Preparing your cat for a separation

Spending a long time away from our pets is never fun.  I know: I’ve been separated from my cat, Elise, for about 3 weeks now, with another 3 weeks to go.  Now that I have some distance from the immediate moment of dropping her off, I think it’s time to reflect and share.  Please remember that my techniques were tailored to me and Elise, and you will probably need to make adjustments if you are going to use this list to help you prepare to drop your cat off with a sitter or at boarding.  This list also assumes a long (2+ weeks) separation.

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Elise and Oscar, in a picture sent this morning.

  1. Decide where your cat will stay and have a back up plan.  Boarding?  In your home, with someone dropping by?  At the home of a friend or family member?  Although it would have been ideal for my cat to stay in my apartment, I moved out the day that I left Korea.  I could have chosen to board her at the vet, but I was worried about her coming into contact with sick pets, and also, because she was adopted from a shelter, I didn’t want to trigger her anxiety.  I was very lucky to have close friends who offered to watch her with their cat, in their home.   However, I still had two backup plans, who, as luck (or unluck) would have it, I will probably have to use.
  2. Familiarize your cat to the people who will watch her,  and to her new environment and any other animals that will be in it.  My cat moved in with my friends on January 8th, but we started the familiarization process in September.  At least twice a month, she would go to their house or they would come to ours, bringing their cat.  Now, I want to take a moment to say that introducing two adult cats can be dangerous, and you should not just jump into it if you’re not experienced.   But it made a world of difference to know that my friends knew my cat and her routine, and she knew them.
  3. If your cat isn’t used to her carrier, get on that!  My cat loves her carrier; she sleeps in it almost every day.  It’s the same concept as crate training with a dog, and being comforted by the carrier helped to soothe my cat, both on the trip to our friends’ house, and once there.
  4. Send your cat with security blankets.  In this case, a security blanket is anything that smells like you.  For Elise, I slept in two different shirts, sealed them in ziplock bags, and sent them with her.  I asked my friends to take one out for her every couple weeks.  These “security blankets” are on top of her toys and other personal effects, as their purpose is for emotional support, not entertainment.
  5. Discuss emergency protocol.  This is the most important!  Don’t just leave money and your vet’s number.  Your sitter should have a firm idea of what should be done in case of an emergency, especially budget-wise, in case you cannot be contacted in time.  My friends know that absolutely no expense should be spared for my cat, and I left them over $1,000 in emergency money, plus a way to contact me, day or night, in the US.  The last thing you want is for your loved one to panic and make a choice that you never would have wanted for your pet.

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    Elise and Oscar, playing together a week into her stay.

  6. And, finally: try not to cry when you saygoodbye to your pet.  I used to volunteer at a human society.  In my experience, the animals who got sobbing, tearful goodbyes began their stays scared, sad, and anxious.  Your pet is not going to be happy when they realize that you’re gone.  This is unavoidable.  But you must try to leave them in a positive mood, preferably distracted and playing.

 

I hope these tips can help you out.  It’s never easy to be separated from your pet, but having a solid plan can empower you and, in the long run, make for a safer experience for your pet.

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