To Ship Or Not To Ship . .
by TAMMY ROARK, Tamarakatz Somalis

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How do you decide whether or not you’re going to ship your cats or kittens in the cargo hold of a plane?

For me, the answer is easy. I do not ship my kitties in cargo. Period.

This was not always my policy.

When I first started out in the cat fancy about 10 years ago, pretty much every breeder I came in contact with shipped his or her cats. Some were shipping pets to new owners, some were shipping show cats/kittens to other breeders, and some were shipping their own females off to another breeder’s cattery for stud service.

It just seemed to be a pretty common practice.

I breed Somalis, which is definitely a minority breed, so if you’re not able to breed a female to a male within your own cattery, you can probably count on it needing to go somewhere far enough away for that stud service, that a plane trip is going to be included.

For my first litter, I didn’t have to make that decision. The female was bred to a male within my own house, and of the three kittens born, we kept two of them, and the other one went back to our mentor, who lives about 25 minutes from us. No plane trip…

Our second litter (same female) did involve shipping the female back and forth from Portland to California, but it was a short, direct flight, and everything went smoothly. Although several of the resulting kittens left as pets, they were all to homes within an hour or two's drive of our house.

Then came our first real “outside stud service”, with a female born from our first litter (one of my first kids!). I bravely took our girl, Meghan, to the airport (Portland, OR), and shipped her in cargo to the other breeder, who was kind enough to drive 3 hours to Dallas, so that Meghan could travel on a direct flight, and not have to change planes. (Thank you, Kathy!)

All went well, and she was shipped back to us in the middle part of her pregnancy, with four kittens delivered on time, safe and sound.

We repeated this breeding a year later, and did the same plane trips back and forth. There was a slight “scary” experience involved this time, as the other breeder found someone in the cargo pickup area at DFW opening Meghan’s carrier (in the midst of a vast, open warehouse!), just so they could “pet the pretty kitty”! YIKES! Luckily, Meghan didn’t bolt from the carrier, and end up lost. Whew… and her return trip back to us was uneventful, and again, a healthy litter of four kittens arrived right on time.

Meghan was an incredibly mellow cat, and handled the stress of being shipped very well. In hindsight, I think the “kitty gods” were just protecting me from my own stupidity…

She went on to become not only a grand champion, but a DM – and I can’t believe I risked shipping her around the country like that!

After those two successful back and forth shipments, we actually sold two kittens to a pet home back in Michigan. I shipped the boys together, in a 200 size carrier, on a direct flight to Detroit. I took them to the cargo office in Portland, and came SO close to taking them back at the last minute!

The boys were very nervous, HUGE eyes, and I felt like the worst kitty mom in the world, abandoning them at the airport. They did arrive safe and sound, but they were definitely traumatized by the experience. They do have a WONDERFUL pet home, and I’ve received regular updates and pictures of them for several years now.

But... they are the last cats I ever shipped in cargo. It was just more than I could handle, leaving the airport in tears, terrified something awful was going to happen to them.

That's when I began my no shipping policy.

Since that time, I have still done several outside stud services, but I have either flown the girl to the other breeder myself, with the cat in cabin with me, or paid for the other breeder to fly to me, and take the cat back home with them (just depended on which one of us had more vacation we could use!). It's the same procedure for the return of the pregnant female. I assume all the costs of the shipping. I just have to consider it part of the expense of doing an outside breeding.

As for pet sales, I have had several pet buyers fly to Portland to pick up their new kitten, which is simply part of their cost of buying the kitten. It gives me a wonderful opportunity to meet them “in person”, and for the prospective buyer to meet not only their new kitten, but the other cats in our household as well.

We’ve also had a buyer that didn’t personally like to fly, so he paid for us to fly and deliver the kitten to him. I did actually send my husband on that particular trip, since it was a single man buying the kitten, and I just thought that was a smarter idea. We get regular updates and pictures on that cat, too.

I’m always very up front about this policy with anyone inquiring about getting a cat or kitten from us, if they don’t live within a reasonable driving distance. I offer to refer them to a breeder closer to them, or to a breeder that will ship cats.

I have had people tell me that they just couldn’t afford to add a round-trip plane ticket to the cost of the kitten, and I understand that. I’m just not willing to risk my “kids” in the cargo hold of a plane anymore. It’s my policy, and it’s what I’m comfortable with.

I do work with a minority breed, so I think that does give me the luxury of being able to set this policy, and still not have a problem placing my pet kittens. I realize that might not work for someone that breeds a more common breed that is readily available.

That said, my best friend, Kathy Durdick of Ristokat Himalayans, also has a no shipping policy, and she has no problem placing her kittens. Her buyers understand and accept the fact that the purchase of a plane ticket is part of what they will need to do to have a Ristokat kitten join their family.

Is it worth the risk of becoming one of those news stories that we hear periodically, where some airline has lost “Fluffy”, and has no idea where he is?

You have to answer those questions for yourself, and decide what policy you’re the most comfortable with. I did exactly that, and we now don’t ship our cats in cargo - ever.

If you are going to ship your cats or kittens, there are some recommendations I would make:

  • Always use a direct flight, if available.
  • Ask for recommendations from other breeders about what airlines they’ve had the best experiences with, etc.
  • Be sure you know the restrictions of the airline you are using before you arrive at the airport.
  • Be sure your cat or kitten is accustomed to being in a carrier. Don’t make the shipping experience the very first time it's ever been in that confined space!
  • Most of all, don’t let someone “force” you into shipping a cat if it’s not something with which you’re comfortable. It’s your decision, and you have to make the one that’s right for you... and your kitty.

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