Sophia's Camping Adventure

Laura and I love to go camping in the redwoods. It calms and refreshes us, and we try and go as often as we can. Which isn't very often.

Unfortunately, my sweet 14 year old cat Sophia has CRF (Chronic Renal Failure) and requires oral medication twice daily, plus a subcutaneous (under the skin) injection of fluids once daily. Giving the oral meds and injection is no big deal and it only takes a couple minutes a day to do it all, but it has to be done EVERY day, so it makes it very tough to take a vacation.

It's not really practical to have someone else come take care of her daily, and I would have a hard time enjoying my vacation worrying if she was getting her meds ok, and eating ok, and if whoever was taking care of her was getting the sub-Q fluids the right temperature and if.... oh sigh, there's just no way I could fully enjoy a vacation without worrying about her.

So the choices for us seem to be either never go on vacation again, or take Sophia with us when we go.

When I asked around about people taking their cats camping I found quite a few folks who have successfully taken their cats camping for years and had a great time with it. Some cats apparently do very well with the camping adventure and seem to enjoy it.
I also got some serious warnings from folks who said I should NEVER take a cat camping and cited some very good reasons for not doing it. One lady wrote me a very sad and sobering story about how her father had taken the family camping (including her cat) when she was a child, and that the cat had become lost and they had to leave without it and never saw it again... a truly terrible ending to their camping adventure.

Obviously, traveling with a cat is not something to be taken lightly. Especially a cat with a chronic illness that needs daily medication.
I thought about it for a long time before we decided to try it and I think that a successful trip needs two ingredients. 1) The right cat. 2) Good planning.

There's little doubt that of all the cats I've lived with, Sophia seems the most suited to traveling. She's a fairly calm cat, not easily startled by loud noises or sudden movements. She's got an easy going personality, and she loves and trusts Laura and I. I really believe that she would rather go on the road and be with us than to stay home alone or with relative strangers. She's also the smartest cat I've known and she figures out new situations quickly and she also knows that when there's trouble she should run to papa for safety.

There's no way I would ever take our Mr. Maxwell camping... he's far too spooky and he panics when there's any sudden movements or noises. If he ever got away in the woods, he'd be gone like a shot. But if Sophia got loose I believe she would come back to camp when I called her.

So, after much thought I decided we had the first ingredient, "The Right Cat".

The second part is easier... good planning and preparation. For us that started with making sure that we had a good harness and leash that she can't escape from, and making sure she was comfortable with wearing it and wouldn't try to "Houdini" herself out of it.
I ordered an "H" type harness that has one loop around the chest behind the front legs and another loop around the neck, with a strap between them. This type seems to be the most secure and least likely to escape from.

Sophia practiced wearing her harness around the house for awhile before we went out. She does very well with it and doesn't freak out or get "boneless" when I put it on her. She just stands still while I put it on her and then goes about her business. She really doesn't seem to mind it at all.


Jane supervises to make sure that Sophia's harness is tight enough. Jane would like to see it REALLY good and tight....

After Sophia had worn the harness around the house for several days then we took her for a short car ride. We drove to a couple local places where we could let her out on the leash and see how she reacted to being out and about in a strange place. She did great, both in the van and out on the leash. She seemed curious and "head up and ears forward" while we walked her outside and when we walked her down a trail one day and she heard something that spooked her a little she turned around and headed right back up the trail and towed me across the parking lot straight back to the van. She knew right where to go if there was a problem. That's a good sign.

Once we were comfortable that she was ok both in the car and out in the open on a leash, then it was time to start thinking about a "real" overnight trip and start gathering up all the things we might need.


We took Sophias trusty Pet Taxi along just in case we needed it, but we never used it.


I also took along a fairly large cage, in case we wanted to pen her up outside. We didn't use that either.


The cage collapses into a fairly compact bundle that fits nicely under the rear cushion in the back of our VW for travel.

In addition to the harness, leash, cages, and other "containment devices" we made sure to take all the comforts of home. Her bed, enough towels and blankets to line or cover the cages, her food and water dishes, her favorite "scratching mat", and of course all her food, medicines and syringes and paraphernalia. And plenty of rope to make a "run" for her at camp so she could have plenty of freedom.

Friday morning we hit the road. Laura has to work and will meet us later in the day. For now it's just a man and his cat, on the road and going camping. It's about 60 miles to our destination, and normally about a 90 minute drive, a little less if we don't stop at Gowans Fruit Stand for some fruit or a jug of apple juice. Today, CalTrans is resurfacing HWY128 and we end up with a 30 minute delay. Sophia is excellent in the car, and alternately watches out the window or lays on the floor or on the front seat. She meowed a few times going down our awful dirt road with all the potholes, washboard, and noise and vibration, but once we hit good asphalt she just relaxed and slept or watched the view out the window.


Yippee! After an uneventful ride (other than the 30 minute delay for roadwork) we made it to camp, popped the top up, and strung a rope "run" from the Westy to a tree so that I could hook Sophia up to it and let her have a good sized area to roam and still have access to the inside of the van for a safe place.


The view from the van towards the back of the campsite. That large fallen stump on the left was hollow, and made a fascinating place for Miss Sophia to sit and watch the world from.


Investigating the campsite. There's all kinds of fascinating smells in this place!


Sophia poses next to the large hollow redwood stump.


There were several logs and stumps that needed to be carefully investigated.


This place is so interesting! If only this leash was longer....


Inside the hollow stump was a nice place to sit and watch the activity at the picnic table.


What do you do when you're in the middle of the forest and nature calls? Find a litter box! We like campgrounds that have good facilities...


Any clever cat can tell you that afternoons are for napping. I brought a small tent to store odds and ends of food and gear in, and I set Sophias bed up in it during the day. A happy sheltered place to sleep for a while after lunch. And a good way to keep the chipmunks out of your snacks!


Yay! It's Friday afternoon and Laura is finally here. Now the laughs and fun will begin!


Sigh... Cameras are like guns. There's a "good end" and a "bad end". I MUCH prefer to be on the back end of a camera than the front end. Laura caught me here with a rumbly cat on my lap.


Sophia says I shouldn't sit around camp ALL day, and that anyone as fat as me should try to get at least a few minutes of exercise once in a while. So off for a walk we go....


Sometimes we just wander around and sniff the grass in one small area. Papa is starting to look a little bored here. It all smells the same to me..


I'd rather like to go back to camp and have a beer. Sophia would rather wander around for a while longer. But when it comes down to a tug of war between Soph and I, smart people will bet their money on me. I'm older and have more experience than her so I win more often.


Headed back to camp.


The state park service (in their great wisdom), put a large number of these nice redwood scratching posts in the park for the kitties to sharpen their claws on. Sophia really appreciated that feature and used them regularly. The scratching posts also serve the added benefit of keeping the humans from driving their vehicles in forbidden territory.


In the early evening, it's time to give Sophia her sub-Q. The pop top in the Westy offers enough head space to get good elevation on the bag. We get in the van and close all the doors so she can't escape, then I remove her harness and we do the sub-Q thing.


When the lid over the stove and sink area is closed, it makes a nice work table to put Sophia on for her sub-Q. It's almost exactly the same height as the table we use for her sub-Q at home. After we are done, I brush her thoroughly (which she loves!) and then buckle her harness back on, attach the lead and open the doors and let her go back out to play.


For dinner, we grill some beautiful huge shrimp for Sophia. Laura and I eat the leftovers.


After dinner it's time to relax and gaze at the stars or stare into the fire for awhile.


Everyone is getting sleepy, and even the photos are feeling a little fuzzy. It must be almost bed time.


Rumbly, happy cat.


It's bedtime at last. Laura and I sleep outside under the stars, but Sophia sleeps locked inside the van so she can't get away at night and so she can have her harness removed at night. She has a nice cozy bed, which I have fitted with a custom made small low wattage heater to provide the gentlest bottom heat to the bed. The heater is thermostatically controlled to provide a nice low heat and it runs on 12 volts so it can plug into a car cigarette lighter or run off of a small portable battery. Papa doesn't want his fuzzy girl to catch a chill !


At first morning light I get up and put Sophias harness back on her, hook up the lead and let her out of the van. She wanders around camp for a few minutes and then comes and crawls into bed with us. At home it's common for her to burrow under the blankets and lay with us for a while in the morning. Camping is no different I guess. When we humans finally climb out in search of our morning coffee and food, Sophia stays tucked away in our bed until the sun comes up. Somewhere in the middle of that huge sleeping bag is a cats nose and lips.


Sigh... it's finally Sunday morning and time to pack up and go home. Sophia spends a lot of time waiting in the van while we pack. I guess she wants to make sure we don't leave her behind. As if we possibly would....


Sophia takes one last look around to make sure we haven't forgotten anything or left any garbage behind, then it's time to head for home.

The ride home was uneventful. Sophia laid on the floor or on the seat of the van most of the way. She got up and looked out the window a few times and then went back to laying down. I don't think that the trip in the van bothers her much. She just seems to take it all in stride. She's such a good girl.


Home again

Since we've been home, Sophia has had the harness on again a couple times. I show it to her and let her sniff it, and then ask if I can put it on her and she just stands and waits patiently while I put it on her.

They day after we got back, I was unloading some stuff from the van and Sophia jumped in and sniffed around and "helped" me clean it out. She has jumped in and nosed about several times since our trip, so apparently she wasn't too traumatized by her camping trip and the time she spent in the van. She's a good smart girl and she knows that if she's with me I will do my best to keep her from harm. Honestly, I think Sophia enjoyed our little trip, the nice change of scenery and the reprieve from the boredom of home. I think she's a happy camper.

I hope we get a chance to go camping together with our fuzzy girl again this year!



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