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hemingway home catHi, my name is Ashley, and I’m a crazy cat lady.

Okay, I like to think I’m not too crazy, but I did adopt a fifth cat last weekend. Of course, I still love to travel, so I got to wondering where my fellow crazy cat ladies and I might go on vacation if we wanted to indulge our passion. Assuming we’re not seeking a fur-free escape, here’s a small list of possibilities.

De Poezenboot (The Cat Boat), Amsterdam, Netherlands
Located along the Singel Canal, this floating cat sanctuary is home to up to 50 cats at any given time. Started by Henriette van Weelde in 1966 when she took a family of stray cats into her residence, De Poezenboot quickly expanded to a barge and then a house boat as the number of cats in need of homes continued to grow. You can stop in to see the kitties, make donations and buy souvenir T-shirts from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. daily, except Sundays and Wednesdays, at Singel 38 G.

Our Favorite Hotels in Amsterdam

Tashirojima Island (Cat Island), Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Japan
Years ago, when silk production was at its peak there, the island’s inhabitants used cats to keep the mouse population to a minimum. (Mice are a threat to silkworms.) Stray cats now outnumber the island’s 100 residents. You can access the island via ferry from Ishinomaki City.

Hemingway Home, Key West, Florida, United States
This one will appeal to crazy cat ladies and literature buffs alike. Home to the late author Ernest Hemingway, this historic building — also a museum — has between 40 and 50 cats in residence. All of the felines are polydactyls (or carry the polydactyl gene), which means many have paws with what appear to be tiny, furry thumbs. It’s said that many of these cats are descendents of Hemingway’s original pet cat, Snowball, who was also a polydactyl. Tours of the house are available every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 907 Whitehead Street.

Learn More About Key West

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas, United States
A landmark that housed missionaries in the 1700’s, the Alamo is most famous for its role in the Texas Revolution. Resident cats have roamed the area before, but perhaps the most famous is the Alamo’s current feline, Clara Carmack or C.C. (named after Clara Driscoll and Mary Carmack, who played important roles in the building’s preservation). Visit for a dose of history and a possible C.C. sighting every day, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 300 Alamo Plaza. (Read about one IndependentTraveler.com reader’s quest to see C.C. the Alamo Cat!)

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

dog in carrier When I moved back to the United States from Romania, where I’d been living for two and a half years, I brought home a new husband and, just as importantly, our cat. We’d rescued her from an animal shelter two years before and there was no way we were leaving her behind. So we jumped through all the hoops presented to us — finding an FAA-compliant crate outside of the U.S., getting our cat micro-chipped, having a vet create a pet passport (basically just a record of her health and vaccines) — before my husband crated her up one November morning and brought her with him to the airport for his Lufthansa flights from Bucharest to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to New York City.

Fourteen hours later my husband and cat arrived safely at JFK. It never really occurred to me that he would land safely and she wouldn’t. But after reading about a recent investigation by NBC Bay Area, I’m counting my lucky stars it turned out so well.

Turns out lots of animals don’t make it. Most stories don’t get into the news, but some do — like the case of former model Maggie Rizer. Back in September 2012, her 2-year-old golden retriever died during a flight from the East Coast to San Francisco.

Perhaps the most famous of all mistreated pets was Jack, the Norwegian forest cat that disappeared in JFK airport after an American Airlines baggage handler dropped his crate. Though he eventually turned up after falling through the ceiling in a customs area, he was so sick and dehydrated that he had to be put down.

Sadly, these stories are not as uncommon as we’d like to think. According to the NBC Bay Area investigation, 302 animals have died, been injured or disappeared while in the care of commercial airlines over a six-year span. The most common cause of death as determined by the airlines was “unknown.” Other common causes — again, as determined by the airlines themselves — were pre-existing medical conditions, escapes from the kennels, self-infliction and natural deaths.

The investigation even revealed which airlines have the worst record. Delta Airlines saw the most tragic outcomes, followed by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental and United (those last two are now one single entity).

Traveling with Pets

So, does knowing all this make me think twice about flying my cat in the future? You bet it does! What’s worse than knowing that my animal may not be safe in an airline’s care is reading about how the airlines do everything in their power to deny any responsibility for the deaths. Going forward, if I can’t drive to a destination with my cat, then she’s just going to have to fly coach with me.

Have you ever flown your pet somewhere? What was your experience like? And do you think airlines have a responsibility to get your pet to their ultimate destination safe and sound? Weigh in below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

Last week, we published a slideshow of the World’s Ugliest Luggage, highlighting suitcases that challenge the boundaries of taste, color, common sense … or all of the above. In response, reader Dona Stewart sent in a few ugly luggage photos of her own:

ugly suitcases


ugly suitcases


Gotta love that 70’s powder blue!

But it turns out that these less-than-stylish suitcases are being used for a higher purpose. Said Stewart, “I collected all of those suitcases (priced under $5 each, most $1) for my favorite small dog rescue. They made dog beds out of them, truly an up-cycle project. They sell on Etsy.com for $50 – $150 apiece.

“The idea to use the castoffs as a pet bed came from observing one’s pet jump into a suitcase opened for packing, often with a sad look,” Stewart continued. “My little Yorkie, Lana, jumped right into her suitcase bed the moment I placed it on the floor. Her ‘bed’ serves a dual purpose; when she is ready to go stay with her pet sitter while we travel, I use it to pack her ‘stuff.'”

dog suitcase yorkie


All together now: “Aww!” We give this idea two paws up for turning travel trash into treasure.

Traveling with Pets

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

– written by Sarah Schlichter

pet carrierTraveling cats, dogs and other animals in carriers aren’t an unusual sight at airports around the U.S. But when Lynn Jones, a baggage handler at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, saw a hunting dog with bloody paws and sores all over its body, she couldn’t bring herself to carry out business as usual. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, Jones felt strongly that the animal was in no shape to fly and refused to load its carrier on the plane. After more than five years on the job, Jones says, she was fired then and there.

Editor’s Note, December 7, 2011: According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, Airport Terminal Services has apologized for the incident and offered Jones her job back, including retroactive pay. Jones has not decided whether to accept.

Jones was employed by Airport Terminal Services, a contractor at the airport. According to Jones, her supervisor instructed her to put the dog on the plane because there was nothing wrong with its paperwork and its physical condition was irrelevant. But as a pet owner herself (she has three dogs, three cats and a bird), Jones felt she had to speak up. “Everyone who saw it, the TSA people, the Airport Police officers, the girls at the ticket counter, was concerned,” she told the Gazette-Journal. “The dog was so weak and torn up. It didn’t look like it could survive the flight.”

Thanks to Jones’s conviction, airport police reported the incident to a local animal services organization, and the dog was given medical care before being sent back to its owner (a hunter in Texas).

Traveling with Pets

It’s been a tough year for traveling animals. In August, a cat named Jack made headlines when he escaped his carrier at JFK Airport. Although he was found two months later, he had developed a severe illness brought on by malnourishment and eventually had to be euthanized.

Do you think pets should be permitted to fly in airplane cargo? Speak your mind in the comments!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

 Jack the CatJack, the fluffy orange feline that disappeared in John F. Kennedy International Airport about two months ago, has finally surfaced.

On August 25, Jack escaped from his pet carrier in the baggage area of JFK. The cat’s owner, Karen Pascoe, had checked Jack and a second cat for an American Airlines flight to California. Shortly after turning over her two pets, Pasco received an alarming call. An airline employee informed Pasco that one of her cats had somehow gotten out of his carrier. Jack had been unaccounted for until yesterday.

A note on the American Airlines Facebook page reports, “Jack was found in the customs room and was immediately taken by team members to a local veterinarian. American’s priority was advising Jack’s owner, Ms Pascoe, which occurred immediately after he was identified. Now we are also happy to advise all other Friends of Jack of this news.”

The “Friends of Jack” to whom American refers include more than 17,000 Facebook followers — many of whom have expressed growing anger toward the airline over the past nine weeks. Supporters declared October 15 and 22 “Jack the Cat Awareness Day,” and volunteers gathered at JFK to pass out flyers and search for the missing pet.

According to the official Jack the Cat Facebook page, Jack is currently receiving medical care at a veterinarian’s office in Queens, New York. The cat has been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, a severe illness that can occur as a result of malnourishment.

Jack’s journey is far from over. Upon recovery, the cat will fly to California to be reunited with his owner. American Airlines has offered to fly Jack home for free. But something tells us Jack might prefer a different carrier.

Traveling with a pet can have its pitfalls, and Jack’s dramatic story certainly serves as a cautionary tale to travelers thinking about checking an animal on a flight. For useful tips on hitting the road with a furry companion, read Traveling with Pets.

– written by Caroline Costello

jack the cat missingWhen the cat’s away, its owner will worry — as American Airlines discovered after a kitty named Jack mysteriously vanished at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Thursday. Jack went missing from the baggage claim area shortly after his owner, Karen Pascoe, checked him and another cat in for a flight to California with AA.

According to Pascoe, when she last saw her cats, an American Airlines employee was putting plastic ties around the kennel door. After she went through security, she got a call from AA to tell her that Jack was gone. Pascoe helped with the search for more than an hour before leaving on a later flight, assured that AA would keep looking for her cat. Days later, Jack is still missing — and no one can tell her how he escaped.

The search has spawned a Facebook page, Jack The Cat is Lost in AA Baggage at JFK, which has more than 9,000 feline-loving fans as of this writing. Many have chimed in with messages of support (“He looks like a wonderful fellow. Hope he’s found safe and well,” writes Laurie Mayer), while others have directed vitriol at American Airlines for, well, letting the cat out of the bag. “AA would not want to deal with my wrath if they lost one of my cats,” writes Stacy Spieker. “I hope, Jack, you are found safe and unharmed. Shame on AA. There is NOOOOOO excuse!!!”

5 Travel Ideas for Pet Lovers

American Airlines has responded to the torrent of bad publicity by posting updates on its own Facebook page about its efforts to recover Jack. To name a few: Humane traps have been set, footage from CCTV cameras in the baggage claim area is being studied and Pascoe will be flown back from California this weekend to help with the continuing search.

Jack may be evading the army of airline employees on his tail, but he’s found the time to set up shop on Twitter. “One thing @AmericanAir hasn’t thought of … litterbox. Hope this green dress wasn’t important. #luggage” tweeted @jackthelostcat yesterday.

Joking aside, the incident offers a troubling cautionary tale for traveling pet owners. While many animals fly safely every year, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that 17 pets were killed and 5 injured on U.S. airlines between January and June 2011 (the latest dates for which statistics were available). If your pet is small enough, it’s almost always safer to carry him or her onboard with you rather than take a chance on the cargo hold.

See more tips for keeping pets safe while traveling. And if you find yourself at JFK in the next few days … keep an eye out for Jack.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

dog cat suitcase pet travelThe screaming baby, the armrest hog, the big sweaty guy who forgot to put on deodorant — these top many travelers’ lists of undesired airplane seatmates. But one reader recently wrote in to complain about a fellow passenger of the furry, four-legged variety:

“On an Alaska flight, a cat was placed behind me. I was not asked if it was all right with me. I have medical problems with cats and do not want to travel with cats or dogs. … I should have been told at the time of reservation that animals were going to be onboard, so I could have made a decision not to travel on that flight. … Let animals stay in the cargo area where they belong. They leave behind scents and hair.”

It’s true that the rights of traveling pet owners currently trump the rights of passengers who start sneezing as soon as they even look at a cat or dog. Part of that, of course, has to do with money; airlines rake in anywhere from $75 (Southwest) to $125 (Delta and American Airlines) every time someone brings his or her pet into the cabin. But it can also be a matter of safety. While thousands of people ship their pets in the cargo hold every year, there are plenty of horror stories about animals dying during the process — often due to extreme hot or cold temperatures while the plane is sitting on the ground. (Cargo hold climate controls kick in only when the plane is actually in flight.)

So what’s an allergic traveler to do? First off, when you check in for your flight, ask an airline staffer whether there will be any animals onboard. If so, the agent may be able to help you find an alternate flight. Of course, change fees or other penalties may apply.

If you’re on the plane before you realize you’ve been seated next to someone’s furry friend, speak with the flight attendant — he or she may be able to find someone else willing to switch seats with you, especially if you have a pressing health concern.

Do you think it’s fair for pets to be allowed on planes? Vote in our poll or leave a comment below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Admit it. While you’re jetsetting across continents, dancing in bars and dining on exotic delicacies, deep down you’re thinking about faithful Sir Barksalot, who is back at home in a boarding kennel, whining at a picture of you.

You’re not alone. On Facebook, we asked our readers to tell us what they miss the most about home while traveling, and the majority of respondents revealed that above all, they miss their pets.

I must concur. There isn’t much unconditional love to be found in hotel lobbies and airport waiting lounges. Sure, customs’ drug-sniffing canines are cute, but we’re not supposed to pet them (which I discovered the hard way). When you need to scratch your pet itch while traveling, consider the following options.

dog bark park innIn the Doghouse
Retreating into the belly of a giant dog may be taking the whole “man’s best friend” thing a little too far. Nevertheless, lodging is available inside the world’s largest beagle at the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho. Visitors are invited to “Experience the Dog!” by circling three times before dozing off in a dog-themed room inside a massive two-story canine named “Sweet Willy.” There’s even a cozy loft inside Willy’s head, where one can squirrel away and think dog-like thoughts. Don’t forget to bring your dog-print pajamas and collection of self-help books.


cat boatPuss and Boat
Amsterdam’s De Poezenboot (or in English, the Cat Boat) is the only houseboat-cum-animal sanctuary in the Netherlands (and possibly in the world, I’d wager) — and it’s open for tours. Anyone who’s been inside a Dutch houseboat knows they’re typically quite small, so the tour is brief. You walk in, you look at a room full of cats, and then you leave. When I last visited the Cat Boat, one particularly angry feline growled at me from atop his cage while I stood at a distance, calling to him sweetly. A staff member told me, “He’s beautiful, but the nasty thing’ll bite your hand off.” Despite this one unbalanced animal, I got my cat fix — there were a few less menacing creatures onboard.

cat cafeI’ll Have a Large Coffee and a Domestic Shorthair
Tokyo, land of avant-garde pop-culture trends and humanoid robots, is igniting a fad that combines two popular pastimes: cats and caffeine. At Tokyo’s cat cafes, dozens of resident felines weave between the legs of coffee-drinking cat people, and patrons pay hourly fees to pet purring balls of fur while sipping on lattes. According to CNN, as many as 100 cat cafes are operating in Japan.





dog cruiseCaptain Canine

Why not free Sir Barksalot from his kennel confines and take him on a cruise? There’s only one ship that permits pet-owners to bring their four-legged counterparts onboard: Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. The luxury ship boasts an onboard pet kennel, plus a “Pets on Deck” program that provides fresh biscuits, beds and blankets, pet toys and more. Fees range from $500 to $700 per cruise, which isn’t too shabby considering at-home kennel costs can be comparable. Plus, professional cruise photos of you and your Airedale make fabulous Christmas cards.


cowHave a Cow

Farm Sanctuary, a shelter for farm animals rescued from stockyards and slaughterhouses, has a charming bed and breakfast at its Watkins Glen shelter in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Guests stay in private cabins (daily vegan breakfast is included) and are invited to help out with farm chores and explore the Sanctuary grounds. Choose to sponsor an animal prior to your visit and you’ll get a V.I.P. tour that includes a personal meet-and-greet with the cow, duck, goat, chicken or other barnyard creature you’ve generously funded. Companion animals are welcome.


For more information about hitting the road with your dog or cat, read Traveling with Pets.

–written by Caroline Costello