With our one year New York anniversary behind us I am reflecting on our early days as New Yorkers a lot. One year ago we bundled the last of our belongings up into a cab along with our cat, Trouble and checked in for our JetBlue flight to JFK. It would be the very first time Trouble ever flew and our nerves were very much on edge. Trouble is not a young cat, at the time he was a little over 13 yrs old, and he’d been exhibiting some major signs of stress in the weeks leading up to the move. We were culling and moving things around and then the movers came and occupied our apartment for a few days just packing us up. Trouble was not a happy camper about that at all. But Trouble was never far from our thoughts, in fact when we were apartment hunting the first question was do you accept cats and the 2nd was to physically check out each apartment to see if there were big enough window sills for him to lounge in and other nooks he might like. So, here are my tips for others traveling with pets or moving across the country with them via plane. Seriously, learn from my mistakes, I made a lot of them.
1 – Keep your pets favorite sleeping area in tact. We had every intention of packing up Trouble’s basket and favorite toys last…but we didn’t think to label his basket so when the movers packed the bedroom the basket was swept up in their efficiency. Fail. By the time I realized what had happened, all the boxes looked the same. I couldn’t tell if it was in a wardrobe box or in a regular box. I opened a few and didn’t find it, so poor Trouble had to make do without for a couple of days.
2 – Call your airline to make absolutely sure that your pet can fly with you. Most airlines allow a limited number of carry-on pets per flight and they all have very specific rules about the size & type of pet as well as the size of the carry-on container. We chose JetBlue because they offered a direct flight to New York and we’d both already flown them before. To be super safe, I bought the bag made by the airline I was using. But the JetBlue bag is actually kinda small compared to say the American Airline bag (which I later learned). JetBlue was really pet friendly. But be prepared to fork over at least $100 for the pet ticket. I did a ton of research online and read horror stories about pets put in the cargo hold and dying in-flight from the pressure fluctuations and the stress. I also read of animals being lost or escaping. All of it was too much to take so we insisted on listing him as a carry-on and followed the rules very strictly. The last thing we needed was for someone to get a little suspicious of an over-sized bag or missing paperwork. I confirmed everything with JetBlue more than once before we arrived at the airport (except for the time the JetBlue desk opened so we arrived about 30 minutes too early and had to wait until the staff turned on their terminals).
3 – Get medical clearance to fly from your Vet! I don’t think everyone observes this rule but apparently when traveling with an animal you need to get medical clearance (maybe it is only because he was serving as one of our carry-ons) that shows all his shots are up to date and he’s healthy enough to fly. We also asked to have him chipped. If for some reason he wandered away from us in our new city and we couldn’t track him down we’d be devastated. Our Vet was great and did a full workup and during the exam she we told her about how stressed he’s been and how hungry. She sent his blood for some tests and the day after we arrived in New York, they called to tell us he had Hyper-Thyroid disease and if it had gone un-medicated for too long it would have spread and ultimately… They said I’d need to get him to a local vet immediately so he could get on the medication without delay. I’ll add to this one. Don’t assume they are just stressed about the move. He takes 1/2 a pill twice a day and will for the rest of his life. BUT he is much better. At first he had to check in with his new vet (who we found through recommendations) every thirty days then 60 days and now I think we are on a 6 month rotation or until he shows signs of the illness.
4 – Test any new medications well before you fly! We asked our Texas vet for advice on sedating Trouble for the flight. He can be a nervous cat sometimes and we were super worried about him getting through security. I read that most vets will give you something but ours suggested 1/2 a children’s benadryl. We tested it the night before the flight. Not smart. Trouble doesn’t like pills so we tried lots of different ways of tricking him into taking it and when he finally did he started foaming at the mouth. Literally, there was foam oozing from his mouth in a constant stream. We called his vet for help. If Trouble couldn’t fly because of this error on our part then we wouldn’t fly either. After being a part of our lives for at the time 13 years we would not abandon him. The vet said that this just happens sometimes and that we should encourage him to drink lots of water to flush his system and that the foaming would stop in a short while. Imagine the guilt and stress we were feeling. Never again.
5 – Know all of TSA’s policies and remain calm at the airport. Trouble HATES his carriers because he knows they mean going to the Vet which he also hates. The morning of the flight however, he let me put him in the sleek new JetBlue carrier with little fuss. I think he could feel the stress I was feeling, that and I’d been sprinkling catnip in his carrier for days trying to get him comfortable with it (that would come back to me later). Anyway, We checked him in and we got in the security line. I have never been an expert flier but the security line specifically makes me feel so out of sorts. I over think the process and somehow always carry too many things with me and it is just a bad experience. But like Trouble that morning, I was in a bit of a stunned calm. My husband on the other hand was the one with the issues. He was a nervous wreck and insisted on being the one to carry Trouble through security. Oh, did I forget to mention that when a pet is serving as your carry on the TSA requires you to remove them from their carriers and in Trouble’s case carry him through the scanner yourself? We knew this but still, no bueno. Anyway, we got everything on the scanning belt thing and Paul held Trouble and tried to go through. The security woman waving people through was short tempered and already in a foul mood, Paul was nervous and forgot to remove his hat so she yelled at him, he held trouble in a blanket (he has his claws and isn’t afraid to use them) and she yelled at him to get rid of it. There was a total lack of communication. I had this sinking feeling that we weren’t going to make it to New York. She kept
saying yelling things like “I don’t want any problems” and “don’t start any problems” with a very cavalier attitude. I couldn’t pick a worse way for our day to start. And once they finally let Paul and Trouble through I quickly gathered up our bags since the husband was otherwise occupied but then the other security guys watching the x-ray machine held onto Trouble’s carrier to examine it further on the screen. My guess is they were concerned about all the catnip I’d been sprinkling in there (so maybe don’t do that?). From there though the trip was pretty uneventful. Trouble was too freaked to make a peep and I was so tired from the tension of the ordeal I think I slept a little.
6 – Carry with you or ship yourself any essentials your pet might need. Finally one we did right! We shipped ourselves a box of essentials for Trouble like, new litter box, litter, scooper, toys, blanket, cat nip, both wet and dry food and of course a laser pointer, etc. It was a heavy box so it was expensive but it worked out brilliantly, the doorman had the package waiting for us when we came in and we were able to set up an area for Trouble right away. We could have gone out and bought the essentials for him after arriving but we were concerned about the time it would take to do that and also about leaving him alone so soon. Also, seriously, after leaving our old apartment, traveling to the airport, waiting at the airport, flying and then traveling to our new apartment, Trouble was in his carrier for over 5 hours. He deserved a place to pee and sleep as soon as he was out.
7 – Check your new apartment for all potential hazards before letting your pet out. Another rule I learned the hard way. So, yes, we were eager to let Trouble out so he could get comfortable in the new apartment right away. Too eager. While my husband was busy opening Trouble’s delivery and setting up his area he asked me to let him out of his carrier. I did this without too much question and started pulling out some things we’d need right away like toilet paper. Trouble was out of my sight for less than 2 minutes before I realized he wasn’t in the living room or kitchen. I was actually happy he was exploring and checked the bathroom – nope, checked the bedroom – not there, I started to open closed doors and check behind open doors, I started to open cabinets and double check places more frantically. There are not many places for a cat to hide in an unfurnished apartment, actually there are if you are my cat. We finally found him what felt like hours later but really just minutes, under the kitchen cabinet, way under. It was a brand new building and we were the 1st inhabitants of our unit. Trouble found a small section of the baseboard under the cabinets where it wasn’t nailed in properly and he somehow squished himself down and scooted into the blackness under the cabinet. We tried to lure him out with canned food, cat nip, laser pointers, sparkly toys and nothing worked. Each time he came close to the food or toy he backed away out of our reach. We lay flat on our kitchen floor for a very long time until we were finally able to force him out and promptly shove our bags in to the open crevice until the super could fix it.
8 – Keep an eye on your pet to make sure he is adjusting well. Trouble is a Texas cat through and through. He loved to lounge in front of the windows of our old apartment. He’d always find the sunniest spot to nap but the new apartment wasn’t as hot as the old. We arrived in late October and soon enough it was winter. Trouble was adjusting to new medications, new doctor, new apartment, new sounds, and everything he ever knew was in a different place, on top of all that the temperature wasn’t as warm as he liked. We tried what seemed like everything to help him adjust, we played with him every day, we gave him more canned food that we liked, and we set up his favorite mats on the large window sills. For a long time he seemed depressed or afraid of everything. He would jump at the sounds from the hallway and we’d often come home to find that he’d wiggled under the the comforter to nap. If we couldn’t find him we’d check the bed for bumpy masses. The Vet said that he’d need time to adjust and as his health improved he’d feel better. Once we set up a small space heater we found he really liked the heat and started to come out more. When he finally started showing some attitude and trying to scratch at a door jamb we were thrilled. We figured if he is acting up then he is definitely getting back to his old self and we were right. He is just as rambunctious as ever and it is pretty awesome.