It took almost two years to plan and execute my move back to Minneapolis from Tucson, a daunting task that included selling the house I’d lived in for sixteen years and most of its contents, preparing to leave all my professional support network — the doctors, attorney, accountant, Tee, my massage therapist, Darlene who cuts my hair and keeps my secrets, Firuzeh, my acupuncturist. My mah jongg group, my spiritual group, friends, neighbors. A million decisions to make.
And then there was Bill.
Bill is my accidental cat, as all the good ones are, a black and white “tuxedo” short hair who arrived at my door a month or so after the death of Miss Puss (but that’s another accidental cat story). My friend Susan who volunteered at the animal shelter, knew I was suffering kitty deficit, so when Bill arrived in the shelter she sent me a picture. He had oversized ears and big round eyes that gave him a perpetually startled look. I knew I should not be taking in a kitten, but he was adorable. Resistance was futile. I named him Sweet William the Lionhearted, which seemed appropriate at the time. But as happens, the fuzzy five pound kitty became a glossy twelve pound cat now called Bill.
Let it be said up front: I knew going in that Bill does not travel well. He yowls all the way to the vet. He freaks at the appearance of his travel crate in the living room. I kept telling myself that IF an appropriate adopter could be found I would leave him in Tucson, but of course no such person appeared. If I took him to the Humane Society I would have to admit that yes, he sometimes bites, and he would not be adoptable, and I knew what that meant. I have grown more sensitive with age.
And so plans were made. My son PJ would fly in from Los Angeles and the two of us and Bill would drive my fully packed Prius to Minneapolis. One last road trip with my guys before I signed the Prius over to PJ and gave up driving. I consulted cat behaviorists on line: “Bring the travel crate in well ahead of time and make it inviting with soft pheronome scented blankets and cat treats.” Bill was having none of it. The vet suggested Feliway (“Helps reduce signs of stress related to travel and vet visits”) and a tranquilizer just in case. I gathered hopeful tales from others who transported cats cross-country: (“She settled down pretty quickly and slept most of the way.” “We fly with ours all the time.”) In the end we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
We arranged the litter box, the crate, the food box and treats for strategic access. We gave Bill his tranquilizer with peanut butter. Everything was poised for immediate getaway when we pushed the reluctant and protesting Bill into his travel crate and closed the grate. Bill glowered. And yowled. He was still complaining loudly as we sailed through Benson heading for the New Mexico border when I texted Dianne, the family medical guru. “More drugs,” she advised. And we did. Bill finally quieted down as we reached the Hatch cutoff and headed north on Interstate 25 to Albuquerque where we planned so spend the first night.
We checked into a La Quinta Suites motel and carefully set up Bill’s stations—litter box, feeding, sleeping. He crept out slowly, suspiciously, still groggy from his drugs. And cried. As PJ and I tried to settle in for a night’s rest, Bill grew more agitated, manically jumping from bed to dresser, to bathroom and back to the bed. He would not be comforted. At 1:30 a.m he was still at it. Even though it was a two-room suite and PJ was in the other room I feared he wasn’t getting any sleep and he was the driver! I fully expected a knock on the door and the management demanding we take our *&%$#* cat and get out! out! out! At 2:00 a.m. I called the emergency 24-hour vet service in Albuquerque. After giving them my credit card number for the $75 charge, I explained our dilemma.“Well sometimes,” the vet explained, “that tranquilizer will have an adverse reaction. Try to confine him and make him as comfortable as possible until it wears off.” And she may have added, “And call me in the morning.”
The next morning the three of us, only slightly the worse for wear, headed for Denver. Bill, while not exactly contrite, was at least quiet. He settled in, glowering, ears flattened with an attitude that shouted, “All right, I give up. just kill me now.” We had all learned something.
My daughter Polly lives in Denver—in a 600 sq ft condo with her three cats. So we would not be staying with her. PJ had arranged to meet up with some of his film producers, so it would not be a quick in and out stay but not really a dawdle either. We stopped at three motels before we found one that accepted cats. Yes, Hampton Inn accepted pets, but not cats. Another—I forget the name— told us, sadly, we had been misinformed. They did not take cats. I wondered briefly if they had a hot line from La Quinta in Albuquerque. I think it was a Residence Inn that took us in. It was nicely furnished with separate bedrooms and an endless number of hiding places for a smallish furry animal, which delayed our departure the next morning by almost an hour. We headed across the seemingly endless great plains. Bill was quiet. No drugs. No drama.
We stopped in Kearny, Nebraska without incident. The room was handsome, the beds raised on box platforms gave it a sleek modern look. Good, I thought, Bill can’t go to the farthest corner under the bed and refuse to come out. No, it was worse. The bed platforms were not four-sided boxes. They were three-sided boxes, with just enough room at the head of the bed for a cat to get in and under. And he did. After a quick review of the situation we concluded the only solution was to dismantle the bed—take off the bedding, the mattress, the box spring, the whole works. Bill cowered in the corner, but just as PJ was within reach, Bill darted out—and under the box of the other bed. So we had to dismantle that one as well. We reassembled the room as best we could, but the cleaning staff must have wondered what kind of wild party had gone on the night before. I hoped it didn’t lead to another “no cats” policy.
We stopped at a Perkins Restaurant outside Des Moines and soon found WCCO on the car radio, a sure sign that we were almost home. The fields were bare with that end-of-winter look and the promise of spring. My apartment in Becketwood was not quite ready. First daughter Laurie had been managing the extensive remodel and would not allow even a peek, much less occupancy until it was finished, tweaked, polished and white-gloved to perfection. All of which meant that Bill and I had to stay with last daughter Cara and Jim for a few days. They have a three story house and two teenage kids. And a dog, Aspen.
Aspen was excited, over-excited actually, to have her very own cat houseguest to play with. In dogspeak “play with” translates loosely to “you run and I’ll chase you.” Bill was not so delighted. We built a fortress of dining room chairs around the cat crate, food dish et al and Bill glowered and occasionally hissed softly as Aspen wagged and anticipated. The stalemate and night settled in. When the family retired upstairs to bed Aspen reluctantly followed. I settled onto my couch bed and Bill stayed in his fortress. In the morning he was gone.
We looked everywhere, high and low, every nook and cranny. No sign of Bill. The next day I moved into my beautiful Becketwood apartment with the bare necessities, but no furniture and no cat. We decided he would have sought a high perch and that meant he must be in the basement. The next day Cara called to say that Eamon (the red-headed grandboy) had found Bill. Up on a high shelf with outgrown toys and off-season sports equipment. I pictured the closet scene from ET, Bill peering out with his big, round perpetually startled eyes. Eamon tried his best cat-whisperer skills, but came away with scratches for his trouble. It was PJ who finally got him off the rafters and home to Becketwood. “Sometimes you just have to be the Big Cat,” he explained.
Now, eight months later, Bill and I have settled into the four room apartment in our new community. The furniture arrived, a padded shelf on the bedroom window sill allows Bill a comfortable perch from which to watch the birds and squirrels in the oak tree just outside. I have a bay window overlooking the circle and the chapel and the afternoon sun splashes over my new houseplants. We have an understanding: We’re never moving again.