When we started planning this trip, one of the biggest questions we had was how on earth we were going to pull this off with our cat Sonny in tow. We were going away for a year, so he was definitely coming with us, but how was that going to work, exactly? We wondered if he'd be miserable, or worse, that he'd escape into the wilds of Yosemite National Park or something and never be seen again.
When we started researching road trips with cats on the internet, we didn't think there would be much information. This, of course, was stupid. Cats rule the internet and there a loads of websites and blogs about adventuring, RVing and traveling with cats. There are even first person accounts from cats about their experiences. No, really!
Armed with this information, we bought a massive cat traveling suite (actually a carrier for a large dog), which takes up most of the back of The Beast. We also bought a collapsible enclosure that we stick outside when we set up camp so Sonny can hang out with us when we're sitting outside the trailer. Our last purchase for him was a harness and leash, so that we could confirm everyone's suspicion that New Yorkers are urban hippies: "Hey, look at those New Yorkers with a cat on a string!"
We tried getting Sonny used to the harness while we were still at home, but this proved useless, because he was used to going outside on our apartment roof deck without one, and he is not an idiot. Every time we managed to wrestle him into it, he just lay down on his side like a dead fish and refused to move.
Now we're the road, though, and he has realized that he can explore sand dunes, beaches, forests and wade deep into puddles and climb up palm trees when he goes for a walk, he purrs and runs to the trailer door every time we get his harness and leash out. The fact that he gets a treat at the end of every excursion probably also helps. At first, he was a little cautious when we took him out, preferring to explore the immediate area around the trailer. Not any more! Check out the slide show below for pics of some of his outings.
Now we've realized how adventurous Sonny is – and unafraid to get his paws wet –we've been speculating about his former life before we adopted him at the age of four. Top theory: he was a boat cat back in the day, working his way up and down the Mississippi on a paddle steamer. Or maybe he just has mountain lion relatives that we don't know about, still mooching around Big Bend's Chisos Mountains.
While some of our fellow campers have done a double take seeing a cat on a walk, or rather more accurately, Sonny taking us for a walk, others have stopped us to say that they have been traveling with their cats for years. In our Miami campground, we even saw someone had strung a zip wire a few feet off the ground between two trees and attached the leashes of two cats to it so they could wander around.
The biggest challenge has been actually driving between campgrounds without a chorus of yowls coming from the back seat. Sonny does not like being on the move, and although we've tried using a cat calming spray and he has toys, snacks, water, a blanket and a bathroom in his cat carrier, he only really settles down if he's sitting on a human. Cats are supposed to be secured in a carrier in the towing vehicle when you're on the road, but when we're on a particularly long drive, Kathryn gets in the back with him, so he is either inside his carrier or restrained on her lap. This, of course, is great for Sonny, but not so great for us!
There have been other cat-related mishaps along the way, of course. Here are a few tips from what we've learned so far about traveling with Sonny so you can avoid our mistakes:
Keep the doors of your vehicle shut at all times when your cat is in it, even during short pit stops. We were worried about Sonny escaping from our travel trailer before we set off, but this hasn't been a problem because it has two exterior doors: one in the bedroom and one in the living room. Sonny stays in the living room while we go in and out of the bedroom, or vice versa.
He has figured out how to Houdini his way out of his cat carrier in The Beast, though. When we stopped to put air in the trailer's tires at a Florida truck stop, we were horrified when Sonny strolled right up to us on the concourse to find out what we were doing. Kathryn had left the back door of The Beast open while we were stopped for five minutes and he slipped the carrier and walked right out. We both nearly had a stroke and yelled "caaaatt!!" at each other, before one of us came to our senses and scooped him up.
Test out how your cat does in a harness before you venture too far outside. We tried out two different cat harnesses and a dog harness before we found one that Sonny has trouble escaping and he can even back out of this one (pictured above) if he really sets his mind to it. Don't leave your cat outside on a leash unattended and be ready to grab him if he makes an escape.
Make sure your cat has enough ventilation. Keep all the windows of your vehicle cracked if you have to leave him unattended while on the road. We have only left Sonny for 30 minutes at a time and never when it's been too hot to leave him without the air conditioning running. The interior temperature of our Keystone Bullet trailer stays much cooler than the inside of The Beast, but we always crack all the windows and open all the vents when he's going to be in there on his own for a few hours, and if it's really hot, leave a fan running.
Watch for slide outs! Our trailer has a motorized section that extends three feet when we set up, which makes our living area bigger. We've heard stories of cats getting trapped in the machinery, so ensure your cat is safely secured in the towing vehicle when you extend or retract any slides.
Check ahead to find out a campground's pet policy. Most allow pets on leashes, but some don't allow animals outside at all.
Bring paperwork to show your cat is up to date with vaccinations, particularly for rabies. We haven't had to show this yet, but some campgrounds require it and we will definitely need this when we cross the Canadian border.
Make sure you treat your cat for fleas and ticks before you allow him to explore new habitats. You don't want your cat to pick up any of these and you certainly don't want any of these critters inside your trailer!
We're sure that not all cats are happy campers, but we've been pretty amazed about how well Sonny has adapted to life on the road. We keep telling him that he's the most well-traveled rescue cat from Greenpoint, Brooklyn – or at least, one of the top three.
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.