As this pet parent learned, understanding a cat’s unique personality and creating a safe, comfortable environment inside the RV can lead to many happy miles together.
By Patricia G. Turpin, F185178
People are sometimes hesitant to travel with cats; however, in the past nine years, I have taken three very different felines on my RV trips. A cat fulfills my desire to have loving company, yet allows me the freedom to come and go as I please.
When I visited an animal shelter to find my first cat, a volunteer asked whether I knew about an “older” Siamese cat who was declawed and on the urgent-adoption list. When I said that I really thought I wanted a kitten, she responded, “Well, if I may say so, you are older; maybe an older cat would be perfect for you.” Sheepishly, I agreed to meet Sheba; she came home with me that day.
Our first RV trip involved a two-day drive to a Country Coach Texans chapter rally. I carried Sheba out to introduce her to the motorhome, including the engine noise. Although edgy at first, she settled down and curled up on a blanket in the leather recliner. The first day of the rally, I left with friends for what was to be a short ride; eight hours later, we returned. This confirmed that I had made an excellent decision to get a cat versus a dog. Sheba was perfectly fine with food, water, and her litter box.
I had Sheba for 20 months, during which time she traveled with me wherever I went. Each time she entered the motorhome, she curled up in “her” chair for the ride. Once at our destination, she roamed the coach, usually settling back in the recliner. I never had to worry about where she was or whether she was happy or safe. When she died, I was devastated and convinced I would not get another pet. That didn’t last long.
Initially, I looked for another older Siamese; however, I found Dottie, a senior Turkish Van/calico mix. She was in a foster home with six dogs and as many cats. She was not friendly (screeched and catapulted off my shoulder when I picked her up), but I felt so sorry for her, I adopted her. She had beautiful crystal-blue eyes, so I renamed her Crystal.
Crystal adapted to my house immediately. She did not jump on furniture, used the scratching post, and frequented the litter box. She wanted to be near me and enjoyed being petted, but she disliked being held.
For our first RV trip, I put a collar on her (not without some difficulty) and hooked on a leash to walk her to the vehicle. We were barely out the door when she wriggled free. Holding the leash and an empty collar, I looked like a cartoon character. I captured her and carried her, kicking and screaming, into the coach. I put her down and let her roam a bit before turning on the engine. The noise startled her, but she was oriented to the travel process.
The initial leg of the trip went well. Crystal seemed content to ride under the passenger seat. On the second leg, she began wandering and crawled under the driver-side floor space near the brake/accelerator pedals. She found a spot she could hop over and ended up under the dashboard! I had no idea whether she could fall out of the coach, so I called one of my RV go-to people, who assured me that could not happen; however, it was best that she not be underfoot or mess with headlight wires and other items in that area.
I covered the opening with pieces of cardboard and acrylic, but she found a new entrance and again settled in under the dashboard. Even after removing the dashboard cover, I couldn’t reach her or get her to budge. Eventually, she popped out, and I placed her in her crate. Although this was my “punishment” for her, she was quiet and content. She seemed to like the security the kennel gave her.
Between trips, I “cat proofed” access to the dashboard compartment by placing screens held by hook-and-loop fasteners at each open area. But the minute she got out of her carrier, she headed up under the dashboard, thwarting my efforts. As long as we were parked, it was frustrating, but not life threatening.
When the coach was moving, she rode on the passenger seat in her carrier; I ran the seatbelt through the handle for security. At first, she meowed like I was murdering her. Shortly after I started to drive, I smelled an odor I shouldn’t have. Nothing like getting even! I eventually put a hospital wash basin filled with cat litter in the back of the carrier. She used the litter and seemed content. I had learned a valuable lesson.
I grieved when Crystal died. Soon, however, I was back at the shelter looking for another feline. When I told my sad tale of two cats, the tech at the shelter said, “You need a kitten!” She brought out a precious 5-week-old baby, who perched on my chest, looked up, and seemed to say, “Hi; I’m Sweetie.” And so, I was on a new journey with my third cat in five years.
Sweetie has never known any other way to travel except in her carrier. She rides in it when we are moving, and I have not needed to add a makeshift litter box. Sometimes, she meows loudly in the carrier; however, I’ve discovered that she loves Frank Sinatra, so I turn on his Sirius XM music channel, and it calms her. She has free rein of the coach when we are parked.
Somehow, the lure of the dashboard was passed on to Sweetie, even as a tiny kitten. I didn’t think she could climb over the board behind the pedals, but just in case, I made a screen to cover the opening. She got through. Finally, I discovered pegboard! I cut a piece to fit the entire opening in front of the pedals, with a notch to fit under the steering column, and I used mounting tape to hold it in place. Now, after it is installed, I let her out of the carrier. Once a day, she tries to move the pegboard aside. I place her carrier along the pegboard to further thwart her efforts.
I have learned that cats are like children: They all have unique characteristics. Friends told me to beware of a cat bolting for the RV door when it is opened. Sheba never did that; Crystal did it twice but was caught immediately; Sweetie has bolted once and came back for treats. Now, she has “stranger danger” syndrome and runs to hide when the door is opened. She crawls under the comforter on the bed, where she feels secure, but I know exactly where she is.
Another “danger” for traveling cats are slideouts. After learning about my adventures with Sweetie, friends decided to take their cat RVing with them. On one of their first mornings out, Junebug hid, wedging herself between a slideout and the wall. They dared not try to move the coach until they found her. Tragedy averted!
Today, Sweetie is content to stay in the coach. She sleeps on the dashboard next to the windshield or on the bed in the rear, where she looks out the window and entertains people passing by. She loves to be close to me, purring and being petted. She is the perfect travel companion.