At midnight last night, I was startled by pounding on my front door. A few moments earlier, I had heard thumping on the back fire escape of the building, and figured some kids (hooligans… those darn young’ins) were having some fun and chasing eachother down the fire escape and knocking on random people’s doors. As it turns out, it was one of my neighbours, shouting to get out because the roof was on fire. I could see, feel, and smell the red sparks and ash burning up above my head.
Having lived in Montreal for years, this was hardly my first fire or fire drill. And even back in my school days, I seemed to live in the dorms that had had almost biweekly fire alarms, usually at night, probably by students illicitly smoking too close to the fire alarms. Anyway, I knew just what to do. So I quickly got up my sleeping daughter, had my husband take her outside, and then went to get the cat carrier from the storage room for my cat, Olaf. I’m sorry to say that in the heat of the moment, I did not even think to get Mister Rogers, my hamster. But I will next time!
Anyway, as I was going into the storage room to fetch the cat carrier, a big plastic hard-sided carrier sitting right there in plain sight, I went right past it and dug around for the soft-sided carrier that actually had never been used before and had been given to me by a former client who had moved away. I don’t know why I did that, I was just going going going, and knew I had to find a carrier for Olaf. I stared at the soft black carrier in my hand for a moment, unthinking, before my brain caught up with my body and screamed that this carrier was too small for my long, lanky Olaf, and to use the much larger carrier that was sitting right there that I’ve always used. The one that still had tape on it from the vet’s that said Ethel. I put down the soft-sided carrier. Grabbed the carrier, grabbed the cat who was scooting under the bed (got ‘im! haha.), got peed on as I crammed him into the cat carrier (sorry, Force Free training, this time I was getting him in there as quickly as possible, whatever it took), closed all the doors on my way to the front door, grabbed my jean jacket and handbag, and brought us both outside where my family, neighbours, and a ton of firefighters were there to greet us. All of this was done quickly, efficiently, and well under a minute.
No one was hurt, everyone got out quickly, even the older neighbours who had been in isolation for months. The fire, a small fire of unknown origin, was quickly extinguished by the well-organized firefighters, and after they had carefully inspected the area, rolled up their hoses, and removed the emergency caution tape, we were allowed to go back inside. Thanks, first responders! Montreal firefighters rock!
The first thing I did, after getting my daughter a drink of water, was clean up the pee from the floor, myself, the cat, and the cat carrier. I didn’t want anyone to step in it and I certainly wanted to eradicate the smell and not let it set. I keep a spray bottle of equal parts vinegar and water, which works very well at neutralizing urine odours in laundry, and is pet-safe. I used it on the floor, the cat carrier, the bath tub, and the laundry. Olaf had peed on the brand-new skirt I had quarantine-splurged on from the Gap and I wanted to wash the heck out of it right away to prevent the odour from setting. I wiped Olaf down with damp towels, but he was too worked up to bathe, and I didn’t think it was really necessary. He was able to clean himself after I got him started. Then I gave him a treat and started writing this blog post, since I’m too worked up to sleep despite it being 1:30am. Ahem, now 3am.
Cat carriers – getting your cat from Point A to Point B
Location location location
The reason why I am sharing this exciting moment, is because of the cat carrier. When I meet with a new client, I always ask where the pet carrier is, just in case the pet needs medical attention or there’s another emergency and I need to evacuate the pet. Living in small urban apartments, owners will often keep their cat carriers in their storage locker. In the basement. Down several flights of stairs. Wedged behind many suitcases and only accessible with a ladder. A few clients didn’t have a cat carrier.
If I had kept my cat carrier so far away from my living space, I wouldn’t have been able to get to it in a timely manner to evacuate with Olaf safely. I couldn’t just carry him outside in my arms. Despite being an indoor-only cat, he’s like any cat in a high-adrenaline situation – he would have clawed me in a panic, then ran and hid somewhere. Or gotten hit by a car. Or gotten taken in by well-meaning Samaritans despite being microchipped because he’s so handsome and friendly. I could have lost him as soon as I took him outside without a carrier.
Many cat behaviourists and also Fear Free recommend keeping your cat carrier out and in the open for your cat, to help familiarize them with the carrier and remove any negative associations of cat carrier = veterinarian = bad things. To combat this, some owners create a comfy nest for their cats in their carriers, feed them treats in their carriers, and integrate them seamlessly into their living room decor. Especially a couple weeks before a trip to the veterinarian, or a trip, it’s a good idea to bring out the cat carrier and feeding them lots of treats inside of it so they’ll associate good things with it. It then becomes easier to coax them inside the carrier so that the trip to the veterinarian is less stressful.
It’s important to consider what to do in the event of a fire or similar situation. I have a clear plan of action and priorities. Child, cat, (hamster – next time, Mister Rogers!), shoes, coat if cold, handbag/keys. Closing the doors was a practical bonus. Meet in safe place outside. I’ve done this enough times in my life that it takes no thought, it just happens within seconds. This is one of the reasons why I ask so many questions during registration with new clients, so that if something unexpected should happen, we have all the necessary information and planning already agreed upon, and I can immediately act without having to wonder what to do during a stressful, emotional situation.
When I had two cats, I tried both using two separate carriers, as well as just cramming them both into one big carrier. Both got the job done, though when we lived up several flights of stairs, it was easier for me to carry only one carrier with 22 lbs of cat inside.
Is it washable?
When I got my first cat, Ethel, many years ago, I got a soft-sided carrier because it seemed like it would be more comfortable for her. It was small, easy to carry like a gym bag, and had mesh on all the sides so you could easily see inside. I still remember being offended when a pushy vet tech told me that my carefully purchased cat carrier was not secure enough and that a cat could easily escape it if they really wanted to by ripping open the mesh or pulling apart the zippers. I’m not saying that she was wrong, or than she wasn’t well-meaning, but I used that carrier for many years, until the plastic ribbing separated.
While Ethel never tried to escape the soft-sided carrier, she often peed in the carrier and it was impractical in that it was difficult to clean. There was a fuzzy covering for the cardboard bottom that could be washed in the washing machine, but it wasn’t waterproof, and that cardboard bottom could get soaked in urine and other bodily fluids of a scared cat. The soft shell only survived a couple washes in a front-loading washing machine before wearing out.
I saw some beautiful soft-sided backpack-style cat carriers at last year’s Cat Camp NYC, but the sales representative was a bit stumped when I had asked about cleaning. She had suggested maybe hosing it off outside. But most of my clients are apartment dwellers, so that option of blasting it with a forceful stream of water outside is not really available to us.
I usually put cats into cat carriers using the front door. It’s useful to also have a carrier that comes apart from the top, too, as that can be easier at the vet’s office, as the top can be removed without dragging out the cat. Having a carrier that’s easy to take apart and put back together makes it easier to clean.
A hard-sided cat carrier is durable and easy to clean and won’t retain odours as much as a soft-sided carrier. It will last longer than a soft-sided carrier. It’s easy to store, because you won’t be tempted to fold it all up and wreck it because you think it’s more flexible than it is. It can get scratched and knocked around a little (hopefully when empty). A cat won’t be able to rip through it with their claws and teeth. A dog will have more trouble getting to the cat in a hard case. (While waiting to go back inside last night, Olaf was well-sniffed by a neighbour’s dog, but was well-secured in the hard plastic carrier). Pet owners often buy soft-sided carriers because they are pretty, but the nylon shells can fade with wear, making them less pretty. You can usually find used hard pet carriers inexpensively via online marketplaces.
I guess you can see in which way I lean with regards to soft vs. hard cat carriers. I’m not judging – a soft-sided carrier works, but won’t last as long as a hard-sided carrier, and is harder to clean. I’d rather have a soft carrier than no carrier.
- Make sure you have a disaster/fire safety plan for your pets.
- Keep your pet carrier within easy reach just in case there’s a fire and you need to put your pets into it.
- Practice getting your pet into the pet carrier.
Stay safe, everyone!