Home Is Where the Cat Is

To travel, or not to travel, when you have cats? That is the question.

A friend of mine has an amazing career as a belly dancer. She travels internationally, teaching and dancing. She tours Europe, attends conferences in Egypt and is world-renowned. I dance for fun and sometimes I envy her exotic and glamorous life, except for one thing: I don’t understand how she can leave her cats behind.

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Even in my wayward 20s, I often had a difficult time leaving my cats for more than a few days. In fact, I only did it twice. Once was when I decided to run off and explore the Western U.S. While I was away, a cat-loving neighbor fed the cat I had at the time, and although I thought I would be traveling indefinitely, in actuality I was only gone a couple of weeks.

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A few years later, when I was senior editor for a rock magazine, I spent ten days in New York going to shows, interviewing Pantera for a cover story and just visiting East Coast friends. My cat then, Harlot, was fiercely independent and I was sure she’d be fine getting her meals from the guy renting my downstairs sublet. The day I was scheduled to come back to Los Angeles was January 17, 1994 – an infamous day for anyone who was living in southern California, because at 4:31 a.m., a 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck and damaged swaths of the city. The flights home didn’t get cancelled until I had already arrived at JFK airport, and I spent eight frantic hours waiting for another flight and worrying about Harlot. When I finally walked up the steps to my ramshackle Silver Lake home (still thankfully intact), it was the dead of night and pitch black, but Harlot was by the steps, waiting. I don’t think she had ever been happier to see me. Before that day, earthquakes had always spooked her, and if she was inside, she would dive under the bed. But from then on, something changed: with my return, she figured everything would be all right, and each time after that when the ground started shaking, she would contentedly stick by me.

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Later in Harlot’s life, when she had cancer, I did not leave town for years. I couldn’t bear the thought of going away with such an ill kitty. I hated being landlocked, but there was no way I was going to stress out my sick cat by leaving her behind. Once she was gone, I was able to take trips again without concern. My cats were young, sassy and did not mind having pet sitters caring for them for a few days. Now, returning in less than a week’s time was for me – I missed them too much to be away for very long.

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A decade later, with all three cats over 10 now, I’ll still go away for a few days, but I worry, especially about Sparkle, who leans on me heavily and tends to pick at her food. When I’m out of town, I’m never convinced she is eating enough (and I am usually right). The moment I get home, the first thing I usually do is open up a fresh can of her favorite food, which she is always glad to nibble at.

So I choose to curtail my travel in favor of caring for my aging cats. Or do I? It isn’t really a matter of responsibility. My belly dancer friend adores her cats and takes great care of them, plus her significant other is there to care for them, and he loves them as much as she does. My fiancé is a musician who leaves town for weeks several times a year, and although our cat, Binga acts out when he is packing, dashing around the house, howling and knocking things over, she never languishes for him after he is gone. She always knows when his car pulls in, though, and calls for him before he even comes in the door.

Maybe I just need that sense of home more than other people. And for me, home and cat are synonymous. Those times I have been away for an extended period of time (in my world, that means more than a week), instead of feeling free, I feel a little lost and ungrounded. I want nothing more than a familiar bed to sleep in, with a familiar cat by my side.

I imagine I will make that bucket list trip to Tibet someday … but I already know that my cats are my spiritual center.

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