“DOG” DAYS OF SUMMER
By Alberta Frost
“DOG” DAYS OF SUMMER
Summer is here and many of us are ready to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror by planning a vacation. Maybe it will just be a long weekend road trip or maybe it will be two weeks in Europe. Wherever you roam, you need to have a plan for taking care of your cat companions while you are off having fun.
I will be spending a couple of weeks in western New York State. My cats, Beau who is twelve, shy, and needs medication and his buddy Mickey who is seven, outgoing, and playful, will not be coming with me. The place I will be renting does not permit it and the seven hour drive would probably drive all three of us around the bend. I got both these furry companions from King Street Cats years ago, and whenever I go out of town I have found either a pet caregiver who comes twice a day, or more recently a house sitter who can keep an even closer eye on them. I am telling you a bit about my own cats because how you decide to care for your cats in your absence depends not only on your personal preferences and what you can afford, but very importantly on the personality, eating habits, and physical health of your felines. One thing for sure; DON’T LEAVE YOUR CAT HOME ALONE for more than a day. Two at the very most. According to Vivien Bacon, President of King Street Cats, “cats may appear to be self-sufficient and independent, but even the most aloof among them depend on us for water, food, a safe roof over their heads and daily attention.” Moreover, according to the website Spruce Pets, cats “adore routine”. A different feeding schedule and less attention can cause stress that can then lead to loss of appetite and susceptibility to illness, or to bad behaviors that are destructive to your home and/or pet. Water bowls can get tipped over, litter boxes can get full, and breakables knocked off a shelf. The things that could go wrong when cats are left unsupervised are too numerous to list.
So, what are the alternatives? You can engage a pet sitter, find someone to live in, find a boarding arrangement, or take your pet with you. Your best choice is very dependent on how healthy, flexible, and gregarious your pet is and whether you have more than one.
My friend had a most amazing cat, Ranger, who along with his doggie companion, far preferred going along for the ride to Florida to being left at home. He would not tolerate the cat carrier for such a long drive, but allowed himself to be strapped into the back seat and put on a leash for bathroom breaks. Ranger was an unusual and confident cat. You may have one of those but beware, it took my friend lots of planning, experimentation, and practice to make those annual trips work.
Most cats are attached to their own familiar territory so it is less disruptive if you engage someone to come in or actually stay in your home. That person may be a friend, neighbor, or a professional service. All my cat sitters have come through referrals from friends, but your veterinarian or neighborhood web sites are other possible referral sources. However you find the caregiver, make sure you meet them in person to see how they interact with your pets and so they can familiarize themselves with your house and the pet’s routines. Get references if they are in the pet sitting business. Leave written instructions on feeding, medications, your veterinarian and your own contact information; and if you are going to be away for more than a few days, ask them to provide you feedback on how things are going. One of my pet sitters sent me daily photos and that was enormously reassuring. It goes without saying that you need to leave an adequate supply of food and any required medication. Depending on how often the sitter will be in your home, you also may wish to provide extra water bowls and litter boxes. As we cat owners know, our feline friends can be quite particular about their litter box and if it is not cleaned regularly they may choose to go elsewhere. Also, have a backup plan. Even the most reliable sitter can get ill or have an emergency so provide contact information for a friend or neighbor who could jump in if necessary.
Boarding may also be an option especially if your cat is very social or has medical needs. It is not the best choice if he is shy or easily frightened. I had to relocate my cats during a house renovation. One barely noticed the change of scene; the other refused to come out of the basement of the new place for many days. If you do chose a commercial facility, a visit to the place you are considering is mandatory. You need to observe firsthand that the staff is well trained, there is easy access to medical services, and that your kitty will have adequate/quiet space and attention.
Most people decide to leave their cat friends in their own space, so one last word about that. During your absence even with a sitter, cats need their usual access to your home so consider propping doors open so they do not get shut out (or worse, in) of rooms they are used to lounging in. Leave some blinds open so they can have entertainment from the outside, leave toys out, and even a shirt that smells like you. If you have rambunctious pets, remove obvious hazards like plants. In other words, child proof your house! With a little analysis of your pet, your home, and your finances you can have a great vacation, and your pet can be safe and not too grumpy upon your return.
About the Author: Alberta Frost is a long time Alexandria resident and volunteer at King Street Cats. She admits to letting her cats Beau and Mickey think they are in charge.