Every night, when I come home, I’m greeted by the hungry calls of my two cats, Kiwi and Clem. Clem, the tortie, usually weaves in between my legs as I walk in, while her sister Kiwi, the calico, leads the way to the kitchen. After dinner, the cats loaf around in their usual spots―Kiwi on the couch and Clem planted solidly in my lap. My girlfriend and I decided to adopt our two cats three years ago while living in Chicago, where we were both working as research technicians. When I received the opportunity to pursue a PhD at MIT, we decided to uproot our little family and move to Boston.
Kiwi and Clem both came from a catch-and-release program operating in the suburbs west of Chicago. For the first two years of their lives, our little Ravenswood home was their territory: they found impossibly small hiding spots and hunted the occasional insect intruder. They became more than just pets―the cats took care of us just as much as we took care of them. Every morning, the hungry pair made sure we got up instead of hitting snooze on the alarm. After particularly stressful days of work, Kiwi and Clem brought over toys and cuddles to help us relax and decompress. During the grad school application process, we knew that no matter where we ended up, our cats would be with us.
Kiwi and Clem nap together in our Chicago apartment.
After I accepted MIT’s offer of admission, we first needed to find a place to live. MIT offers some grad housing options, but we quickly realized that animals are generally prohibited (with the exception of service animals). We began our search using MIT Off Campus, looking for cat-friendly apartments that were moderately close to public transit. Luckily, we found out that many apartments in Cambridge and Somerville were cat-friendly (with no added rent), and even landlords with no-pet listings seemed flexible when it came to cats. We managed to snag a reasonably priced one bedroom 10 minutes from the Red Line on the August lease cycle.
Now that we had secured a place to live, we needed a way to get our things and cats to Cambridge. Many of our items could be sent on ahead, and we considered a variety of options including traditional movers and new Pod shipping services. However, the option that was most convenient and cost-effective was Amtrak Express Shipping, a shipping service that utilizes the Amtrak rail network to deliver items across the country. We loaded our boxes into a cargo van, drove them to the service garage of Union Station in downtown Chicago, and placed them onto a wooden pallet. The attendant informed us to expect a call once the items arrived at South Station.
But what about the cats? Flying was immediately ruled out―we didn’t want to subject other passengers to our cats’ incessant yowling when placed into carriers. We also considered train travel through Amtrak, but the cost and travel requirements set by Amtrak for pets quickly led us to dismiss this option as well. In the end, we decided that the best option for us was to make the 16-hour drive to Boston.
For those traveling with cats, here are some tips for a pain-free drive. First, buy a cat pheromone spray, which employs facial pheromones to make the environment seem more secure and familiar. We’ve had luck using Feliway and Thunderease brand items. Second, a cat leash makes bringing the cats out much easier when at a rest stop―while the cats never actually left the car, the leashes prevented them from crawling under the seats or making their way to the back, which was packed full with all of our belongings. Third, we had a sheet on hand to cover the carriers if needed, which helped the cats feel hidden and more comfortable during the ride. We split the drive into two legs, stopping overnight in upstate New York before driving into Cambridge on August 1st.
The cats have since acclimated to life in the Boston area, enjoying all of the new sights and fauna of New England. Sometimes, they even try to help me with my studies (by sitting on my notes while I try to study for midterms). While the task of relocating to MIT with pets may seem daunting, it can, with some planning, be a low stress and maybe even enjoyable experience.
Kiwi sits on my genetics notes while I try to study for a midterm.