One of our greatest concerns, when we decided to plan our trip, was our cat Scruffy. He’d been born and always lived in a tropical country and he loved being hot. And we mean roasting hot. His favourite place in the house was in the attic, at the very top of the house in the roof space with very little ventilation. It was so hot in there it felt like you could roast a chicken, but Scruffy spent much of the day in there, only emerging to explore in the evening. How would he cope with van life in Europe where it was often less than tropical?
Scruffy has always been a very timid cat, afraid of everything and everyone. Before we left Cayman, we’d had Scruffy for more than 6 years but in all that time I think a guest had only twice caught a fleeting sight of him before he scurried off to hide under the sofa or back in the attic. Even people walking on the road outside would scare him, or people going past in boats 300 yards away, or people kite-boarding past 500 yards away. Or cars. Or dogs. Or noises.
Basically Scruffy was afraid of everything except the dark – but he loved and trusted us and we thought we could make that work. No family member gets left behind.
His Mynwood Cat Jacket
We knew that we needed a jacket that would be visible and secure. If he got scared and tried to bolt or wriggle free, then we needed to be sure he wouldn’t be able to get away or we would lose him. So we chose the Mynwood Cat Jacket.
Mynwood jackets are made by a lovely lady called Maria. You send your cat measurements and she makes a custom jacket in the fabric design you pick from her huge selection. It’s custom made to fit your cat so much less likely he’ll be able to wriggle free.
Scruffy is a large cat, very large, and his jacket is the perfect fit. It has some wriggle room in case he gains or loses a little weight, so the straps are a little longer than they need to be. There is plenty of velcro so they really hold together strongly.
The jacket only costs £20, although we paid an additional £1.50 upgrade to include the high-viz reflective strip. Just in case we lost him in the dark. You can also order a lead from her if you need one.
Of course, not all cats will take to their jacket straight away so her website includes lots of advice on helping your cat to adjust and how to train your cat to walk on a lead.
Exploring the great outdoors
It took a little while for Scruffy to warm to the idea of going outside. All those things that scared him at home were here too – dogs, people, cars, noises – coupled with an unfamiliar place every few days.
But slowly, slowly he started to spend more time on the step looking out through the screen door. If someone walked past, he would dart back inside and hide in his container. If there was a strange noise, again, he would hide. But with reassurance and lots of love, he grew in confidence.
It wasn’t long before he was trying to get out at night! We would go out to empty the bin, or get some water and Scruffy would be trying to get out the door. We knew it was time. We started by putting on his jacket and lead and just carrying him around close to the van. Sometimes he would get scared and we could feel him trembling a little, and that was enough for today. But provided it was dark and quiet, he was doing well.
Soon he was asking for his walk in the evening, sitting by the door and mewing or looking up at us expectantly. It was an easy transition to letting him sit in the doorway, look around and make his way down the stairs when he felt ready. Then he was off and exploring, looking so smart in his little jacket.
Scruffy has a new confidence!
These days Scruffy is a new cat. Sure, he sometimes gets startled by noises or people, but he mostly ignores them now, sits quietly and watches cautiously then moves on when they are at his safe distance.
He doesn’t need to wait until it’s dark these days. He’ll want to go out in the evening as soon as it starts to get dusk, providing there aren’t too many people still moving about. He sets his own pace, of course, tells us when he’s comfortable to go out, and when he wants to come back. Sometimes it’s a 10-minute walk if conditions aren’t ideal, or maybe 40 minutes if it’s a quiet place he loves.
He responds quite well now to both voice commands and to tiny tugs on the lead to tell him the direction we want to walk. He’s a cat though, so it’s not the same as walking a dog. Most of the time Scruffy dictates which way we go and that’s fine. If he is happy and safe, we are happy.
Scruffy’s favourite walks involve:
- sitting on rocks and looking about
- climbing trees (well, we lift him up into the tree and hold onto him)
- eating grass – wide blades are preferred
- watching other cats
- lots of sniffing of things, especially other people’s vans
- rolling around and getting tummy rubs
- walking along the top of walls – his favourite
Coming along on our vacation has really given Scruffy the chance to overcome his fears, explore new places and learn new skills. I think he’s as happy about it as we are.