Cat on a hot tin boat (or why you should definitely have a ship’s cat)

keeping cats on boats

Last night I spent a dreadful sleepless night. Geoff had gone out at around 8pm and hadn’t come back. This was unusual, and it was only the third night at our new mooring. At 1am I was staring out into the pitch darkness of the towpath, crying out in a high-pitched mewl: ‘Geoff! Ge-off!’ But there was no high-pitched mewl in response.

I barely slept (a situation not helped by the goods trains roaring past at regular intervals ALL NIGHT). Several times I thought I heard Geoff come in through the cat flap, or outside the back door – but he was never there. Finally I stopped trying to convince myself that every sound and shadow was him. I told myself that I shouldn’t get so attached. That people (and cats) move on. Things don’t last forever. Et cetera et cetera et cetera. That I would be fine and life would go on even if Geoff didn’t come back. Waah.

By 5am I was utterly reconciled to the fact that I would never see him again.

Reconciled

At 6am I got up, since it was getting light. And when I walked through the boat, feeling utterly bereft… there was Geoff, curled up on the sofa, wondering what all the fuss was about.

By 5am I was utterly reconciled to the fact that I would never see him again.

I go through this heart-wringing rigmarole, or variations thereof, whenever we move to a new location (which, since moving onto a boat, we’ve done quite a lot). I share this with you only because I don’t want to fob you off with the idea that keeping cats on boats doesn’t come with its own set of worries.

It’s not so much the boat that’s the issue; it’s the moving. Every time we move I spend a few fraught days worrying about Geoff and whether he will find his way home. So far he always does.

Landlubber

Geoff has been my faithful companion since coming to live on a boat. He’s not a young cat (he’s about 10) and he’s not even been my cat for very long. I adopted him just a couple of years ago, after my previous cats died and Geoff just turned up on my doorstep… and never left. Until earlier this year, he’s always lived on land.

It’s not so much the boat that’s the issue; it’s the moving.

When we first moved on board he seemed rather confused and nonplussed by the whole thing. He showed no interest in going outside for a couple of weeks, preferring rather to find his footing in the new home environment. When he finally did step out on deck, you have never seen a cat so utterly freaked out as was Geoff when he went out the door and found nothing but water all around…

Submersed

Now, Geoff has fallen in, just once, which you can read about here in Geoff’s very well-written (for a cat) Letter from the Editor… no harm was done, and he managed to pull himself to safety up the relatively shallow banks. I’m afraid I don’t have a cat-sized fishing net on board, but buying one would probably be a useful investment. A heavy-duty net much like this one available from Amazon ought to do the job.

I’m afraid I don’t have a cat-sized fishing net on board, but buying one would probably be a useful investment.

Geoff doesn’t like the actual process of moving very much – you know, the bit where the boat actually moves – because he’s locked inside the boat and isn’t allowed out. When going through locks, the noise and thumping inside the boat can be terrifying. The first time we made a journey, Geoff literally wet himself in terror. He made a puddle on the floor where he was sitting.

Last week, though, I saw a boat pass that had a cat sitting happily in the open cratch, and the cat wasn’t bothered in the least. I would like very much for me and Geoff to achieve this level of sanguinity while cruising.

Buttered paws

Cats are known to be territorial creatures, and there are lots of old wives’ tales about needing to butter their paws whenever they go out somewhere in a new place, so that they can retrace their steps. There is other, more conventional wisdom, about having to keep cats in for 2 weeks whenever you move house.

Personally, I have never found this to be true.

Before Geoff I had two other cats for fifteen years (Misty and Polly, RIP), and whenever we moved house – which we did every couple of years – they went out within the first 24 hours. They spent an hour or two sussing out the neighbourhood – admittedly this was always an hour or two of abject anxiety for me – and then came right back and settled into their new routines.

The first time we made a journey, Geoff literally wet himself in terror.

Having said all that, Geoff voluntarily stayed inside for nearly two weeks when we first moved onto the boat, and only gradually felt confident to go outside. So sometimes you need to play it by ear.

Even keel…

The main thing that I have always found to be key in terms of keeping cats on an even keel (so to speak), is to make sure the home environment is as stable, calm and familiar as possible, as well as ensuring adequate supplies of favourite foods and extra cuddles (or cwtches, as we called it when I was growing up in Wales). Whenever we move, I find that Geoff likes to spend the first night or two sleeping on me, as if doing so provides extra reassurance in a strange situation. All my cats have liked to go for walks with me (unleashed, of course), and I think that also helps them feel established in a new territory.

Ironically, the safer Geoff feels, the further he wanders (and the more panicky I get – at least initially). When we moor somewhere with lots of dogs about, he doesn’t stray far from the boat. But when he’s got a free run, it’s a different story.

Someone did suggest that I try putting him in a harness for my peace of mind, but I don’t think Geoff would appreciate that. After all, he’s not a dog. If he doesn’t want to live with me or on a boat, he’s free to leave.

So far, touch wood, he chooses to stay…

 

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hello…

I'm Victoria. Hi.

I'm afraid I write most of the nonsense on this site, apart from the stuff written by Geoff. (Geoff is the cat in orange.)

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