Transatlantic air travel, at its best, is exciting but uncomfortable, with bad food or no food, huge prices for everything, from in-flight drinks to the kiosk serving Dunkin Donuts coffee that costs triple what it does in the store down the street. At its worst, it’s a sleepless, nauseous nightmare. When you travel with a pet, you can be certain it won’t be a pleasant trip.
I am extremely fond of animals. Dogs, cats, ferrets, hamsters, rabbits: they all appeal to me. I say “all,” but what I mean is “all furry animals” or maybe “almost all furry animals.” Pull out a reptile and I head for the door. But if it’s a furry little creature, I am smitten in a moment. I am especially taken with cats; I’m one of those people who will spend an hour or more looking at funny cat videos on the internet. And when it’s my OWN cat, well, to say I’m in love is not an overstatement. So here I am, doing something I really don’t like to do, unless there is a really nice Spanish wine at the end of the journey (which there usually is, of course), and putting my furry little friend George through it with me.
George, or to be more precise, Little George, named for a Bluegrass band called Little George and the Hill City Cut-Ups, (don’t blame me; he came to me already named) is a black cat with two spots of white, one a little bowtie of sorts, and the other what I call a portion of a cummerbund that he wears very, very low. He is a very smart cat, able to spread his “fingers,” grasp a cabinet door knob, and pull it open. Wherever we live, I must install child locks on all the cabinet doors. He also loves attention, good or bad, and sometimes gets himself into trouble as a result.
George is terrified of the veterinarian, perhaps because he lived for the first five months of his life in a large cage with his sisters at my wonderful Wilmington, NC veterinarian, Needham Animal Hospital. Every time he gets in the car, we end up at the veterinarian (or at least I’m sure that is how it seems to be in his little feline brain) and he meows and yowls and gets so worked up, he pees and poops in the carrier in the 10 minutes it takes to drive there. For those many reasons, when I learned I would be moving to Europe from the US, I decided that I would personally bring George, leaving friends to bring the less, um…difficult pets (two more cats and a silly little dog, in case you’re curious) a bit later, when I get settled.
George liked neither the leash nor the harness when I first got them. He wouldn’t walk on the leash at all, but at least he didn’t take a step or two then fall over, stiff as a cadaver, like his furry sister, Gueneviere did. I wish I had taken a video of her, but I was laughing so hard I couldn’t see through the tears, much less hold a video camera. George just looked at me as if to say, “Have you lost your mind?” and waited for me to remove the object of bondage I had so needlessly placed upon his, um, person.
Interestingly, when the day finally came to travel, George proved me wrong about him. In the approximately three and a half hours before he was able to get out of the carrier for the first time, he meowed frequently, but not incessantly, as he is wont to do, and he neither peed nor pooped. In fact, when I set up the collapsible litter box, he stepped in and without prompting squatted and peed. Ta-daaaa!!! I gave him a treat.
When we passed through security, I had to remove him from the carrier. I was worried about that, expecting him to scratch the bejeebers out of me in panic. I had his harness on him, the leash hooked to him and attached to the carrier, too. I hooked the loop around my arm and wound it a couple of times, thinking he was going to try to make a run for it. He did no such thing. He snuggled up against my shoulder and looked about a little wildly, but with no scratching or panic; in fact, he seemed curious about all the hustle and bustle about him. He went back in the carrier without incident.
It all wasn’t perfect, of course. During the flight, I would open the carrier just a little and scratch his head for a bit, then close it again. It seemed to keep him quiet. But by the time we had been in the air for three or four hours, he was beginning to be tired of being cooped up, and he showed it by meowing repeatedly and then rolling around in his carrier, making it look like there were several fighting cats in there. I took him repeatedly to the airplane’s cramped bathroom, got him out for a bit, tried to get him to use the litter box and drink a little water. He only used the litter box one more time and he wouldn’t drink water at all; he just wanted out of the carrier, and he got his way often enough.
Back at my seat, I began setting the carrier on my lap and opening it up so he could he could get some air. He would sit up, head and shoulders sticking out of the top of the carrier, and look around. When the flight attendants walked by, I leaned over him and squashed him between my chest and lap; no one was the wiser, thankfully. I imagined being caught and told we must leave the plane immediately, or at least go sit for the rest of the flight in something below “economy class.” He tried a couple of times to climb out but I was having none of that. When I set his carrier back down on the floor, I still reached in and pet him every so often, and two or three times he tried to force his way out of there, without success, of course.
When we finally arrived in Brussels, both of us were exhausted. I knew Passport Control would be first and likely uneventful, then Baggage Claim, then Customs. Off we went. I was right about Passport Control; no problems there, and Baggage Claim, while it took a while, was also pretty easy. Did you know that they don’t charge for the little luggage carts in Brussels the way they do for SmartCarts in the US? How nice! I got a little cart for free! So then…(scary music plays in the background)…on to Customs. Holding my breath, but nevertheless confident that I had all my ducks in a row, or perhaps that should be “all my cats” as it were, I proceeded toward Customs. I approached a man leaning on a railing, as did everyone else. And they passed him right by without so much as a nod. I smiled at him as I passed, thinking there would be a long line just around the corner from him. Nope. Just a bunch of people waving at their family and friends arriving from points west. Evidently he WAS Customs, and he was not into stopping anyone on that particular day. George and I were IN. It was done.
So…I live in Europe! With my Little George! Yay! The adventures of an American and her pets in Belgium to be continued…