6: Road Trip

6: Road Trip

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat

Road Trip

Fun fact: Cats can make more than a hundred different sounds; dogs can only make about ten sounds.

After having nineteen cats over thirty-five years, we were done. No more cats. No more scooping, feeding, and feline traumas. Besides, we were going to winter in the sunny South. And you don’t want to drag a cat on a 1,200-mile car trip. We would be free as birds. On the trip to South Carolina we would talk about how cute our grandkids were, plot vacation escapades, and listen to quiet music or maybe a book on CD.

Then an orange-and-white stray cat trotted into our yard. For a few days, he meowed from a distance. So we left food out, which must have tasted better than dead mice because he wound around our ankles and let us pet him. In a week, he owned us.

The more we did for him — worming, de-fleaing and vaccinating — the more affectionate he became. Tucker even shrugged off being neutered. Instead of resenting us, he seemed to think we had rescued him from the man in the white smock. The only thing he hated was the car ride to the vet. During those fifteen minutes, he howled and tore at the cage like a Tasmanian devil.

Otherwise, Tucker was a baby. He cuddled on the couch with us and turned belly-up for stroking while he purred deeply with his eyes rolled back.

We advertised in the paper and begged friends and family to adopt this beautiful, housebroken, affectionate buddy who had all his medical bills pre-paid. We were leaving for three months and we needed to find him a home. But there were no takers, and we reluctantly admitted that we were embarking on cat number twenty.

When we left upstate New York for South Carolina at 5:00 a.m., it was dark, snowing and fifteen degrees. Tucker was in a huge cage that filled most of the back seat of our SUV. He would be fine with that much space, we told ourselves. He’d cry a bit, then settle down and sleep.

Not exactly. He howled; he gargled; he moaned. He clawed at the cage mesh and pushed his face into it until his nose was raw. The roads were slippery and snow was building up. We told him everything was okay. He didn’t buy it.

A half-hour later, he scratched at the small litter pan at one end of the cage, yanking it around. Kitty litter sprayed the back of my head. He squatted ten times and shifted targets. For ten miles, he fought for position. Finally, he was quiet. “That’s better,” I said.

Then the aroma hit. The car was really packed, so there was not much air inside, and most of that no longer qualified as air. “We’ve got to do something!” my wife pleaded. “I can’t breathe.”

I grunted so I didn’t have to open my mouth, but we were on a highway in blinding snow. It would be dangerous to park on the shoulder, so we slogged another seven miles at thirty-five miles per hour until the next exit. No services were open yet. In a parking lot, we discovered that Tucker had scattered kitty litter over everything except what it was supposed to cover, and that had, of course, missed the pan. The cage was a mess, and he had poo on his belly, tail and paws. While I clutched the frightened cat to my chest in the snow and wind, Carol cleaned him using paper towels and snow. Tucker’s tail was between his legs.

“He’s ashamed,” Carol said. “Poor thing!” When she finished with him, she worked on the cage, scraping what little litter was left to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Finally, she cleaned me up. “You better let me register at the hotel,” she said.

I returned him to the cage. “There can’t be any more in him,” I said. Wrong. “He can’t miss again.” Wrong. Between episodes, he dug at the cage and yowled, and somehow caught a claw in the back of the zipper and pulled it open. We didn’t know it until his head poked between us, eyes wide. “Let’s try him out of the cage,” I said. “It can’t be any worse.”

It wasn’t worse, just different. The howling subsided into meows. He roamed restlessly, shedding hair, crouching each time a tree whizzed past (and Kentucky has a lot of trees). He tried to leave through the windshield fifty times. He tried to push out through the passenger window. That worked out well because he stepped on the window-opening button so the glass slid down with a whoosh just as a semi passed us in six lanes of traffic. We all flinched at the sudden roar and rush of air. I fumbled to raise the glass. Luckily, the noise scared Tucker, who dove for the back seat.

We were congratulating ourselves on a close one when a window behind us whizzed down. He’d done it again! Carol lunged for him, grabbing his tail to keep him from jumping out while I pulled up the window button, unable to see where he was and afraid I might decapitate him. I set the childproof window locks and then the door locks for good measure. How could I be so out of practice? I thought fondly of the days we crammed our back seat full of children for vacations and only had to deal with feet kicking our backs and voices whining, “Are we there yet?”

“Are we there yet?” Carol asked.

By southern Kentucky, he began to calm down. Oh, he still shed furiously, so we breathed an atmosphere that consisted of oxygen and fur soup. All three of us sneezed our way through Tennessee. But he began to nap between escape attempts. Eventually, he sat upright on the console between Carol and me and stared ahead like a regular passenger. I think he decided we had all been abducted by this four-wheeled beast, and we’d all escape together somehow. He stared at us and made gentle meows as if to ask if we had figured out a plan yet.

Finally, he curled his fifteen-pound body on my lap for a long, undisturbed pet and nap. You know how draining long drives are, how dopey they make you? Not this one. By the time we arrived, I was ready to climb a mountain or dig the Panama Canal. The clock said it took us eighteen hours instead of our usual sixteen. But the time had rocketed past like a two-hour action movie. It was a good thing we had three months before the return trip.

~Garrett Bauman

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