Charlie and George are rescue kitties who had such a bad start in life that four of their siblings died before they could be adopted. If it weren’t for the wonderful care of Seattle Area Feline Rescue and their network of foster households—in Charlie and George’s case, the marvellous Cody’s Cat Palace—they would not have survived. They’re happy now, and healthy, but the experience marked them. George, particularly, can be very skittish around sudden noises and anyone but me and Kelley. Both of them freak out if there is no food around.

We’ve been with Charlie and George 24/7 since we adopted them in August 2019. The only time we’ve been apart in over two years was when one of them had to have an overnight stay at the vet (Charlie when he nearly died after an operation to remove a nasopharyngeal polyp, and George when he nearly died of salmonellosis caught from a bird). As a result, for all four of us being separated is indelibly linked to stress. Add to that the idea of travelling at all after two solid years at home—masks on a plane! crazy anti-vaxxers on a plane! just being on a fucking plane! getting off the plane among crazy Red State Covid-deniers and anti-vaxxers!—and the thought of leaving the cats for nine days in care of total strangers, without being able to explain to them that we were coming back and that these humans weren’t going to do horrible things to them, was…not thrilling.

But we’ll have the cats for the rest of their lives, which we hope will be long ones, and we have to start travelling sometime. So we agreed to undertake our recent nine-day, three-stop trip with some trepidation.

The most important part of our planning was finding the right people to care for them. It took a while, but eventually through a friend we were put in touch with Cat Ladies Cat Sitting. One of the owners came round, met us—though not the kitties, who stayed well away—got the lay of the land, listened patiently to all our frets, and reassured us even more patiently, and eventually we took the plunge and said, Okay let’s do this!

So we did.

And so many times during that nine-day trip one or both of us got worried—but we had twice-daily reports via WhatsApp, including proof-of-life photos, proof of food-eaten photos, the occasional video, and reassurance that neither was traumatised to the degree that they weren’t using their litter trays or grooming themselves or drinking water.

But, oh, some of the proof-of-life pixs hurt our hearts. Charlie is a brave soul, an explorer at heart, but the first 24-hours he looked totally freaked out and weird.

Before we go there, though, let’s backtrack a bit to before we left. George was looking particularly handsome and magisterial.

Except, y’know, when he wasn’t. Here he is trying not to yawn.

Charlie was in the best health he’s ever been: strong, lithe, glossy and absolutely unafraid of anything. And as usual his moods were mercurial.

But it turned out it was George who got the rodent—this time a mouse.

And Charlie vented his rage at Birdot.

Get off my lawn you ‘orrible little bird!

It was about this point that we dragged the suitases down from the loft and they knew something was up.

Stop this immediately. I do not approve.

And then, feeling like monsters, I prepared labelled photos for the Cat Ladies and uploaded them for all the sitters including a perspective shot showing their different sizes so they could be absolutely one hundred percent totally sure they could identify them.

Then we carefully put blankets on the bed, and set the mattress warmer on a timer, and sorted a new heating schedule so they would never be cold. And the next morning we left about 6:30.

We were as prepared as we could be. We had references for the Cat Ladies. We’d met one of them. And still we fretted. I’m guessing it was displaced anxiety about the travel—we had a couple of emotionally hard things to deal with, as well as the sheer misery of long, transcontinental travel—plus our own separation anxiety plus genuine worry about their mental state while we were gone.

The first report came in while we were still on the plane: litter changed, fresh food and water, both seen alive tucked safely under the bed.

We’re fine here, thank you

The next report came in about 6pm Seattle time, when we were still on the road to Stuart, FL: clean plates, used litter trays, and Charlie had ventured onto the top of the bed though George was sticking to his safe place.

Reports came in like clockwork, twice a day. Charlie warmed up pretty fast, going from fully freaked out to sniffing to graciously allowing a scritch the first day.

After that he was fine, rapidly moving from lounging to playing to demanding lap time.

George, as always was much, much more wary, staying under the bed for days, finally being brave enough to hide behind the bedroom curtain.

We knew that between them they were eating six cans of wet food a day, a lot of cat treats, and a cup or two of dried food, and the pictures of Charlie showed he hadn’t doubled in size, so we knew George was eating. Gradually he moved from the bed to the bedroom windowsill to the living room windowsill. Finally, on the very last day he sat at the end of the hallway, unprotected by anything except Charlie.

And then we came home. I wasn’t sure what to expect: Cold shoulder? Fear because we should be dead? Having our eyeballs torn out? In the end they both came galloping over, yelled at us comprehensively for five minutes—where have you been?! why did you go?! did you know strangers were here?!—then ate themselves insensible and slept near us for two hours. When they woke up they both came immediately came onto our respective laps and we all sat there smiling foolishly for a while. That night they slept jammed against us on the bed. And now, three days later, it’s as though we never went away.

So, well, I suppose there’s no excuse to not travel anymore. But I’m sure there’ll be another kitten report before that. Meanwhile, amuse yourself with previous Tales of Charlie and George, and have a lovely autumn.