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Where did the cats go?

2006-05-01 5 min read marco

Sunday morning, after two years of living by myself with two cats, I sent them off to Minnesota, where they are going to be taken care of (still waiting for pictures). It was quite the moment, with preparations, planning, and trepidation. It’s all over now, and the only aftereffect to date is that at every sound in the house, I think it’s the cats and check out what they are doing.

The trip was a bit complicated to organize, so here is a summary of what we did. Hope it helps you if you need to have your pets travel by themselves.

First of all, there are two ways to have your pets travel.

  1. With you in the cabin
  2. As cargo without you

The advantage of having the pets with you is that you know if they are uncomfortable. The downside is that they will be stowed under the seat in front of you (you know the phrase), and there really isn’t much room for a pet there.

The cargo option sounds frightening to me, but breeders swear by it (not that they have much of an option). Northwest even has a special VIP program (very important pet) that takes care of your little monsters in separate, climatized and pressurized sections of the cargo area. At least that’s what they told me, I was not allowed to inspect for myself.

Planning was easy – the cost staggering (over $250 per pet – you really gotta love them to pay that much). You need to make sure the temperatures are ok for travel (always a concern in Minnesota, where it get alternatively too cold and too hot).

When you get to the airport, you need to have had the animals checked by a vet. In my case, the rabies vaccination had expired and needed to be renewed (another $200 down the drain). Then you need airline approved kennels (available online and at any pet store worth its name). That’s another $100 with toys and the like. I helped my cats getting over the stress by getting them a lot of catnip toys, which seemed to calm them down.

The instructions say you have to show up 90 minutes ahead of time at the check-in counter, and they will take care of you. There is lots of paperwork involved, so make sure you have ample time. But on the other hand, don’t get there too early, or you’ll have to deal with pets that are confined in a kennel = cage and desperately want out.

Your friendly airline will take care of pets and paperwork, and soon the kennels and their content will be flying out. They will have several options for delivery, but unless you madly want your pets to be beaten up at arrival, you will want to get called when they are there (and be at the airport when that happens).

So I leave home at 6:50a for an 8:51a departure. Mondo had fallen in love with Shasta’s kennel; there was no way to pry him loose, and I had to switch them out. Since I had crimped the rabies tags on the kennels, now we had a gender bender going on.

In the car, the two made terrifying noises for the fifteen minutes it took to get to SFO. I parked in the short term garage and walked to the check-in counter. Cats are still making very strange noises of distress and annoyance.

At the counter, a lady tells me that I have to go downstairs to baggage handling for VIP. I explain that I was sent to the check-in counter, and she shrugs and tells me I have to go downstairs.

Downstairs, I find the baggage handling office. A quite unfriendly lady shoos me out into the baggage handling area, looks at the kennels and declares she can’t help me: I have to go to the cargo area. And I am too late, anyway. I have to be there two hours ahead of time.

I breathe in slowly. On each side, I have a kennel with a meowing creature, in my hand the instructions that say: “90 minutes prior to departure, present your pets at the check-in counter,” and a lady that tells me my only option is now to leave the terminal and get to the cargo area.

She calls cargo and asks them how she should proceed, and is told she has to send me over. I am quite upset at this point, but there is nothing she will do. She tells me where to pick up the shuttle train, and off I go. Two meowing cats on either side. 20 minutes of walking, riding train, going up stairs, down stairs, and a bunch of people that see me huffing and puffing.

I get to the cargo area, and they ask if I am there to drop off the cats for the 12:26p plane. I explain that, no, I am there for the 8:51a plane. They look quite panicked and tell me that it’s quite too late. I tell them it was not too late when I got to the airport, but that I had been sent on a wild goose chase from here to there.

They say they don’t know whether they can help me. Then they see Mondo and Shasta, and they (like everyone I know – darn cats!) fall in love with them. All of a sudden the help of all in the office is enlisted, paper and stickers start flying all over the place, and a hundred signatures and a security check later (“I don’t think my cats are terrorists!” – “No, this is not about your cats, this is about you.”) we are done.

The kennels by now look like a power pole near a concert venue – stickers all over. The head of cargo handling comes in and takes the cats away, and off they go.

The best about the whole story? The two ladies that took such wonderful care of me sigh and tell me they didn’t understand why the lady at baggage handling didn’t call them. (Huh?) They would have told her she was still supposed to take care of the cats. (HuhHuh?).

After all, they said, it’s called Very Important Pet.