Three months after we got the cats, we went away on holiday for a week. Being totally honest, I really didn’t want to leave them. The problem was that one of the conditions of me getting cats was that we would still go on holiday. My boyfriend imposed this rule after noticing a trend in my family that the cat comes first, to the point where some of us *cough cough*, Mum, limit the number of holidays, to be with the cat.
Before we got Charlie and Socks, I had assumed that I would be able to ask a neighbour to look after them or, failing that, book a pet sitter to come in while we were away. Now that we were aware of Charlie’s outdoor persona though, I felt that these options were out of the question. I knew if he escaped the house and I wasn’t there to search for him, I would be heading home straight away.
I admit, I wasn’t keen on the idea of a cattery at first but it was the only option I could think of. A lot of meticulous research went into finding the ideal place (I probably did more research on a cattery than into my own holiday!). The criteria was that the place must have excellent reviews with a personal recommendation from a cat owner, the cats must be screened off appropriately from one another so Charlie wouldn’t be distressed by the sight of other cats (or vice versa!) and the owners must be easily contactable.
I even carried out ‘market research’ while sitting in the vet waiting rooms with Charlie, asking locals who they use and who not to use. Eventually I found one place where everyone I spoke to about it would go starry-eyed and be in raptures about how much “Mr Biggins” loves it there. We then visited the place, which was in a beautiful setting and met the owners who gushed over pictures of Socks and I knew it was the right place. The owner had several qualifications related to animal welfare and was more than happy to provide medication to cats if necessary. They were also very strict on the need to see vaccination documents and seemed very thorough.
I packed my bags, satisfied that I had found a place where the cats would be safe and loved for the week. The future seemed rather predictable though. Socks had so far shown herself to be an independent and inquisitive cat and I knew going to the cattery would be no bother at all for her. On the other hand, Charlie had shown himself to be totally dependent on us and displayed signs of a very limited attention span. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting any issues! I was also concerned that the cats would be convinced they were being returned to the shelter as it had only been three months since we adopted them. This was most likely me projecting human thoughts and emotions onto them (fancy that) but, as a new cat mum, it was hardly surprising that I was nervous!
The day came when we dropped them off. In the morning, I packed a bag for them full of things to help them settle in to the cattery. My boyfriend accused me of moving the whole house there. I thought: Charlie’s feather toy, kickeroo, Socks’ ball, their mouse and wriggly worm, a bed, a scratching post, a comfort blanket and their treats was quite restrained.
As normal, Charlie howled for the whole car journey and I struggled not to contain tears, much to my boyfriend’s concern and amusement. We carried the cats in their cages to their new home for the week. The cattery owners went in to their enclosure with them and released Socks first. Socks climbed out of her cage with her usual confidence and headed straight to the owner with her tail bolt upright in ecstatic greeting, “ooh, a new cat Mummy.” She rubbed her glands against the owner’s hands and frankly displayed the same amount of affection she shows us, if not more! I tried not to appear too put out.
It was then time to release Charlie. As soon as he was out, he totally ignored the owners, jumped on the viewing shelf level with our faces and proceeded to wail loudly, throwing us looks of absolute desperation. In summary, he could not have done any more to make me feel terrible for leaving him. The owner told me not to worry and that he would settle in time. She told me that the first visit is always the worst and that they get used to the place on the second or third visit. In the long term, this turned out to be true, but in that moment, turning my back on Charlie and walking away felt like one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I spent the whole journey to our destination worrying. When we arrived, I had a message from the cattery telling me that they were both absolutely fine. In fact, I believe the specific words were “they both ate like pigs!”. Naturally, I was relieved. I had regular updates during the week that they were happy and still eating well. I then could relax and really enjoy the holiday. My boyfriend said there were even a couple of times when half an hour went by and I didn’t talk about the cats.
When we got home we headed straight to the cattery. I practically ran up to their enclosure to see them. What I saw next shocked me. It was obvious that Socks had totally forgotten us and was blissfully happy with her new cat-parents at the cattery. She made it very clear she had very little interest in coming home and was most upset about her holiday being cut short. The cattery owner even kissed her as she begrudgingly put Socks back in the cage. I almost felt guilty taking her away!
Charlie, on the other hand, immediately proceeded to crush his head against my hands and purred like a lunatic – it was the most thunderous version that I have heard to this date. It was as if he thought we had come back from the dead. The owner told me he had hardly left the viewing shelf even though it was October and that part of the enclosure wasn’t heated as well as the indoor area Socks had stayed in. I had not realised until that moment how strong our bond had become.
After we got the cats home, the after-effects of the cattery began. Charlie had recurring diarrhoea for the next couple of days after all the excitement. Make no mistake, this made up for all the litter trays we hadn’t had to change while we were away! After that, his stomach soon settled down to normal. Socks, in her aloof way, continued to display very little interest in either of us for the first day back. Surprisingly though, when my alarm went off the next morning, she came and sat on me for a ten minute cuddle. This was the first time she had ever shown this much affection to either of us! “Ah, so you did miss me really” I said. To my astonishment, she has continued this ritual every day since the first visit to the cattery. She’s obviously staking her claim on her ‘property’.
A final note
The decision of which cattery to go for would later prove to be a good one. Since their first ‘holiday’ there, a new Animal Welfare regulation was adopted in the UK. This requires catteries (and dog boarding/day care) to be assessed and given a star rating based on their animal welfare standards and business procedures. Some councils will then publish the results of businesses within their area, although they are not required to do this. I was so happy for the owners that they managed to receive their 5 stars. Deservedly so! Charlie now gives it a Charlie star of approval. My boyfriend also enjoys telling friends that the cats go on better holidays than us.
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