By Marty Wollner
I love my cats. No, really, I love ‘em.
I’m single, own an RV, and travel all around the country playing disc golf and selling disc golf discs, AND, I take my cats with me on these road trips!
I let ‘em out, free to roam in most of the parks where I play and sell discs.
I‘ve tried to train them to always come when I call ‘em. But there are situations when they don’t come back right away. This is a collection of those stories.
I would estimate over 4 years of my life has been spent on the road with cats. I believe that I’ve taken human-cat relations to the next level. It’s rare to see anyone travel with cats, and extremely rare to see anyone let their cats roam freely in strange places. Love and patients are needed, but above all, it requires complete trust. A strong bond must be formed, which, by the way, is un-avoidable if you live in a small space with your cats for several months at a time.
Cats are smart; all cat lovers will tell you that. But, and you really ‘gotta trust me on this one, they’re smarter than most folks can imagine! Cats figure things out and adapt to new situations amazingly fast.
On my long road trips, new situations always spring up that constantly challenge my companions in ways you would never guess that a house cat could even cope with, let alone master. On the highways, in the woods, in parking lots, in crowds of people, on paws in traffic, and on the disc golf courses, my cats have proven this to me beyond doubt.
I’ve discovered that my cats really enjoy road trippin’ but ONLY under a strict “non-verbal” agreement that I let ‘em out as often as I can (20 times a day, if it were up to them).
After traveling with these fine companions for just a while, they understand the itinerary and learn to roll with the punches. It so cool when I finally pull into a park, and they know I’m gonna spring ‘em… the anticipation and excitement they have when I finally open the door and let ‘em run free…
Nobody needs to teach a cat how to do some of the amazing things they do; it’s like they all come with a set standard of operating procedures. For example, you can take a kitten who has never seen kitty litter, and place him on some. The kitten will feel the litter under its paws, sniff and smell it, dig a small hole, do its duty in it, sniff that, cover up the hole by digging the surrounding litter over it, and then walk away. Every time.
Ok, you can say instinct teaches cats this; that it’s a brain pattern evolved for the cat’s survival. OK, I agree. But let me just say that in addition to that, they’re really smart!
They’d better be, because the open road is a rough place for a cat. They’re under constant threat of animal attacks, traffic hazards, abusive people, rough terrain, traps and poisons, heat and cold, etc., etc., etc.
Every time I pull into a park and let the cats out, they go through a strict ritual:
This is all done instinctively, to assure they have an escape route from dogs.
Once my cats learn the layout of a park, they remember it, and next time I enter the park (maybe months or years later), they still remember everything, and immediately bolt to the chill spots. I am not kidding, they really do learn and remember dozens and dozens of parks over many years on the road.
At the park, I’m either hanging around the RV selling discs with the door open (so they can come and go), or, I’m in the park playing disc golf, in which case I lock the door. When I leave to play, the cats know it, and they decide if they want to risk waiting outdoors or if they want to wait in the (safe) RV for me to return.
On one of my road trips, I did loose a cat, Angus, and it really upset me.
In fact, I’m still bummed out about it, 6 years hence. I lost Angus in a Wal-Mart parking lot somewhere in New Jersey. I believe it was Coyotes, or maybe a trucker snatched her up, but I’ll never know for sure, and wondering about it has taunted and hurt me for all these years.
I miss Angus. She was a good sweet cat. She slept right next
to me for 9 years. It tears me up thinking about it.
For the past 30 years I’ve kept cats in a special way:
I always get 2 kittens from the same litter. Two kittens learn and grow up together. Two cats enjoy life, having never been apart from one another. Having never known what it is to be alone.
After 16 years or so, one of them dies, and one lives. I immediately get another pair, the old one then teaches the young-bloods, and the cycle continues:
When I lost Angus, I went right out and got the 2 new kittens, right away, right on schedule; Flick and Flash.
But the question is, should I have stopped taking cats on road trips?
I first started road tripping when Nails and Angus were already 11 years old. Both of ‘em took to traveling on the road very well. Both of them almost always came to me when I called them.
1) The first time… Owls
The first time one of them didn’t come right back to me was in a disc golf park in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. This park had 2 resident owls that were the biggest owls I have ever seen. Nails didn’t come back when I returned to the RV after my late evening round. I waited for hours, but she was nowhere in sight.
This was the first time I started thinking that I’m an idiot for putting my cats in a situation where they can be lost.
This is the question of debate … road tripping with cats, possibly loosing them… what kind of moron am I?
I sat there wondering if the Owls had gotten her or what else could’ve happened. I left the parking spot after a few hours, and drove around. After another couple hours searching, she saw me driving by and ran out into the street where I could see her. CA-CHING!!!!
Her paws were frazzled and she had a shocked look on her face, so I assume the Owls may have chased her up a tree, or maybe some dogs or people messed with her.
Whatever, I was just glad she was back!
2) The First Overnighter
The first time a cat didn’t return until the next day was Angus, up at the Ludington DGC.
Ludington is a really beautiful course and by this time my cats had learned to recognize and remember courses from one to the next. My cats loved Ludington because it’s got a lot of natural splendor, there’s a lots of places to hide and hang out for a cat, and it’s quiet and peaceful.
I spend a lot of time at Ludington, and so Angus knew the park well and loved it. She decided to hang in the park during my round, but I got back really late, and then she didn’t come right away when I called out for her. Overnight parking is prohibited there so I didn’t have much time to wait for her; I had to leave the park and leave her overnight.
And so, once again, here I was cursing my stupidity. All night long, I was so worried about poor Angus, all alone, exposed to the deep woods of Michigan.
The next morning, I waited at the gate for the park to open and raced in to look for her. CA-CHING…. After a few minutes, she crawled out from underneath her chillin’ bush, jumped in and scarfed down some breakfast, no worse for the wear.
3) THE Chain Hit
This paper was really written about the time I was in a park down in Florida. This was after I had lost Angus and had gotten Flick and Flash, and so I had all three cats with me, Nails, Flick, and Flash.
It was a long hot day. I arrived at the park really early in the morning and worked out a deal with the locals to cook some chili and sell some discs for their league day.
But before I let any cats out, I checked with everyone to see if the alligators or anything else were gonna be a problem. I asked every disc golf player and everyone else I saw, at least a dozen people, all locals. Everyone I talked to assured me that this park kept big gators outside of the complex.
And so, I opened the door and set ’em loose, they eagerly jumped out to begin their exploring rituals, and I got busy making chili for 40 players.
10 minutes after I let them out, I heard a bunch of people gathering around to gawk at a 13 ft gator swim under the little foot bridge only 200 feet from the RV. I started getting upset about it, but nobody seemed too worried… everyone assured me that the gators were “OK”.
The day dragged on. As a bad omen, I chopped part of my little pinky finger clean off. The disc golfers started getting drunk and rowdy. I was cookin’ chili and lookin’ for Flick all morning. The only good thing that happened after that was the guy I gave the knife to (to chop the onions for the chili, because I was bleeding) also cut his hand, so that made me feel better.
The strange thing was that Flash, my boy cat who usually takes off all day and the last cat to return, stayed in the RV the whole day… he wouldn’t leave it at all! This made me think that he was afraid of something he sensed was out there, or maybe something he saw.
I called for Flick the whole day, but she had vanished, and that was also uncharacteristic; she usually always came right away when I called. The hot sun went down and the park started closing. The disc golfers all went home, and I still hadn’t heard a peep from Flick.
This park’s ranger and his family lived in a cabin just outside the complex. When the ranger finally asked me to leave, I told him about Flick. Instead of kicking me out, he got all his kids out to search the park on 4 wheeler ATVs. They all really tried; they said they have cats as well, and occasionally, some of them come up missing…
But, after a few hours, they had to give up and eat their dinner. The ranger then broke the rules and allowed me to stay in the park overnight. They were totally cool, but I was totally bummed out.
Why? Because after the sun went down, I realized the situation I was in. When I shined a flashlight out into the ponds, all I could see were ALIGATOR EYES. EVERYWHERE!!! I’m telling you, there must have been a million alligators in that park.
In hindsight, I don’t know why I wasn’t terrified myself, but for some reason, I just didn’t think about it. I was only worried about Flick. I kept calling out for her, but she remained silent. I was becoming more and more certain that she was already gone; I hadn’t seen her all day. It just wasn’t like her. She hadn’t eaten all day, and then she didn’t show up for dinner! Bad.
I kept Nails and Flash locked up, but like I said, Flash, for some strange reason, wanted to stay in the RV.
Now, you gotta know something about Nails… she’s a really jealous cat. She saw how hard I was trying to get Flick back… calling out for her for 6 hours straight. And so Nails decided that she needed some attention too, and suddenly jumped up and escaped the RV when I opened the door and turned away for one second.
And where does she run off to? The dummy runs underneath the footbridge right where the 13 ft alligator was spotted earlier that day (after which Flick vanished and Flash came back to cower), and she just sits there and won’t come to me as I frantically call to her (she always comes when I call, but she was jealous and wanted some attention).
Gators must have been swimming by within 2 feet of her every minute or so, and she would have been trapped underneath that bridge if any of ‘em wanted her. I kept screaming but she just sat there. Finally, I had to get into the water (don’t forget, I’m alone in this park and there’s gators everywhere, certainly in the water where I was), crawl up under the bridge, and grab her by the scruff of her neck.
Good thing they didn’t choose to act upon the smell of the blood from my hacked pinky finger soaking in the water!
At that point, I became a nervous wreck. It was a long hot day, things had not gone right, and it looked like Flick was gator-bait. I put Nails back in the RV and took another long walk around the complex looking for Flick, calling out for her again and again.
By then there were so many gators in the park, when I shined my light on the water, it looked like they were packed into the ponds like sardines! Everywhere, all I could see were bright glowing eyes glaring right back at me. Big eyes. Huge. Thousands of ‘em. EVERYWHERE!!
One of the disc golf target baskets was located about 300 feet from the RV, so I setup a light on it, came back and taped a light onto a disc and started throwing it at the basket from about 200 feet. One throw at a time: throw, walk like a zombie, bend over, pick it up, walk back like a zombie, repeat. The night dragged on, and I became more and more upset. After loosing Angus, I did NOT want to loose another cat. No Flicking Way.
I got tired of throwing and zombie walking, so I took another long walk around the complex. More and more gators arrived. It was like that movie “Frogs”. It seemed to get even hotter as the night dragged on. By then, the sound of the frogs and other critters in the bog was at a deafening pitch. Patches of fog as thick as pea soup started boiling up from the marshes in certain spots.
I didn’t want to, but I started thinking about driving away. Sometimes my cats do show up when they hear the engine start. I packed everything up, started the engine up, and took off. I drove around the complex for an hour or so, stopping by the bridge every so often.
But Flick didn’t come out and didn’t make a sound. It seemed she was just gone. I went back again, parked and went out looking for her on foot. My throat was getting sore from calling her name.
It must have been 3 in the morning by then. I got out my illuminated disc and started my 200 foot mantra again; throw, zombie walk, …repeat. I kept it up for another hour or so. I was sore and tired. Things were looking mighty bleak.
And then suddenly, it happened… CA-CHING!!!
The odds of actually hitting a basket at 200 feet in thick fog are about 1 in 5,000 for a player of my skill.
Flick was hiding in the bushes between the basket and the pond. Something had terrified her so bad that she was afraid to move or cry ALL DAY AND HALF THE NIGHT!
When the disc hit the chains, it gave off a loud unmistakable noise that she recognized from watching me practice on my own baskets, thousands and thousands of times.
knew that sound and trusted it. She cried out. MEOWWW!!!
I ran to the area, and found her no worse for the wear. She was just scared and hungry. And that ended a very, very long, hot, and unforgettable day. I am so thankful that I didn’t loose her.
4) What About Flash ???
Flash is the cat that doesn’t come right away when I call him. But he loves road-tripping! He loves it because he gets to get with other cats. Every time I have a problem with my cats not returning, I always see other cats in the park.
I learned this at first, down in Melbourne, Florida, where he managed to remain free for 3 whole days. Like Ludington, Melbourne doesn’t allow overnight parking, but I was able to re-enter the park after closing, just to drive through it.
Flash has a mind of his own, but he’s a good cat, so here’s what he does: when he sees me drive by in the park, he runs out where I can see him… he purposely lets me know where he is, so I don’t have to worry about him, but then he refuses to come, as long as he wants to hang out with his girlfriends. He holds off until he gets too hungry to flirt. And then, Ca-Ching, he comes back.
That’s how he operates. I don’t think he knows that he’s neutered. Maybe he found some Viagra for cats, I don’t know.
Up in Petoskey, Michigan, for 4 days he hung out in Riverside Disc Golf park, only this time there were a shitload of Coyotes after him. I could hear them tearing up poodles off in the distance every night; horrifying sounds. He chilled in the bushes along the railroad tracks, again, letting me know where he was the whole time.
On the third night I was awakened by a booming thud on the camper door, followed by an even louder thud underneath the RV floor. The coyotes were chasing poor Flash, and he apparently jumped into the door to let me know to open it up, and then ran underneath the RV while being chased by a coyote so large that it literally picked me up off the ground when Flash ran it into the floorboards.
I jumped up, grabbed my flashlight and a broomstick, kicked open the door and jumped out, broomstick in hand, ready for coyote combat. It was not only pitch black, it was really foggy and still. I stood my ground, screaming at the coyotes and calling out for Flash. It was really eerie. The only thing moving was the steam from my breath in the dense fog, lit up by the flashlight. I stood there panting in the cold silence.
Just then, I feel Flash giving me a big love rub against my leg. I look down, and there he is, calmly sitting there with a big cat-grin on his face. He looks up at me, gives me a wink (the secret “I’m cool” eye blink signal I have established with my cats), stands up, and walks back towards his chillin’ spot by the railroad tracks.
The next day he reluctantly let me follow him down the tracks and pick him up. Ca-ching, I spent 4 ½ extra days in Petoskey, and lost a lot of faith in Flashes ability to let me travel with him.
Grand Rapids, Michigan (2006)
The very next week, ‘ol Flash put the brakes on the idea of road tripping with him, when he went missing for 6 days straight up in Grand Rapids. That’s when I decided that I can’t take him with me any more unless I got an extra week to wait whenever he decides to run off.
3 Years later, Milford, Michigan (2009)
OK, so 3 years goes by and I haven’t road tripped with Flash at all. I decide to take all three of ‘em up to the annual Harvest Moon Tournament up in Whitehall, Michigan, where all 3 of them are well known celebrities.
Flash jumps into the RV like he just got out yesterday. I know he really missed road tripping. He is very well behaved all the way there. When we get to Whitehall, all 3 of ‘em remember the course, and can’t wait for me to let ‘em run free.
I open the door, and they all eagerly jump out. Flash pauses, glances up at me and gives me a really cool look, as if to say “Hey it’s been a while. Thank you! I’ll be good this time, I promise!”
Flash behaves very well, and comes running every time I call him. It’s like he’s trying to patch things up between us, like he understands the score and wants to make amends.
We all have a great time at the tourney, hop into the RV and drive to Milford for the annual “Discraft International Ace Race” at the home of Todd and Marne White, where all 3 of them are, you guessed it, well known celebrities. They recognize where they are and bolt directly to their respective chill spots, which, for Flash, is across Stone Barn road.
Everything was going peachy, except I have a rough time at the ace race for technical reasons. Now maybe Flash picked up on this, or something, I don’t know. But when it was time to leave, you guessed it again, Flash wouldn’t come out of his chill spot.
And so, I thought maybe I could get him to follow the rules of the road, but apparently he has his own rules to follow.
Anyway, I had to leave him there overnight. And again, I had to worry about him all night long. But I would have bet anyone a million bucks that he’d be in that same spot when I got back the next day.
Ca-Ching again. Of course he was there.
What can we glean from this?
First of all, Flash has clearly shown that he cannot be trusted to take on road trips. Its not that he’ll run off, in fact, I would bet anyone any amount of money that I can drop Flash off anywhere on any roadside, and he will be waiting for me 3 days later. Which is incredible, but still, doesn’t allow me to take him anywhere.
Flick can be trusted, and Nails too, but Nails is too old to travel much any more.
Oh well, it is what it is.
But I got to say that I really had an awesome time spent traveling with them. It really was fun. There’s one story that I love telling, one little thing that happened one little day. It seemed to make everything worthwhile:
I was in Crowley, Texas in late 2006, alone with only Flick. The park is big and beautiful. I arrived early and let Flick out to roam. Of course she knew the park, and decided to chill up on the hill about 700 feet from the RV and out of sight.
Yes, THIS hill.
I fired up the chili pot, and did some chillin’ of my own. A father and his 2 adult-age “boys” pulled up, we started talking, and I sold them a few discs. By then the chili was warm enough to serve, so I gave the boys some and had a bowl myself. Nice guys, and they LOVED my chili, just like all Texans do. It’s simply magic.
Anyway, we’re chowin’ down and shootin’ the bull and at last, they decide to take off and play… that’s what they came for – to play a round of disc golf! They asked me if I wanted to join ‘em. It was a slow morning, nobody else there yet, so I say “Sure”.
I stand up, pick up the demo discs I have laying out on display, walk up to the RV door, pick up my disc golf bag, turn toward them, and yell out at the top of my lungs:
One time. Then I just stand there by the door, gazing out at the hill behind them.
These guys look at me, and then slowly look around and then look at each other.
I just keep standing there, holding the RV door.
A puzzled look overcomes the candor of the day. I stand silent.
FINALLY, the father looks up at me and meekly asks:
I snap back, in a stern, gruff voice:
And before they get a chance to smirk at each other, one of the boys shouts out:
OH MY GOD! LOOK!!!
I stand still, say nothing, and wait, still holding the RV door open as Flick comes TEARING down the hill. All three of these guys arms drop to their sides as they watch in total disbelief.
Flick runs 500 feet directly to the foot bridge, crosses over it and runs right past them, jumps up the steps and into the RV.
I slam the door shut and say:
OK, Lets go.
And these guys stare at me, their jaws dropped all the way to the ground, frozen, and at a complete loss for words.
They just stand there in utter amazement and disbelief as I walk up to ‘em, slingin’ my bag over my shoulder like it’s no big deal at all.
Finally, the father blurts out, in a really deep and serious Texan voice:
If I didn’t see it with my own eyes I would never have believed it.
And then we all burst out with a roaring laugh. I’m telling you, it was one of the funniest moments of my entire life!
We played a round of doubles, old vs. young and even did some chillin’ of our own. It was a fine day. We got back, I fired up the chili and this time the dad had an appetite and we all wolfed down three bowls a piece, with Flick chillin’ up in the tree that shades the picnic table. A fine, fine day, indeed.
Cats. Ya gotta love ‘em!
And so, the question of debate…Should I take my cats with me on road trips? Should anyone take their cats on road trips?
If you ask any vet, animal care giver, or any animal advocate, they will say NO.
They will all say that my special relationship with my cats does not make me special, and does not give me the right to endanger them.
My cats have attended dozens of world class disc golf tournaments, the world’s largest rattlesnake round-up, and they have even walked on Freemont Street in the shadows of the Vegas casinos, all freely and un-attended.
People who see them are astonished because they assume cats just aren’t smart enough to do what they are seeing them do!
I still want to get out and play some courses, traveling on the open road. And I want my companions right there along my side.
But I can’t stop thinking about Angus. What happened to her? I would give the world to know.