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Monday, November 1, 2010

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Moving across the country with animals

It all began on one very cold January day in Minnesota, one of many. Too, too many days not only of freezing weather, but of below zero weather. Being a California native, I had a “20 below zero meltdown” and told Jim that I just couldn’t take living here anymore. The time was right for change, personally and professionally. So on that frosty winter day, we started planning our cross country move; our goal to move being sometime in October before the Minnesota snow started to fly yet again.

We had much to consider and think about. Moving 7 cats and a Great Dane posed a formidable challenge. Our drive was 2000 miles + and would take roughly 34 hours, which breaks down into 3 full days of driving. Questions we pondered…. HOW do we transport all of the animals? Do we fly them? Drive them? Do we drive 2 vehicles? What about overnights? Where will the animals stay?

When I moved to MN 8-1/2 years ago, I drove with my 3 cats, Tigger, Poo and Boingo in my little Honda Prelude. Jim and my brother in law followed in the U-haul with all of our belongings. We stayed in a pet friendly motel the first night, and snuck them into a non pet friendly motel the second night. It was easy with just 3 kitties. We left the place spotless; more so than others have left it, I’m sure. Worked like a charm!

We came up with the perfect solution. Jim and I would drive the conversion van, AKA “Noah’s Ark” together, with all of the animals, and we will sleep in the van with them. My friend Valerie made note that the acronym ARK means “Acts of Random Kindness”!  Thank you, Val and how true! We would ship all of our belongings via semi trailer, and ship my car separately.

Thus our adventure began.  Five months after that bitter cold meltdown, we got our home finished off and ready to sell. We met and “interviewed” many real estate agents, and chose one based on personality and knowledge. When we met her, it was a case of “instant like”! And she could not have been better; we listed our house in June, and had an offer three weeks later. What luck, given the real estate market these days. Apparently it is only going to keep down spiraling in the short term future, and although we took a hit in the selling price, it is worth it for happiness and for moving forward. We are hopeful that we’ll make up for it on the back end, when we eventually buy in California.

So then the fun began: Packing and preparing for our 2000 mile move across the country with 7 cats and a *large* Great Dane. We would be traveling through 7 states: Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.

On the morning of October 18, Jim and I got up at 4:00 a.m. and began packing up the van. We’d taken the back seat out and shipped it on the semi in order to afford more room. As I started loading the van, I momentarily had a panic attack; as we put more things into it, the more we realized we had so little room! The cats were all excited as they always are every morning, for it was breakfast time! However harsh reality hit when each one was unceremoniously put into a waiting carrier. The purrs immediately stopped and the yowling began. No breakfast, and being shoved into travel boxes? The Kitty Krew was unhappy and confused.

After loading 7 cats contained in carriers, a large litter box, blankets, beds, toys, overnight bags, cooler, necessities, a LARGE Great Dane and her bed, we did it. We had the Ark all loaded up and ready to roll at 5:30 a.m. It was packed, but comfortable.

We left on that morning at 5:30 a.m. and hit the road. The weather cooperated, and continued to cooperate through the journey. My MN friends said I was leaving at the best time; it truly was gorgeous; sunny, calm, mid-60’s temperatures.

While Jim drove, I sat in the back with the kits and tried to comfort them; as any cat lover knows, cats do not listen and will do their own thing. They all yowled and complained for an hour, and then magically, it all stopped after an hour of driving. Somewhere in Iowa, before the sun rose, I let Oreo out. She was very curious and perched on top of her carrier looking out the rear window. Fascinated. I then let the rest out, who all reacted the same way. Exploring, curious, fascinated. But, quiet… finally!

Monday October 18:
We drove 13 hours our first day. We followed Interstate 35 from Minneapolis down to Des Moines, Iowa, and then connected with Interstate 80 west. We stayed on I80 the whole way. To help calm the animals, I sprayed Feliway all over, and put Rescue Remedy in their water. I’m not sure if it really worked, but psychologically it worked for me, knowing they’d quieted down and that I was doing something for them.

It was challenging making lunch for Jim & myself while on the road, with no room to work from and with just a small cooler with our essentials in it. We managed. The scenery was one of desolation. Because  it was dark for some of the drive in Iowa, I missed the scenery. In Iowa,  we smelled… cows. Lots of cow smells. Nebraska and Wyoming were visions of emptiness, long roads and desolation. I just hoped we’d make it to our next gas station. I found the most fascinating thing in Wyoming to be the endless snow fences along the highways. Apparently the snow gets so deep there in the winter that these fences serve to protect the highway somewhat from the drifts; but even then we saw many warning signs of highway closures during bad weather. We left at a good time of the year. We arrived at our destination in Cheyenne, Wyoming at 7:30 p.m., after crossing one time zone from Central time to Mountain time. The drive went very smoothly and we were all tired and ready to relax. However, that was virtually impossible to do, as there was hardly any room to maneuver about the van. We had to move bags and containers around in order to get to the things we needed, and step over things (and a dog) to move about. It was frustrating, as we were all exhausted, and Jim and I butted heads a few times (though we laugh about it now). We stayed at the KOA campground in Cheyenne. Clean campsites, bathrooms and showers;  very nice. Upon arrival, I put each kit back into his/her carrier to ensure safety, while we maneuvered about the crowded van, and let Berkeley, our dog, out for a walk and to “use the facilities”. Trying to feed all of them with Styrofoam bowls was also a challenge, as they had a tendency to step on them, tipping them… Nobody ate much, nor drank much that first day. I was a little worried.  That night I slept in the rear of the van with the cats, and Jim stretched out in the middle of the van across the middle seats, with Berkeley at his feet on her bed. It was cramped and VERY cold that night. I couldn’t stretch out… but found a solution in stretching out by putting my feet into one of the carriers. We didn’t get much sleep that night, and woke up at 4 a.m. ready to roll again.

Tuesday, October 19:
Not long into the drive I developed a splitting headache, something that I have not had in years. I attributed it to the lack of the wonderful Peet’s coffee that I enjoy every morning. Grrrr… however, we were on a mission. Today’s goal was to drive 15 hours from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Reno, Nevada. Jim drove across the entire states of Wyoming and Nevada and once again, it was a landscape of emptiness. The barren countryside of Wyoming gave way to the beautiful snow capped Rocky Mountains of Utah and then the desert and emptiness of Nevada. By now, all of our travelers were used to the drive, and spent much of their time snoozing in the back. Occasionally I’d get a little visitor who wanted to sit in my lap and “navigate” or just explore. I think at this point they were starting to have fun. I’m sure they were wondering what was going on; having been uprooted from their home and routine and being stuck in this van. I gave them lots of affection and got purrs in return. After a long 15 hour drive (and more head butting with Jim) we arrived safely at our KOA campground destination in Reno. This was a very nice facility, away from the freeway and right near the Boomtown Casino. I decided that feeding the kits wet food was too much of a challenge and gave them dry food. Still, nobody was really eating or drinking water. I was starting to get nervous… but it was all of them doing this, not just one, which I had to keep in mind. Berkeley would not go to the bathroom either, but oh man, her farts were deadly. LOL. So we settled in for the evening, after having passed through another time zone from Mountain time to Pacific time.


Jim and I were very hungry and had dinner at the Boomtown Casino (a cosmo with dinner did wonders) We spent another cramped yet very much warmer night in the van, and we all slept a little better. At this point Jim had driven 28 hours in 2 days; bless his sweet heart.

Wednesday, October 20:
We got up at 6:00 in the morning and walked over to the casino and had…. PEET’S COFFEE. Nothing tasted so good nor felt so good, as that wonderful caffeine buzz coursed through our veins…. Mmmmm! What was extra special about this stop is that this is one of the Peet’s that Jim remodeled and turned it from a Starbuck’s coffee into a Peet’s coffee place. It was beautiful waking up in the desert; the fresh dry air was all so familiar, the sunrise magnificent, the mountain ranges exquisite, a warm gentle breeze on our faces. Feeling rejuvenated, we got in the van to hit the road again… knowing our drive was a mere 4 hours today.

We were just east of the California border after having left Reno, and as soon as we crossed, I felt that feeling that can only be felt from experience and cannot be described. We crossed into Truckee, California, and I was HOME. Seeing the mountains, the pine trees, inhaling the fresh air, feeling all things familiar, I was SO excited! There is no feeling like that of the familiarity of all that one knows and loves. Everyone’s concept of “home” is different; and this is mine. No more flatlands or emptiness on this leg of the journey. By this time, everyone had eaten and drank, a lot. I was quite relieved. (Maybe they all knew they were almost home?) The drive on this day went quickly, compared to the last two days.

We arrived at our townhouse shortly thereafter. After 3 days of traveling without a shower, I took one of the best showers of my life that day. I sequestered the kits in the office with all of their things, for Berger Transfer was to arrive the following morning at 8:00 a.m. with all of our things. Although still confused, they were all glad to be out of the van. They truly traveled like champs. Berkeley loves riding in the van, so she was the exception.

If anyone is contemplating a cross country or lengthy move with animals, my advice is as follows:
1)      Provide as many calming agents as you can: Feliway, Rescue Remedy, catnip, toys, safe places to hide; provide facilities; litter box, waste receptacle, air freshener. Bring lots of bags, bring your own toilet paper.
2)      Travel with lots of blankets/pillows, to block any hidey holes or access ways to the driver’s seat. Don’t ever let a kit get under the pedals or near the driver (unless supervised as shown with the photo of Chance on Jim’s shoulder)
3)      Lots of love and affection. Encourage water consumption; sometimes they won’t drink unless you put the bowl right under their chin. Then they drink deeply.

After all of our things arrived on 10/21, the FUN began! After the movers left, I set the kits free and they raced about the townhouse, exploring every inch of the place, becoming comfortable with their surroundings and eventually chasing and playing! If anyone worries about transporting animals as I did; don’t. It will work very smoothly if you plan ahead and take their needs into account.

Thank you for your interest and for reading my blog. I hope that someday it will help someone. If I can do it, anyone can!