Mewsic for Airports: Flying with cats, part 2

Part 2: International flights

If you are flying internationally with your cat, you have all of the same concerns as in the prior post, but more so. You will still be able to find airlines that let you carry your cat on with you, but you will need to check that they accept them on the particular route you want to travel. Yep. The airline might take pets in general, but not to the specific place you are headed to, depending on the length of the route and the rules of the country you’ll land in.

For example, I’ve had excellent experiences flying with Aífe on Lufthansa between Seattle and Berlin. So when I needed to move from Germany to Ireland, I was looking forward to booking a flight with them. However, even though they take pets on flights all over the world, it turns out that they won’t take animals on flights to Ireland or the UK. It doesn’t say that on their website, and the first representative I spoke to said it would be fine for her to join me on the flight I was planning to book. But then several other airlines I was comparing said you couldn’t bring cats onto their flights into Ireland or the UK, so I called Lufthansa back to double-check. It took my talking to several representatives before I could confirm that there was a restriction on flights to those islands.

I called the Irish Department of Agriculture to ask why all of the airlines I’d talked to said the Irish government wouldn’t let them carry pets into Ireland.

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#12: We Need a Better Bag: an open letter to designers of backpacks

Dear Designers, Makers, and Other Handy Peoples of the World:


I am writing because I believe there is a type of gear that should exist, but does not. Actually, there are several of those, but there is one whose non-existence is a problem for me every single day. A product that I’m certain would be very popular, and could garner you both great love and profit:

a really great pet-carrying backpack, designed to meet the needs of both the animal being carried and the human doing the carrying.

Such a thing simply does not exist, even though there is a clear and growing demand for such a product.

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#11: A Long Ass Way to Tipperary

I just moved from Germany to Ireland with my cat. I had thought it would be a lot easier than when I moved to Germany from Oregon with my cat. But, actually, it was quicker, and in some ways easier, to cross 5177 miles from Portland to Berlin than it was to get the 1189 miles from Berlin to Dublin. This is because I was able to fly from the US to Germany with my cat on board, but couldn’t find any airline that would take pets on flights into Ireland or the UK. Even Lufthansa, with whom I have flown trans-Atlantic with my cat, twice, and who has a whole ‘we’re pet friendly’ page on their website, does not book pets on flights into Ireland or the UK. I spoke with the Irish Department of Agriculture, and no, they don’t have any prohibition about pets entering the country. The flights just won’t take them.


Long story short, I was left with a choice:

  1. Pay a freight company to take my cat and ship her for me. One recommended company gave me a quote for nearly €800! When the flight I was planning to book for myself was only €57!
  2. Spend three days but only about €300 taking trains and ferries across Europe with my cat.


I went with the second option. Partly because it was far less expensive, partly because it sounded like an interesting adventure, and partly because I really didn’t like the idea of letting strangers put my cat in a box and take her away from me and overseas. And I’m glad that I did go this route: even though I was weeping by the end of it.

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#9: Cat-Schlepping: A Blog, A Book, A Kickstarter, An Act of Liberty

It may seem, from my neglect of this blog over the last three months, that I simply stopped writing about cat-schlepping. But actually, it’s quite the opposite – I’ve been absolutely up to my ears in the topic, and have written heaps. One of the things I wrote was a blog for REI’s Co-op Journal! REI are such an amazing company, and I use their gear daily for both cat-schlepping and non-cat-schlepping activities. Obviously I was super excited to be able to write for their website (the first cat-related article on their whole blog, for that matter).


I’ve also been writing an entire book on cat-schlepping. All spring and summer, I had been taking Aífe out exploring nearly every day. And I had been blogging and Instagramming about cat-schlepping quite consistently through that time, too. Which meant I was answering a lot of questions from curious individuals out in the streets and parks of Berlin, and I was starting to get questions from people online, too. One morning, after a week of answering an unusually large number of queries in person and on the interwebs, I just woke up and thought,

‘I keep answering these same questions over and over and over again. I should just write a damn book. A book that answers every question I have ever encountered about cat-schlepping. Because there isn’t a single book like that – and there should be.’


So I started writing it that day. I had the format, the basic outline, and the voice all figured out straight away. The thing just came pouring out of me, and I was writing several thousand words a day. And now, having thoroughly rewritten the thing several times over (often editing on park benches out in the sun with Aífe) I have something that is nearly ready to share with the world...

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#8: Cat + Bicycle = Cat-Schlepping on Wheels

I’ve never been much of a cyclist. At seven, I was the last of my friends to move on from training wheels, and only then under persistent peer-pressure. This was when I was practicing on dirt and gravel roads, in a hometown too small for stoplights. A quarter century later, I am currently living in Berlin, and get very stressed out cycling around such a major metropolis (cabs, busses, tram tracks, oblivious pedestrians, car doors opening, delivery trucks, bike lanes that abruptly disappear, other mental cyclists, etc). And when it comes to cycling anywhere hilly, or while hauling camping gear, forget it. I’d rather get off and walk.


My natural inclination is to go everywhere by foot, to have time to take in my surroundings as I move through them at a human pace, with minimal chance of crashing into anything. I consider myself to be something of a champion pedestrian – I’ll walk ten miles up, down, and around town or country and not think twice about it, until my flat feet and dodgy knee start to ache.


However, moving at a walking pace certainly does have restrictions. Especially if you’re schlepping a twelve pound cat. The desire to get out and see more of the world, schlep further and faster, and minimize the damage to my shoulders, has finally motivated me to get over my aversion to cycling. I’ve started going for bicycle rides with Aífe, and it’s far and away one of the best, most gleeful things I’ve ever done.

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#7: Writing & Schlepping

Writing is the thing I do the most, and it’s probably the thing that I’m best at. Which is not a boast about how great my writing is, but a testament to how terrible I am at other things. Even so, writing is hard for me. For two chief reasons:

  1. Writing is hard. Period. To pull things from the ether, and from your life, and say exactly what you mean about them in an interesting way is notoriously challenging. I think just about every writer I’ve ever heard or read on the subject, with the exception of Stephen King, struggles to confront a blank page.
  2. Writing is generally a stationary, solitary business. It requires sitting, in a chair, with little besides your own thoughts for company or diversion. What does that sound like? Oh yes – time out. Choosing to be a writer is basically consenting to spend most of the rest of your life sitting in timeout (Pro tip – make sure to hide some biscuits in your pocket).


There is one thing that makes this hermit’s life tolerable, and indeed delightful. And it isn’t any combination of booze or muse. It’s my cat.


Writers are well-known for being eccentric, anti-social weirdos. Many of the notorious ones have been drunks and or smack-heads, with poor social skills and/or suicidal tendencies. What is not as often brought up is that, more than any of these things, they are also prone to be cat-freaks. If you Google ‘writers & cats’, you will find no shortage of images of famous writers with cats:

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#6: Schlepping Through The Worst-Case Scenarios

This blog has, thus far, discussing cat-schlepping as an activity one might choose to undertake for the sheer delight of it – an exercise in exploring feline curiosity and companionship in fresh air. Some folks, I’m well aware, will dismiss this as sheer whimsy. Some will scorn it. Some of these frowny folks may just dislike cats. Others may like cats very much, and feel very strongly about keeping them indoors. I can hear this last type now: “I’d never take my cat outside, and certainly never schlep it about. That’s demented.”


Well, you can’t win ‘em all.


Even so, to all you dismissers of cat-schlepping out there, let me ask you a question – what about the times when leaving the house isn’t a choice? What about when ‘adventure’ (that very broad catch-all for anything unexpected) comes looking for you? What about situations when taking your cat outside is no longer a matter of choice, but a matter of life and death?

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#4: Where Do you Want to Go?

Once you’ve established that you can leave the house with your cat, the next question is – where will you go?


This is, of course, the real question we all face continuously from our childhood forward. Whether it’s wanting to go on a walk, a hike, a holiday, whether we’re just starting out to seek our fame and fortune, or looking to start anew after a breakup or layoff, or fleeing some horrible home-life or war zone, we find ourselves continuously confronting that same question: Where will you go?


Encased within that misleadingly short query, of course, lie a variety of bigger, scarier problems, like “How do you want to spend your life?” and “What are your suited for?” and “Who will have you?” Also, the wonderful, tingling awareness that it’s a very big world out there.


Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been great at answering the question. There’s just too many interesting options, and I don’t want to rule any of them out.


When I first started schlepping my cat Aífe about outside on a regular basis, and she started showing real improvement in her ability to handle The Vast And Terrifying World Outside, I got really excited, and my imagination started running way ahead of us. We were in Berlin at the time, and it was a humid 100 degrees outside (that’s 37 Celsius), in the very heart of a thoroughly paved metropolis. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get a visa to stay in Germany with my then-fiancé, and I began finding reasons I’d rather be elsewhere anyways. (You know, the thing where you reject the thing/person/situation you care about before they reject you. Defensive, fight-or-flight, the-grass-is-always-greener-elsewhere-anyways-so-fuck-you shit that I had learned from my childhood, and had grown so second nature in my young ‘adulthood’.) As fear melted with fantasy in the boiling brickwork, I had visions of Aífe and I heading back to America, hiking and camping and road-tripping our way through the extraordinary array of stunning terrain that my vast homeland has to offer. Retreating from the anxieties of immigration, romance, crowds, and humans in general, reasserting my independence from everybody except my cat.


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#3: The Great Difficulty of Just Leaving the Flat

Christmas Eve, 2011. I am squatting down in a field off the 101 Freeway, about an hour south of San Francisco. I say field – it’s a very big patch of manicured grass beside the parking lot of a Target. This being the coastal side of California, it’s all blue sky, golden sunlight, clean pavement, and immaculate green lawn, even in the depths of winter.  


I am squatting here because of the pussy hiding between my legs. No, not like that. My one-year-old brown tabby, Aífe, has just been in a car for the first time (a rental). She has spent the last hour or so loudly and unrelentingly meowing objections from her carrier in the back seat. We still have another five hours drive ahead of us down to SoCal, and I imagine she might need a potty break, so I decide to try taking her out for her first walk on a leash.


This is the first time she has ever been confronted with the enormity of the open heavens, with something like freedom, and she is absolutely shitting herself. She is yowling in distress, and as I kneel down to try and comfort her, she rushes to cower under the only available shelter for yards and yards around, which happens to be my ass. I start giggling so hard at the ridiculousness of our position that I worry that I’ll fall on her.

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#2: Cat-Schlepping is a Feminist Issue

Even though cat-schlepping is mostly about the sheer giggling joy and wonder and well-being we take from our wanders, make no mistake – it is also a serious undertaking, with the seeds of genuine, trans-species revolution.


Any discussion of cats, of what they are like, of what they are capable of, and you will unfailingly come up against one fact over and over again:


Cats are not dogs.

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#1: The Joy of Cat-Schlepping

The first half of my 20’s, all I wanted to do was travel. I wanted to see the world, meet people, walk down strange streets. And I was in a real rush to do it; what I was rushing towards (or from), I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have quite admitted. But I made a pretty good go of it, saw mad and wondrous things from Seattle to Sarajevo, from Dublin to Darjeeling. But I made a lot of dodgy choices along the way, and at 25, I ship-wrecked myself onto San Francisco. I’d survived my misadventures, but they had left me thoroughly bedraggled, and broke in terms of both pocket and soul. I knew I needed to bunker down for a while.


And that’s when I became a forever home.


I spotted Aífe (ee-fuh) on New Years Eve, 2010. A teeny, brown, three-month-old tabby, sitting with her sister in the window of the Union Square Macy’s, where the extraordinary San Francisco SPCA was running its annual holiday adoption event. I went in to meet the kittens. The first of the pair seemed indifferent to me. The second, however, examined me with great interest. She sniffed at my coat and face with her tiny pink nose, delicately and inquisitively batted at my hair and spectacles with her tiny fuzzy paw, and met my brown eyes with her own bright green ones. She was easily one of the cutest things I’d ever seen, and seemed to have a wonderful, engaging little personality tucked inside. The SPCA folks told me that they had stopped doing adoptions for the evening, but I could come back for her the next morning if I wanted.


I did. I really, really did.

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