Kitty! Where Are You??
By Deborah Hansen
Sometimes the most difficult step of feline boarding is getting the cat to the facility. It does not matter how much we market and cater to felines, create a stimulating atmosphere, or challenge the kitties in our care mentally and physically, if the owner cannot get the feline to us, it is all for nothing.
When catering to cat owners, it is as much about what the owners do before their reservation as what your boarding facility does during the stay. The kitty needs to understand and be willing to participate in being transported to the boarding facility.
So, how does the owner convince the feline that being transported to your facility is a good thing?
Weeks before the boarding stay the owner needs to establish the carrier as a safe place, and then during the 24 hours leading up to the boarding reservation, take steps to make sure they can locate the kitty. Most importantly, the kitty must understand the carrier is not a scary contraption that is associated with negative experiences.
At one of my speaking events, I brought my cat and a client cat for demonstrations. My kitty was actually taking her morning nap in the carrier and all I had to do was close the door. My client took over an hour and had to get a neighbor’s assistance to get her kitty. The difference? My feline saw the carrier as just another object in the house. My client had her carrier in the garage, came rushing into the home with the big cold carrier and tried to swoosh the cat inside. That would terrify me, and it did terrify her cat.
When going somewhere, the carrier always seems to be the last step when, in reality, it should be the first step.
A quick recap from my article “Starting off on the Right Paw:” The carrier should be put in an active place in the home and ignored by the family for several weeks. When the kitty is in the carrier, positive reinforcement should be given. After the feline associates the carrier as a safe place where good things happen, it can be moved to a less active part of the home where the cat always has access. These steps will encourage the kitty to not only feel safe in the carrier, but to choose it as a nap spot. If the carrier is not currently in a place where the feline can use it as they choose, that is the first step in making the cat a willing participant in being transported to the boarding facility.
Most importantly is what happens in the feline’s life 24 hours before it is time to leave for boarding. Countless boarding reservations have been canceled because the cat could not be located. If the cat has outdoor privileges, it is important that it stays inside for 24 hours prior to the boarding appointment. I like to say three meals before the feline’s reservation is the time to stay inside. When a cat is outside and cannot be found for boarding, they will be exposed to the elements during the owner’s time out of town which is dangerous for the feline and stressful for the owner. Keeping a determined kitty inside for 24 hours probably will not be enjoyable, but it is important the owner understands it is for the feline’s safety.
About two hours before the owner leaves to bring Kitty to your facility, the cat needs to be put into a small room with the carrier. If the owners have done their carrier prep work, the feline will go into the carrier and take a nap. Ideally it should be a bathroom because bedrooms and laundry rooms have too many places to hide that the owner cannot easily get to. If the cat has the choice of napping behind the washing machine, under the middle of a bed or in the top of a closet verses their carrier, the choice is obvious. While a committed owner can retrieve the feline, the cat will be stressed and the owner may start their trip injured.
Now that we have ideas on the best ways to prepare cats for being transported to the boarding facility, how do we give this information to the owners?
Like with anything, the more ways the owners have this information, the more likely they are to follow through. At booking it is best to verbally explain a few key points, then refer them to a page on your website that goes over how to prepare for their boarding experience. In your reminder email or text, you should also give the link to the page on the website for these tips. If you do a reminder call, it is always a good idea to ask if they have tried your suggestions and encourage them to at least set the carrier out for their cat to explore.
Feline boarding is very important to assure the health and safety of cats when their owners are out of town. The most challenging part is physically getting the kitty into your care. The more you can do to help the owner prepare the cat for transport, the smoother and more consistent drop-off days will become.