the side of the toilet for a day or two. Throughout that first week she slinked around, scurrying from one room to the next. I felt awful and secretly wondered if we had caused permanent damage.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t holding up much better. I was experiencing sensory overload and I found myself daydreaming about how nice and safe and comfortable our old neighborhood was. Our movers would not delivering our things, including our bed, for another ten days. We slept on an air mattress that slowly deflated every night, thanks to Reggie-inflicted puncture wounds.
After our stuff finally arrived, Reggie started exploring and rubbing her face on things. She found a way to jump on top of the kitchen cabinets, and we’d find her sleeping there when we returned home from errands. As life normalized for her, it also normalized for me.
One day I found Reggie in the windowsill of our big, new, street-facing windows, looking out at all the new sights and hearing the New York sounds. I told Reggie how happy I was that she had all these bright, beautiful, bizarre things to observe from her second-floor perch. I told myself how lucky I was, too. I don’t think Reggie understood what I was saying, but I feel better pretending that she does.
Ali Kelley is a writer living in Brooklyn. She still has a crush on Shawn Hunter. Read more on her blog Sleepoverz.