I spend a lot of my life on airplanes. After a while it becomes second nature and like most of the jets I travel on, I'm on auto-pilot.
Packing takes 10 minutes. I know what part of the parkade is closest to which airline, where not to buy coffee, the security or customs line that moves quickest.
I also know some travel dates, like those around Christmas, can be fraught with unexpected complications and delays. Eventually even those are partitioned into "been there, done that, not really anything special" categories.
So this Christmas I decided to complicate the travel experience for a change and take the cat with me.
Okay, technically, the decision wasn't mine. The usual pet care suspects suddenly had their own plans for the holidays. They were also flying off to places tropical or to visit family. The neighbors were all hosting crowds of in-laws, having babies or finally getting the kids a new puppy; environments less than conducive to cat sitting -- especially if the cat in question is as temperamental and demanding as the one I own.
In the end, I even called a couple of those pet motel outfits and cringed at both the prices and the "we know this is really your child and we'll treat her that way" attitude. Much as I thought it would be fun to see their reaction to checking in the feline version of Keith Moon, I passed on them too.
Frankly, this is the pussy from hell. She hates me and doesn't make any bones about letting everybody know. I get bitched at for everything from breakfast being ten minutes late to not providing sunshine in her favorite window. She plots new ways of getting at me, like some cranky drill sergeant just waiting to spot a weakness.
Whoever coined the adage that "cats were once worshipped as Gods and have never forgotten it" definitely had this animal in mind. It's her world, I just live here.
Putting her in the car for her annual trip to the Vet is a cue for biting, scratching and a massive nuclear Armageddon spit-fit. She howls all the way there and back and long ago convinced the Vet to don body armor for the examination.
He was the first to tell me I was nuts to take her along. Pretty much everybody else said the same.
"Jim, she'll be uncontrollable. It'll be humiliating. You're crazy!"
But crazy's a certification I earned a long time ago, so I went ahead and called the nice people at Westjet.
They were my only choice because Air Canada doesn't fly animals anymore. Given the dismal Air Canada record this Christmas, it would appear they've given up on the concept of getting people where they're going as well.
For those unfamiliar with either airline, the best comparison comes from Comedian Mike McDonald, who says there are only two kinds of truckstop waitresses, the bubbly farmer's daughter and the junkie Goth. Respectively, that's Westjet and Air Canada.
To my surprise, the Westjet ticket agent got all excited about booking a "kitty ticket" as he called it and was a wealth of information on traveling with an animal. And when I told him she might be difficult, his response was simply, "Well, we all have bad days, don't we?"
I prepared myself for the worst flight of my life and a particularly trying day.
And the bad day started pretty much as I expected. Screaming as she went in the kennel, howl-fest in the car. Thrashing around as we walked into the terminal. And then...
Dead silence. And then...
Purring for the ticket agent. Snuggling with the security screeners. A happy chirp for the stewardess and the lady in the next seat.
"Why your cat is good as gold!" Uh-huh and I've got the love-bites and passion scratches to prove it.
But suddenly an animal who can't stand anybody (especially me) is everybody's friend. And I'm dealing with something I had been completely unprepared for...
All the other traveling pets are purse dogs. Their owners could easily be mistaken for Paris, Lindsay or Brittany. They and their animals are fashionable, glittering and bejeweled. They catch the attention of everybody in the airport lounge as they go through the pre-boarding parade of those with kennels.
And then there's this dumpy, middle-aged man with a cat...
All the looks I'm getting say just one thing -- "My God, this guy is SERIOUSLY PATHETIC".
I glanced into the kennel. The cat looked at me with a glint of pure malice and the hint of a smile.
Gotcha again, Cowboy! Next time, cough up the cash for a kitty spa. And make it one where they don't skimp on the catnip!