Tinkerbell, my plump tortie friend, always greets me enthusiastically when I come by to take care of her and her housemates. She then follows me around the house while I deal with the various feeding stations and litter boxes, making sure she gets plenty of belly rubs in between times.
Three of the other cats acknowledge me, depending on their moods. The 4th, Little Girl, usually hides in the spare room.
Bruce the Maine coon is another one of my regulars. He’s a sociable guy and likes me to carry him around the condo while I’m checking on things. His buddy, Bub, is much shyer, but Bub has begun putting in more frequent appearances. He even lets me gently pet him once in a while.
Alice is shyer than Little Girl and Bub put together. Sometimes I see a flash of black fur out of the corner of my eye, but that’s it.
They all clearly have different thoughts on the subject of cat sitters. Most of them have more or less gotten used to me by now and regard me as a fairly trustworthy human being. I talk to them as I fill food and water bowls and sift litter boxes, and I clip claws and do Reiki sessions with them when their human asks me to.
I may never make much headway with Little Girl and Alice, but I know they infinitely prefer having me come in once or twice a day to being boarded.
The Away-From-Home Blues
Boarding facilities aren’t necessarily bad places. Some of them are lovely, and the people who run them are extremely conscientious.
I worked for one such place. The cats had cozy “theme rooms” with cat trees and perches. They got their meals and meds on time, and everything was kept scrupulously clean.
“Pet hotels with all sorts of amenities are more common,” observes Dr. Ken Tudor, DVM, for PetMD. “Mimi can enjoy laser or catnip bubble playtime and then retire to her suite with multilevel plush perches complete with a closed circuit fish tank screen and bird chirps providing a peaceful background.”
It’s easier to medicate cats at a boarding facility: They’re confined to a room or a large cage, and they can’t pull a disappearing act on you. And if that facility happens to be a veterinary clinic, then you’ve got people on the spot should any health issues arise.
But it’s not as simple as that. Dr. Tudor actually isn’t all that much in favor of boarding animals at a clinic. “Because medical and surgical cases are a higher priority in veterinary hospitals,” he points out, “boarders are likely to be short-changed on attention and care.”
Stress, he believes, is a problem at any sort of boarding facility, especially for cats. Cats like the familiar and tend to resist change with every fiber of their furry being. Nor are they thrilled to suddenly find themselves in places with lots of other strange animals.
We know some cats get separation anxiety if their people are just a little late coming home from work.
If Smokey or Alexander was a stray in his previous life, chances are good that he brought some abandonment issues with him. So taking him away from home and putting him in a boarding facility, no matter how nice it is, make reawaken memories of the strange uncertain time he spent at a shelter.
This can also happen with cats who were orphaned when they were young, according to animal behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett.
Her “preferred method” is “hiring a top-notch pet sitter or using a very trusted friend.” It is, she says, “bad enough that from her point of view her family has run off and disappeared without warning, but at least she hasn’t lost her territory. Just having that security can make a big difference in whether your cat freaks out during your absence or whether she takes it in stride with minimal stress. For some cats, being placed in a boarding kennel, no matter how well run, is terrifying. ”
You do have to be clear about what you expect from the cat sitter, however.
I’ve been on both sides of the fence: I once told a sitter to “use her nose” when it came to sifting/changing the litter boxes, and she apparently had no sense of smell. It was summer, and I myself did have a sense of smell. Lesson learned.
But a responsible cat sitter will be your cats’ advocate while you’re away. They will pick up litter and food at the store if necessary and comb Smokey’s mats out (if Smokey will let them). They will play with and talk to Alexander, and they’ll get him to your vet if necessary.
But, most of all, they’ll give your felines a sense of stability and security until you get back home.
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