True cat-lovers transport pets properly

A friend of mine recently lost one of his cats to heart disease. To him, it was like losing a family member.

“Love is love,” he said, even if it was a black-and-white “tuxedo” cat and not a human being. “He’s irreplaceable.”

I can relate; I love animals, too. But can we claim to love animals when we let them roam around inside a moving vehicle?

While steering my way out of the grocery store parking lot, I couldn’t help but notice a woman parked, blocking the main entrance with a half-dozen cars stopped behind her honking their horns.

No one knew what she was doing, until a cat hopped up onto the dashboard. Apparently he liked the view from beneath the brake pedal much better than from anywhere else in the car.

At the first set of lights, I watched her struggle with the feisty feline, pushing and shoving this oversized orange-and-white tabby off the steering wheel, off her lap, off her shoulder and out of her line of view.

The light turned green, but she didn’t proceed through the intersection.

Of course, she was completely oblivious to the half dozen drivers behind her who were very willing to help her out with the cat if she wasn’t going to move.

It’s one thing if this woman struggles with the cat when she’s parked or idling at a red light, but what happens when she’s driving along, maybe on a two-lane street and curiosity gets the best of Garfield and he/she/it decides it wants to play?

Funny you should ask.

I’ll tell you exactly what happens. The woman is caught off guard and she is forced to fight with Mr. Whiskers, swerve and lose her focus — and control of the car — while she’s driving.

I would hate to be that driver in an oncoming lane.

I understand that for some people the thought of leaving their pet alone at home — even if they’re just running to the pet store for more kitty litter — is heartbreaking.

But the whole time I watched this woman struggle with her feline, I couldn’t help but wonder why. Let us suppose that there was no danger to anyone else on the road. Yes, let’s just forget that little detail for a moment.

According to the experts, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, you should never let your cat loose in the car.

So what are you supposed to do?

1) Buy a secure carrying case. I checked and they’re not that expensive. If you want to call them your “baby,” treat them like one. You wouldn’t travel with a child in a car without using a proper car seat, would you?

2) Place a blanket or towel inside the carrier so your cat doesn’t bounce off the walls, literally, when you hit a speed bump or pothole.

3) On your way out of the house, don’t let your cat see the car. Generally speaking, cats have a strong fear of cars … although my roof is sometimes covered with cat footprints. Cover the carrying case with a blanket until you’re inside and purring along (sorry, I couldn’t resist). If it’s possible, position the carrier so that your cat has a clear view of you, not the window. Mr. Whiskers will become excited and want to flee (or throw up) if he sees the sky whizzing by in a blur.

4) Place the carrier on a flat surface to keep the assembly from bouncing around.

5) Play the radio softly (not Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever,” if you can help it) to mask unfamiliar traffic noises that could upset kitty. Or talk to it/him/her in reassuring tones.

If you’re going to foolishly ignore PETA’s suggestion to use a carrier, never open a window or door. Cats aren’t as comfortable as dogs when it comes to traveling in a car. A dog might stick its head out the window, but a cat will most likely jump out.

If you really, really insist on ignoring PETA’s advice, remember, you’re risking your safety and that of your fellow drivers, not to mention your furry friend. If your pet really is a member of the family, treat him like one.

Among her numerous accomplishments, Courtney Hansen is the author of the “Garage Girl’s Guide,” the host of Spike TV’s “PowerBlock,” the former host of TLC’s “Overhaulin'” and a writer with Wheelbase Communications. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

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