News Flash: Darynda Jones interviewed me, focusing in on my new book, Wanderings on Writing. It’s really lots of fun.
JANE: Last time, duty called before I got to tell you about my cats and motels.
ALAN: Yes! That sounds like a story with possibilities. Tell me more.
JANE: Years ago, when I was planning my cross-country move between Virginia and New Mexico, I received many warnings about how badly my cats would take spending the night other than where they were accustomed. I received much advice – bring the cats’ baskets, toys, favorite blankets and other comfort items, recorded music they know to provide a familiar audio background, preferred foods, water from home, and more.
If I had followed this, it would have necessitated my having a much larger vehicle than my small sedan, since it was already filled pretty much to the brim with two humans, six cats in carriers, their litter boxes and other gear, my computer, a few other things I didn’t want to trust to movers, and a small amount of clothing.
ALAN: I’d have given you the same advice. How did it work out? Did the cats panic without their accustomed comforts?
JANE: Not at all. Only one, Mannawyddan, who was the shyest in any case, was at all upset. The other five checked out the room, admired the king-sized bed (mine is only full-sized), located where I’d put their litter boxes and other comforts, then marched to the door into the motel corridor, clearly expecting me to let them out to see their new domain.
The second night on the road, even Mannawyddan wanted to go see the motel.
ALAN: I’ve never had to put my cats in a motel – pretty much everywhere here can be reached in one day. But I have had to move cats into new homes, and I’ve been amazed at the different coping methods they’ve used the first time they see their new home.
JANE: My cats have reacted to new houses much as they did to motels – a little trepidation, then easy adjustment. What are some of the different tactics you’ve seen your cats use?
ALAN: The first cats I moved with were Ginger and Milo. They were brother and sister, so you might have expected them to react similarly. But no. Ginger explored the house using a strict left hand rule. She kept her left side close to the wall so that she only had to guard her right hand side from hidden perils. She examined every room like that, then she was happy.
JANE: That’s very clever! She also would have been good at solving mazes, since I think the tracing one wall is a recommended way to solve them.
What did Milo do?
ALAN: Milo adopted a different, but just as effective, technique. He started from his food bowl where he took a fortifying nibble. Then, suitably fortified, he set off in a straight line until his courage failed him. Then he came back to his bowl, had another nibble, and did it all over again in a new direction.
JANE: Courage in food. Very feline. Very human, now that I think about it.
What did Harpo and Bess do?
ALAN: Harpo and Bess are not related so, not surprisingly, they reacted very differently. By and large, Bess was actually much braver than Harpo. She was quick to come out of her travelling cage and she looked around her wide-eyed and amazed. Who knew there were such places in the world? She made sure that Robin and I were always in sight and she walked with us hither and yon and it wasn’t long before she was reasonably comfortable with the strange new rooms.
Harpo, on the other hand, initially refused to come out of his cage at all. When we finally poured him out, he quickly found a dark corner to huddle in, and there he stayed complaining bitterly at the unfairness of it all. I assume he had little explores here and there during the night when we weren’t looking because we found traces of him in the morning – vomited-up fur balls and the like – but mainly he just huddled and howled.
JANE: Poor baby! The mighty hunter missed his accustomed jungle.
ALAN: All the advice we got said to keep them inside the house for a fortnight to get them used to the look and feel and smell of the place before we let them outside. If we let them out too soon, said the pundits, they might start to hitchhike back to Wellington. However, Harpo has always been an outside cat and after three days of almost non-stop howling, we couldn’t stand it anymore, and so we opened a door and showed him the world. He looked at it suspiciously and then trotted outside to explore the garden. He quickly found a nice soft pile of earth to empty himself into (Robin’s herb garden) and then he was happy. He jumped over the fence into next door’s garden and vanished. We worried about him all day, but he was back by tea time, so we considered him properly settled in.
JANE: Good fertilizer for the garden. You can thank Harpo when you have gigantic parsley. Back when I lived in Virginia, I happened to look out the window right when a neighborhood cat was leaving a deposit in my vegetable garden. The plant to which he had tended grew markedly larger than one just a foot or so away.
What did Bess do once the wide open spaces were available to her?
ALAN: She’s always been much more of an inside cat. She is used to coming and going at will, but mostly she stays asleep inside. Initially, she refused to go outside at all (far too scary). One day she did take a few tentative steps into the garden, but a leaf spiralled down from a tree and spooked her and she dashed back inside. She spent a lot of time staring out of the window and she saw a lot of birds – she likes birds. Eventually, they tempted her outside. She’s not brought any back yet, so I think they are wise in the ways of cats. Now she is coming and going as she pleases, so she too is now feeling properly at home.
The next big adventure will be territorial disputes. We’ve seen several other cats around so sooner or later the borders will have to be settled…
JANE: Ah, questions of territory. That’s a complicated issue. I’ve got an interesting story, but I’ll save it for next time.