Thursday, 25 August 2016

A Dark Hour

Flying with cats seems like an inherently bad idea. A few years ago I heard an awful story that confirmed my worst fears. A cat managed to escape at the airport security checkpoint, when its owner was asked to remove it from its carrier. No one could locate the cat, and a few weeks later, it was found dead somewhere in the airport.

This story has long haunted me—both because it is incredibly depressing and also because it frankly seems like the inevitable consequence of removing a cat from its carrier in the middle of airport security. What cat in his right mind wouldn't make a run for it in that situation??

Anyone who has cats can appreciate the challenge of stuffing a cat into a carrier even in the most calm and controlled of environments. In Fergie's case, it must be done in the bathroom, with the door closed so there is no chance of her escaping and barricading herself under the center of the bed.

Fergie in her carrier.

So imagine removing a cat from its carrier in the middle of the chaos that is airport security, walking the cat through the TSA scanner, and then successfully managing to place the cat back in the carrier. It's a cute thought, right?

When Yaniv first suggested flying the cats from DC to Milwaukee, rather than driving them, I started sweating. Visions of Steve and Fergie lost forever in the bowels of Reagan National flashed through my mind. I thought anything—even a 13 hour drive with two cats, one of whom has a history of unloading the entire contents of his bowel 30 minutes into a road trip (looking at you, Steve!)—must be preferable to taking such a risk.

Imagine this snow-white cat rolling around in his own poop, just a few minutes into a 9 hr drive. Yep, that happened.

But then I did some more research and learned there is such a thing as a "private screening" at TSA, where they take you into an enclosed room to do the security check. Could this be the answer to all our worries? We decided to go for it. (Not before I lost my mind and spent a small fortune on cat harnesses, leashes, collars and tags, and cat sedatives, just in case the private screening was somehow unavailable.)

On the ride to the airport, Fergie was stoic, but Steve was profoundly displeased.

"F you, mother!"
In retrospect, I should have given Steve two sedatives instead of just the one. He's not exactly petite, and the one pill I slipped into his lunch clearly wasn't having much of an effect, if his dramatic howling in the Uber was any indication. But we made it.

As we approached security, my anxiety began to spike. What if they refused to give us a private screening? The woman who checked our boarding passes and IDs when we reached the security area didn't even know what we were talking about when we asked for a private screening, and merely waved us on along with the rest of the herd. At that moment, I began to lose it. As a general rule, I try to avoid weeping in public, but here we were, in the middle of one of the busiest airports in the country, and sure enough the floodgates began to open. I had harnesses, leashes, and one partially sedated cat (we weren't able to get Fergie to take her pill, so she was wide awake), but could I really go through with this?

The gods smiled on us, however, and the moment we informed the TSA agent who was actually operating the security scan that we had cats, she swiftly called for backup and we were escorted to a private room. I wanted to kiss that woman! We made it through security without issue, and as soon as we reached the terminal I ordered a large glass of wine.

The flight itself was blessedly uneventful, and the cats are now Wisconsinites. All in all, it was a dark hour (or six), but I'm calling it a success.

The only thing I'd do differently is more sedatives. For Steve, and, honestly, for myself.

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