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The Elbert Files: Red cats and road trips


Our son, Craig, did something this summer that Amy and I have never attempted during our 46 years of married life. He took his family cat, Reggie, on vacation. 

The trip began with what should have been a relatively short, two-hour drive from where they live in Brooklyn, N.Y., to the Long Island shore. 

Lauren, Craig’s wife, is the better driver, so she was at the wheel. 

The cat was in a soft cat carrier on Craig’s lap. About the time they got on the interstate, Reggie peed and threw up, soaking the bottom of the carrier and Craig’s pants and filling the car with a stench.

The cat’s activity triggered stomach-emptying responses in our grandchildren, a 5-year-old and a 2 1/2-year old. It wasn’t a one-time deal. Multiple eruptions and pull-overs for cleanups followed, turning a two-hour drive into a five-hour road trip from hell.

I’ve always loved the movie “Harry and Tonto,” in which a retired widower played by Art Carney takes his red cat, Tonto, on a cross-country road trip. During the trip, Tonto, of course, has an accident, proving to me that it is not a good idea to mix cats with cars. 

The only time Amy and I ever took any of our 13 cats on a car trip longer than to the vet was when we moved from Davenport to Des Moines in 1975.

We’d just gotten our first cat, a kitten we named Otis.  

We were driving separate cars with Amy in the lead. Otis started out underneath an upside-down laundry basket, but he cried so much that Amy let him out — a big mistake, because he perched next to her headrest for the remainder of the trip and yowled in her ear. 

Like Reggie, Otis was red. But unlike Reggie, who is a short-haired, street-smart cat, Otis was a long-haired Persian, descended from show cats. 

I had never been around cats before, but quickly bonded with Otis, who as a kitten slept on my forehead. He also liked to climb up and curl around my neck when I was on the phone. 

Otis was bred to be an indoor cat, but once he got a taste of outdoors, you couldn’t hold him back. We initially tried putting him on a leash that we tied to a concrete block. But we gave that up after he climbed a crabapple tree and fell, nearly hanging himself. 

From that day, he had the run of the yard and surrounding territory. Otis was fearless. I’ll never forget the day he ran up the street and into our front yard with a large dog in pursuit. The dog stopped and turned around when he saw me with Otis standing smugly between my legs. 

When Otis passed, we got another red Persian, Winston, whom Craig could cuddle in bed like a teddy bear. 

Winston wasn’t much for outdoors, but he loved to sit belly-forward in a stuffed chair with one of his forearms on the armrest, like a human. 

Our current red cat, Cooper, is, like Reggie, a street cat. As a kitten, Cooper was rescued in 2011 from a downtown parking ramp and deposited at our vet’s office, which is where we got him. 

When Cooper arrived, we still had Alex, a tabby Persian, who was puzzled when he head-butted his way into our bedroom and found a small red ball of fur. That small ball of fur grew to more than 20 pounds, and while Cooper liked to play with Alex, he knew his place and was never overly aggressive.

I’ve read that roughly 80% of red cats are male. 

Amy also claims that most red cats have sweet personalities. I don’t know what color has to do with it, but Cooper always had more social skills than his gray striped brother, whom the vet shipped off to a farm. 

The good news about Craig and Lauren’s vacation is that the ride back to Brooklyn was in the evening. Everyone, including Reggie, slept peacefully.

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