By Sarah Liu

I have two passions in my life: my cat (“Mrs. Huggins”), and travel.  Now I know there are a lot of articles out there about pet-friendly vacations and how to jet set with your  animals.  This is not that article.  Because, unfortunately, Mrs. Huggins is a homebody.  She will never share my love of exotic beaches, scuba diving, and glamorous fast-paced cities.

But what’s a pet lover to do?  Believe it or not, a day without a cat is a hard day.  I miss that therapy of sweet purring, soft fur in my fingers, and the self-esteem boost Mrs. Huggins offers me after a long day of human-centric activities.

If that’s not too crazy, and you can relate, I’ve learned some tricks to get your “pet on” even away from home. 

If you’ve never volunteered before, the thought of an animal shelter may conjure images of sad pets in claustrophobic cages counting down their time in lonely isolation.  However, in my experience, well-run reputable shelters are bright and cheery places, full of opportunities to learn and give-back.

Miss Your Best Friend?  One of the largest and most comprehensive I’ve encountered is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.  Located in beautiful Angel Canyon, Best Friends is spread over 3,700 acres of breathtaking landscape, and home to some 1,600 homeless animals.  Many of these are available for adoption: everything from cats and dogs, to parrots, horses, even pigs, rabbits and goats.  Best Friends offers daily tours (yes, you can interact with and pet many of the animals), as well as frequent special events and classes.  For the truly dedicated, Best Friends offers accommodations and volunteer opportunities.  Guests can stay in lodges, cabins or at RV sites, and sign up for opportunities in Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Piggy Paradise, the Bunny House, or the Parrot Garden.

Best Friends Sanctuary is about four hours’ drive from Las Vegas.  The drive is beautiful, and pulling up to the visitor’s center feels like a different world from the clang of slot machines and glare of neon lights.  Naturally I spent most of our time at Cat World, visiting each of the cheery open-air bungalows, and cuddling with new friends.  I made a virtual adoption (sponsoring a beautiful cat through small monthly contributions) and got a pretty cool tee-shirt at the gift shop.  Honestly, I could write a whole article about this place by itself, but I’ve got a few more ideas to share below.

Headed to Hawaii?  The Kauai Humane Society looks more like a posh resort; palm trees swaying, sparkling blue skies and green mountains looming in the distance.  Visitors are welcomed most days 9am-4pm, with opportunities for dog walking and petting the cats.  They also sell beautiful tee-shirts and other souvenirs whose profits benefit care of the resident animals as well as low-cost clinics and local education.

Equally beautiful, Lanai Cat Sanctuary is located on the tiny island of Lanai, near the ancient village of Kaunolu.  Staff call it the “Furr Seasons,” and it’s easy to see why, with palm trees to climb, thatch huts to relax in, and dedicated staff catering to every comfort and need.  The Sanctuary welcomes visitors 10am-3pm, and provides information about lodging and vacation volunteering on their website.  The Sanctuary happily facilitates adoption, and can give advice and assistance with out-of-state requirements such as health checks and travel.

When in Rome: We stayed five days last month, and every day we went to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.  Just a quick walk from the Pantheon, Largo Argentina is a feral cat colony and rescue shelter set amongst picturesque Roman ruins (allegedly) where Julius Caesar was murdered.  Settle in at the rails above and watch the feral colony lounge and hunt amongst the broken columns and lush foliage below.  See how many you can find, and then locate the stairway down to the visitor center and shelter area, open daily from noon to 6pm.  Friendly staff will give a quick English tour and explain their mission: to control the feral population in Rome via trap, neuter and release, and care for ill, elderly or abandoned cats in the rescue area below the ruins.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited into the main cat area, where you can socialize and play with free roaming cats, many eager for an introduction and cuddle time.  Torre Argentina also offers chances for distance adoption and has lovely souvenirs sold to benefit the maintenance and care of the colony.

Bay of Pigs: Did you even know pigs could swim?  Yep, and if you’re headed to the Caribbean, you have to check this out.  Emerald Bay in Bahamas Exuma Cay is home to a colony of feral pigs who have taken to enjoying the surf as well as any shared picnic items their human visitors are willing to relent.  The pigs are friendly, and happy to swim with their guests or nose up to visiting boats for proffered treats.  The pigs are so popular, that most area resorts, including some in farther off Nassau, arrange safaris for tourists to frolic with the mer-hogs and capture the selfie of a lifetime.  A flight to Georgetown, Exuma?  Maybe $1,000.  But a picture of your family with a swimming pig?  You tell me.

What To Do.  I’m running out of room, so I’ll leave you with this:  I love my cat, but I’m always going to travel.  But wherever I travel, I try to find an opportunity to soothe my pet-lonely soul.  So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many cool experiences are out there.  Beyond gratifying myself, it’s been a great chance to learn about regional rescue efforts, give a few pets some enriching extra attention, and make some small contributions via virtual adoptions and donations.  I’ve gotten some pretty great tee shirts too.

Oh, and a note about Mrs. Huggins: She stays home, has the bed to herself, and enjoys the attention of the aunties and uncles that come to check on her.  She also remembers how much she loves me when I return.


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