Can I sneak a cat onto a train or what?
December 6, 2010 3:56 PM   Subscribe

My fantasy of merrily heading home on the train for Christmas with a cat carrier in hand is not working out. How do I transport my cat a few hours into the middle of nowhere if I'm too scared to drive that far alone?

I suspect there is some beanplating in the following paragraphs, but here's the situation...

I'm trying to get from Philadelphia to my hometown of State College, PA early next week. I always take either the bus or train to visit my parents. And I was looking forward to taking my quite young kitten home with me to meet my parents. But it turns out Amtrak doesn't accept pets. Neither does Megabus or Greyhound. I thought perhaps the Chinatown bus would be a bit more lax in their pet policies, but it seems like the Philly-SC route has disappeared!

The obvious solution is to rent a car -- the trip is just over three hours. I do have a driver's license. But I've barely driven at all in the past six years, have next to no highway driving experience, find normal driving experiences such as merging onto the highway to be terrifying, have never driven anywhere unfamiliar before, don't know how to navigate by myself, etc.

There are flights between Philly and State College, but apparently we're talking about $650 roundtrip for a flight that barely reaches a cruising altitude before it begins its descent.

I wasn't planning to come back to Philly at all during my nearly-six-week break. I was planning on doing some shorter trips to various places during that time, and leaving kitty at home with my (cat-loving) parents.

I've never used Craigslist rideshare but it is on my radar. I haven't seen anything appropriate offered, but I also haven't posted a request myself.

Here are the options that have at least crossed my mind, none of which are seeming like good ideas. Can you comment on any of the suggestions or offer other possibilities I haven't thought of?

1) I could go on a number of shorter trips (back to State College a couple times, around to other places) but come back to Philly in between. But then I'd still need to arrange extensive cat-sitting time, and I'm not keen to spend any more time here over the holidays than necessary.

2) Maybe I can actually take kitty on the bus or train. Are the anti-pet policies of Amtrak, Greyhound, or Megabus actually enforced? Does anyone have experience with just showing up with a pet in tow? If it's relevant, I have a very small, discreet, soft-sided cat carrier (kitty is young and tiny) that would easily sit at my feet or under the seat in front of me.

3) I assume this is a terrible idea, but can I sedate kitty and put her in my purse? Ok...yeah that's a terrible idea...right? Please don't take my cat away for even thinking it....

4) Maybe I should suck it up and be a normal American adult and rent a car. How scared should I really be of a trip like this with rusty driving skills and little highway experience?

5) I assume that it's unlikely someone will be offering a ride from Philly to State College for the specific time I want to travel, but maybe if I posted a request I could find a rideshare who wouldn't mind a cat in the backseat. Is this safe, more or less?

6) It would break my heart to leave her boarding somewhere, but maybe I should get a pet sitter and leave her home? Besides the cost of hiring a pet sitter for so long, the problems is that even when I leave her with a pet sitter for a few days she seems desperately lonely by the time I get home. Six weeks just seems like too long for a compulsively affectionate, attention-seeking kitten to live alone!

As a bonus complication, I looked through the previous questions tagged with "cat" and "travel" or "pet" and "travel" and am now wondering if it's a cruelty to my beloved little kitty to relocate her for a mere six weeks. But I was so looking forward to having her meet my parents and be with me for the holidays. Please help me think clearly about this, wise Mefites...I'm feeling very stressed out and frustrated!
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (25 answers total)
How about you go there without your kitty then ask someone there to accompany you back to get it with a rental car or ask to borrow their car? It could be a fun trip, maybe a younger cousin or a friend could do it?
posted by meepmeow at 4:06 PM on December 6, 2010

I think you should take her with you -- she's young, you're new to each other, this is important bonding time.

I have a friend who took her 8 wk old (small breed) puppy on the DC metro, stuffed in her duffle bag . . . and another who fosters bottle-feeder kittens (2-3 wks old) and keeps them in a desk at work . . . both of which would indicate that it's possible to successfully take an animal where they are not allowed. Probably easier to do on a train than a bus. She can go three hours without food/water/litter box in the carrier . . . if you go to your vet and request a sedative for travel and carry her in her carrier, I think you should be fine.

But on the off chance you get kicked off the train mid-way, would your parents pick you up?

Would a friend be willing to drive you halfway for $$$?
posted by MeiraV at 4:07 PM on December 6, 2010

Could you ask/pay a friend to drive you part way and have your parents pick you up for the second half of the trip?
posted by Menthol at 4:07 PM on December 6, 2010

I've taken a lot of trains on the west coast, never the east, which might make a difference but - you can't board the train without an Amtrak employee seeing you, there's usually one at every entrance to the train. They'd see the cat carrier and not let you on.

If by chance you got past them, a couple things could happen: a fellow passenger might be allergic, and I can only imagine the trouble that would get you in. Or, kitty would start meowing (they generally freak out in carriers, in my experience) and the proverbial cat would be out of the bag.

I think rideshare is your best bet. Maybe offer a little extra cash incentive to a driver willing to accommodate kitty.
posted by chez shoes at 4:09 PM on December 6, 2010

I imagine there are roughly a kabillion Penn State students who are heading to Philly for the holidays. Can you post something in one of the common areas, or is there a Penn State forum for stuff like this? I bet if you posted something on Facebook, someone you know would be able to either give you a ride or get you in touch with someone who can.
posted by punchtothehead at 4:10 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you knew someone driving between the two locations, even if it wasn't when you were ready to make the trip, maybe you could pay them to pick the kitten up from your place and drop it off with your parents. Like if they are going a few days before your classes end or something.

Or, what are the odds a parent or relative would pick you up? Maybe you would prefer not to inconvenience anyone with a couple of six-hour drives, I'm just throwing it out there as an option you might not have considered. Could also be a way to get some highway driving practice in. :)

Even with a pet sitter checking in every few days, six weeks seems like too long to leave a kitten alone.
posted by beandip at 4:13 PM on December 6, 2010

I don't think it's cruel to travel with your cat, especially since she's very young. This is the perfect time to get her used to traveling, and I've known many cats who have things like second homes and are quite comfortable going back and forth. It's when a cat is old or sick or mentally stressed to the point of not performing normal activities that relocating is mean. If you make this an okay experience for her, it will bode well for any future moves you may do.

Do your parents drive at all? Could they possibly come meet you in Philly and pick you up? That would be what would happen in my family, since I don't drive either. (Similar situation, actually. License but terrified of merging, haven't driven in 7 years.) My dad loves to drive and a 6 hour round trip would be like a day off for him, though.

Do you maybe have a friend in the city who would live in your house for the next six weeks? You could pay them, or they could be in-between apartments and you'd be basically giving them lodging rent free for a month and a half. This sort of thing is easier to arrange when you are still in the end bits of college, but if you ask around chances are at least one of your friends will be sort of a drifter. Or maybe just really, really love cats, and would have a shorter commute from your place. You wouldn't have your kitten with you, but she'd wouldn't be lonely, and your things would have an eye on them.

Personally, I wouldn't take pets on the bus, but once when I was doing a fairly regular run from Boston to D.C. on Greyhound, there was a lady with a cat carrier behind me. I didn't know it wasn't kosher, but nobody else seemed to care.
posted by Mizu at 4:15 PM on December 6, 2010

Having traveled with cats that pooped their carriers out of fear when they were younger and more skittish, I'd be hesitant to get on a train or a bus with a cat that hadn't traveled before. Luckily we were in our own car so we could stop and do some biohazard remediation but let me tell you, it was NOT good. I'd look for a rideshare.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:27 PM on December 6, 2010

Suck it up and drive.
posted by oddman at 4:37 PM on December 6, 2010

I'm sure there are tons of students driving out for the holidays... ask around/post on facebook and you'll probably find someone headed in your direction. Even if it's not the entire way, can you parents pick you up from there? You will probably have to be more flexible with your schedule, but it's definitely doable, and shouldn't be as stressful as you're making it sound. And I totally understand not feeling up for driving...I know a lot of people might tell you to suck it up, but frankly, if you're not comfortable, don't do's not worth it especially when there are easy alternatives.
posted by lacedcoffee at 4:44 PM on December 6, 2010

I imagine there are roughly a kabillion Penn State students who are heading to Philly for the holidays

Unless I've misunderstood, the OP is traveling in the opposite direction.
posted by pemberkins at 4:47 PM on December 6, 2010

I think you should explain the situation to your parents and offer to pay for their gas and lunch if they come and get you. If they can't do it, maybe make the same offer to a friend.

I'd help you out myself, as one catmom to another, if I weren't on the opposite coast.
posted by xenophile at 4:50 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Can you practice driving between now and then -- I'm guessing you have just a couple days but it looks like a pretty straight shot. If you bring your own snacks and find where the rest stops will be ahead of time, getting on and off the highway shouldn't be too nerve wracking. How will the weather be? Anything iffy?

I think six weeks is totally appropriate for bringing a cat. We've brought our cat home in the car (12 hour drive through snowy passes!) for the holidays for a two week time period. We haven't done that since we added a cat who is no good in the car but for our first little guy, he was great in the car.
posted by amanda at 4:59 PM on December 6, 2010

I used to not own a car, rarely drive, and find it a terrifying prospect. My one 'big' (4 hour) drive between cities was actually the event that changed that. Turns out that a long drive on major highways is way easier and more relaxing than driving around town. There's multiple lanes, so you don't have to change lanes or merge if you don't want to. There are few lights or roundabouts or anything else complicated. Once you get onto the highway you don't have to navigate - just follow the road for hours until you get to the turn off. I didn't have that "everyone else on the road is trying to kill me" feeling I do in city driving.

After that trip I had so much more confidence driving that it totally changed my life. Do it.
posted by lollusc at 5:02 PM on December 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

I was lollusc as well, at least well into my 20s, and I remember the scariness of driving when I first started doing it.

It is actually worth it to get out there with a patient friend/car owner and practice some of the things that worry you like merging and navigating (very easy, via rented/borrowed GPS, phone with GPS application, printed Mapquest directions, or your basic roadmap.) it is also a good idea to get your kitty in a moving vehicle with you before the day you take the trip, to see how kitty does. If kitty flips, you'll want to visit the vet for some kitty tranquilizers so the trip is calm for both of you. If kitty travels quietly but gets road sick (one of mine had that problem), good to know in advance so you can plan for it.

You'll be fine renting and driving if you do a little advance practice, or even without if you do a little planning, and it will build your confidence a lot. I would recommend against ride share because I think it is tough to drive someone else when you are already somewhat stressed just about driving yourself and your kitty.
posted by bearwife at 5:14 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Six weeks is a ridiculously long time to leave a pet with a sitter, especially one that's probably younger than the amount of time you'd be leaving them.

Look for rideshares. Googling "ride share" brings up a lot of hits, you could probably find something on Craigslist, too. Remember, you may be able to sneak the kitty now, but in six weeks kitty's going to be a lot bigger and harder to hide.
posted by schroedinger at 5:22 PM on December 6, 2010

I would definitely not do #3, that sounds like a terrible idea. Advertising for a rideshare is probably your best bet, though coordinating both ways might be tricky.

For what it's worth, the drive you're talking about is really quite relaxing and easy - (it's basically just the PA turnpike to 22). Both roads are normally very uncrowded, and outside of Philadelphia there won't be more than 2 lanes of traffic. The only issue might be weather, and if you can be a little flexible about travel dates, you can probably cherry pick the best travel days and take your time. Also, these days most car rentals have the option to add a GPS, which would make navigating the trip a snap.
posted by susanvance at 5:29 PM on December 6, 2010

If you drive, you should definitely rent a GPS. Since highway driving makes you anxious, the last thing you need is to get lost, or try reading a mapquest printout while driving at speeds unfamiliar to you. A GPS will be a comforting, relaxing presence (I promise you'll end up naming it before your trip is over). I understand you think merging will be scary (and it's not -- other drivers will move over or slow down to let you in), but the real tricky part of highway driving comes when you realize your exit is a 1/4 mile down the road and you have 10 seconds to cross three lanes of traffic to make it. With a GPS, that won't happen -- it will give you plenty of advance warning so you can mosey on over with lots of time to spare

Also, try to head out when there's not a lot of cars on the road, like Sunday morning, since merging onto a highway is easy when there's no traffic to merge into (bonus: the sun won't be in your eyes in the morning). Being one of the few cars on an expressway, early in the day, is actually sort of exhilarating.

Highway driving used to make my wife nervous, until a family emergency required her to drive with 3 kids from Florida to DC. If she could make this 2-day odyssey, you can do this 3-hour trip.

Good luck!
posted by hhc5 at 6:10 PM on December 6, 2010

I think you should practice driving and go for the gold by driving home. You won't get past your fear if you keep avoiding it.
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:15 PM on December 6, 2010

Your question strikes me much more as "I'm terrified of driving" than "help me sort out this organizational challenge with my kitten." Being able to live without a car is pretty damned awesome, especially in this day/age/country.

But I think you should feel comfortable in your ability to drive a car. It's a skill that can really come in handy. The ability to rent a car and go anywhere you want can both open up your life and make you even more self-reliant.

Work through your fear of driving. You'll be grateful you did. It will make you feel like a superhero! And as a bonus: six extra weeks of kitten!
posted by ErikaB at 6:33 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have no idea how much these cost, but there are pet moving services out there (not recommending any in particular, just check google). The cost is probably less than a plane, but more than any of your other options, but it is an idea. You might want to inquire, just to find out how much it costs. If it's cheap, go for it.
posted by Hactar at 8:22 PM on December 6, 2010

The biggest danger in being an inexperienced driver on the highway will be the cat. You can't let it distract you even if it complains vocally the whole way.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:31 PM on December 6, 2010

Sedating cats for travel is pretty common veterinary fare and vets use the same dope as for humans only significantly smaller because mammals all work mostly the same. As I've never known a human to suffer adverse effect from Valium (or its pharmacological cousins) after it is metabolized and eliminated, I find it quite hard to imagine that cats could be any different.
posted by fydfyd at 9:24 PM on December 6, 2010

People have already pointed out that an angry scared yelling kitty in a carrier is much harder to transport (annoying the rideshare host, getting you kicked off the train, making you nevous while you drive) than a fairly calm kitty.

Check past posts on traveling with cats, and read up on tips to keep the cat happy.
Use a rigid-bottom carrier, possible sedatives, getting the cat accustomed to the carrier as a place to hang out in the house, taking the cat on walks around the block in the carrier, etc. If you do a practice run to remind yourself how to drive, as many suggest, drive around a bit on your own, then take the kitty out for a practice run. And as a driving tip - no matter how loud the cat is yelling, nothing bad is happening to it, and nothing you can do will make it feel much better, so ignore ignore ignore and just keep driving. Although it does not fully appreciate this fact, the cat is much more comfortable in a car that is not crashing.
posted by aimedwander at 11:57 AM on December 7, 2010

Well, I do know someone that snuck her dog onto a West Coast Amtrak. The dog was (a) at least a couple of years old, (b) a total purse dog who was used to being hauled around in a bag all the time, and (c) in public, was quiet as a mouse. (I am surprised that Amtrak didn't wonder why she had a giant mesh uh, fence thingie with her, though.) But she wasn't using a conspicuous animal carrier, and I don't know how well a kitten is going to stay quiet in your purse or not.

I think I'd agree with those who say to suck it up and drive. After doing my first 4-hour long driving trip, I managed it just fine, and I was doing most of mine through hills and mountains. Get a GPS, write down instructions on Google, and you'll probably be fine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:05 PM on December 7, 2010

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