Northwestern Press

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PRESS PHOTOS COURTESY THE BILLINGS FAMILY Kira Kat relaxes on the futon at the cabin with the aid of two blankets. PRESS PHOTOS COURTESY THE BILLINGS FAMILY Kira Kat relaxes on the futon at the cabin with the aid of two blankets.
Fatty Arbuckle enjoys sitting on a glider brought to the cabin from Pennsylvania on a previous trip. Fatty Arbuckle enjoys sitting on a glider brought to the cabin from Pennsylvania on a previous trip.

Editor's View

Thursday, November 6, 2014 by JOHANNA S. BILLINGS in Opinion

Two cats make 12-hour journey to Maine

I've heard it said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

Ever since we bought our cabin in Maine in 2013, we have had an alternate definition of insanity – taking two cats on a 12-hour ride from Pennsylvania to the Pine Tree State.

Then we tried it.

The idea started because Kira Kat is now 15. The formula for translating her age into "cat years" is 21 years for the first two human years and then seven years for every year thereafter.

So that means she's 112. When she has her next birthday in April, she will be 119.

Kira Kat was born in my house. We trapped a feral cat intending to spay and release her.

However, the cat was very pregnant so we let her have her kittens in my basement.

Kira Kat was part of the litter.

I've been handling Kira Kat since she was 9 days old. She is very confident and comfortable in our house in Danielsville – the only home she's ever known.

Last winter, we spent a week and a half in Maine and came home to find Kira Kat despondent.

She had a rash all over her face, which we were told was indoor allergies but was no doubt exacerbated by stress.

We realized we would not be able to leave the old girl alone for that long again.

We went to our cabin for several long weekends over the course of the spring and summer. When we came home from the last long weekend in September, Kira Kat did not greet us.

The next morning, she did not get up and ask for food. She lay on a rocking chair and would lift her head and purr when petted but showed no interest in the other activities of life.

I went to work that day afraid of what I would find when I got home. I thought she was dying.

Fortunately, she was still breathing when I arrived home but was still not interested in food or treats.

That night we took her to the vet, who prescribed an appetite stimulant. It did the trick. She began to eat voraciously and put on some of the weight she had lost.

But what would we do about vacation? It was becoming clear we shouldn't leave her alone even for a long weekend and we were planning to be in Maine for a week and a half in early October. We knew we couldn't leave her.

We had no idea how bad the stress of such a long trip would be on such an old cat. But we also felt we had no choice.

We had every reason to believe the consequences of leaving her behind would be worse than the consequences of taking her.

We actually have two cats. Kira's companion, Fatty Arbuckle, is 4 years old (that's 35 in "cat years") and in good health except for being, well, fat.

Fatty doesn't have Kira Kat's confidence but she has a greater sense of curiosity. We thought she would probably ride well and she did.

Kira Kat was the real surprise. She did a lot of meowing but wasn't particularly frightened. If anything she was annoyed about being in the carrier.

She wanted out.

At one point while I was driving, my husband, Sean, got Kira Kat out of the carrier and set her on his lap. She looked around, curiously, but was not distressed. She seemed to want to explore the car, which she was not allowed to do for safety's sake.

We switched drivers and I took over holding Kira Kat. She lay down in my lap and relaxed. Wow! This was turning out to be much easier than anticipated.

When we reached the cabin, we intended to put both cats in the bedroom with us. Experts say a new place is stressful to cats, and they should be confined to a small area so they can get used to it before branching out to explore the rest of the house.

However, when we opened the door for our own use, both cats ran out and began to explore. Apparently this was not as stressful for them as we'd expected.

We enjoyed having our cats with us on vacation. It was really nice to come home to them after a day of hiking or shopping.

Of course, we found them under the bed for the first couple days, probably because the sounds of Mom and Dad returning to the cabin are very different from the sounds of Mom and Dad returning to the house in Pennsylvania.

By the end of the vacation, though, they stopped hiding and seemed to embrace the cabin and all the sounds related to it.

Then, it was time for another 12-hour ride in the car.

When Kira Kat and Fatty Arbuckle heard the sounds of carriers being brought into the living room, both of them dove. I caught Fatty and my talking to Kira, fortunately, kept her from going under the bed.

The ride home was uneventful except for a lot of meowing from Kira. Fatty can't meow – what she does sounds like a cough or a squeal – so she was quiet.

They adjusted immediately to being back in Pennsylvania. Kira Kat continues to be in good spirits and relatively good health. Life has returned to normal.

It's likely we will take the cats with us again the next time we visit the cabin.

It's not crazy – I expect the same positive result.

Johanna S. Billings


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