The Cats Left at Home

Cats have a lot of feelings about people who travel -- where have you been, and why, and what's that smell? -- but the also react when fellow cats go on trips.

Cats have a lot of feelings about people who travel -- where have you been, and why, and what's that smell? -- but the also react when fellow cats go on trips.

When cat companions return from an out-of-town trip, they get one out of three reactions:

* The Back of Disrespect. The cat is mad at them for a day or two … or at least until dinnertime.
* The cat, believing he has been abandoned, is desperately happy to see his human return.
* “Huh? You were away? Sorry, I didn’t notice.”

But what happens when one of the returning travelers is also a cat? For over a year now, I’ve been running around with Summer, from short trips to the little pet shop down the street, to a flight to Nashville for a blogging conference. And it has only now occurred to me that Binga and Boodie – the other two felines-in-residence – might have some thoughts about that. Before, I was merely happy there was never any drama when Summer and I returned – no hisses or swats or attitude. I only watched out for negative feelings. I wasn’t paying attention to any other reactions, until last week.

Summer and I went to a National Cat Day event about 20 minutes from our house. We weren’t gone that long, maybe a couple of hours at the most, but when we came home and I set down Summer’s carrier, Binga was there immediately, waiting for me to unzip it. The moment Summer emerged, she sniffed her face and gave her a lick on her forehead. I realized that she must have missed her, and every time she sees me and Summer leave together, she has no idea whether we’re going to be gone a few hours, or a few days. Maybe she even remembers my last vet trip with Sparkle … when Sparkle didn’t come back.

Cats are famous for hiding their feelings, and unless it involves some form of acting out – misbehavior, litter box avoidance and such – we cat lovers miss so many signals. Binga is a very expressive cat, but even when she is cool as cucumber, I know there’s a lot going on between those ears. That doesn’t mean I can always decipher her thoughts. Boodie, who comes from an unsocialized background, is more circumspect. The three cats coexist without a whole lot of snuggling or other displays of affection, even though they clearly are fond of one another. So every time I’ve loaded Summer into her carrier and taken her out, I just figured they didn’t care that much. But now I’m sure I’m wrong about that.

I wish there was some way to assure Binga and Boodie that when I leave with Summer, we’ll be returning. We humans are such lunkheads at understanding the subtleties of cat language, however, that anything but the most obvious communication is beyond us. Maybe if we stopped taking our feline friends for granted and spent more time watching and listening, we’d get better at it.

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