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tl;dr I want to move and take a cat along, how to do it the optimal way given the described situation?

About 3 to 4 years ago, a stray cat moved in with me. His background is cleared, he rejected to move with his former owners over a short distance. I got his passport, so I know he is at least ten years old (first vaccination in a shelter, might be older).

I always accepted his will to be outside the most of the day, and there were months when I barely saw him at all in summer, but he always returned to me in the winter months and stayed most parts indoors then. Especially now that he gets older and experiences back pain (he is in medical treatment) he tends to sleep a lot and barely leaves for longer than two days in a row (he has multiple secondary homes at fellow students and neighbors; all of those that I know care for him move out this year).

I left it open for neighbors to take over care for him, but since no one volunteered, it seems I am taking him along with me. It would be very risky leaving him behind; most of the direct neighbors that take care are students that live here for short times, and most of them drive home or travel a lot. I only now of one old lady that feeds him and will certainly die in this neighborhood, but she refuses to let him in for sleeping (and her neighbor hates cats, he once let my stray bring to the shelter although he was certainly enjoying his life at that time, and really really fat).

Next month I am going to move to another flat. I am worried now, how to do it. Thew new flat is just 1.5km (1 mile) away, but given that the small town city center is between and a very dangerous street, I doubt that he ever went there. When moving, I can either take him by car or carry him on foot - I am worried that he would try to run home and get hit by a car. I don't know which option is best. When I take him at food, I could go a safe way over a bridge, the hope would be that if he decided to return, he would then go this way, I could just fetch him up again (and if I needed to do this a hundred times). If I carry him by car, chances still are that he would know the direction - the way is very simple and he has already been there before on the direct way - no option to obfuscate the way to confuse him (would probably be an asshole move, anyway?).

The other thing I am not sure how to handle is keeping him inside for a month. He really hates it when I keep him inside, and no matter how long he had to, and how loving he was taken care for (I am not the best at that, but a friend of mine tried after the cat had an surgery - still no good). He meows and cries and shouts and gets really loud - while I need to work and study from home and cannot even stay in another room than him. Not the best situation. The new flat is far bigger than the last, however, so that's a bonus. Plus, I could, as an option, have him visit a neighbor he already knows and lives just some meters away, so his first impression would be that his new neighborhood cares for him and that he would have (the feeling to have, surely not a choice in reality) multiple options, as he is used to.

I am also considering setting up a mobile fence - as he has a bad back, he barely jumps at all, I would guess that he could never jump a meter, he barely makes it on the couch. I did, however, see him climb a low fence of another neighbor one day, so it seems I would need to ensure he cannot climb the fence (nor crouch below it). I guess this is doable with acceptable effort, I thought of setting the fence in angle to the ground so the tips point to the inside, that would make the climbing harder (but also the fence a little shorter), or I could use angles at the tips and span net over it, so he would need to boulder his way out, which I doubt he could. I also figured I would closely watch him the first times I let him out inside the mobile fence (which by the way would be built on an area that is not really within the contract, so I'd need to hope no one cares as no one should be impaired by that - actually far less impaired than by the loud meowing if we kept him inside at all time...

He also partly knows to go on a leash - it's not that I could force him (he's still a cat), but I have already used the leash multiple times to bring him to a vet and to let him have some outdoor walk after a surgery (it went like this: I let him decide where to go and just hindered him from going places where I can't [yeah, he figured he could get away, maybe]. At one point, I stop giving in, and at that time he walks home. As long as I do not pressure too much and no cars or scary men come along, he sometimes also gives in to my wishes to go somewhere specific. So walks on a leash would certainly be an option - what about going out with him the first weeks and showing him outdoor places where he can go and relax and is safe? For example, we could go to some meadow and lay down there and later on go back home.

Another thing we considered was taking the cat to the new flat each evening until we finally moved. Like this, he could get used to his new home. He is okayish with driving, he does not like it since it usually takes him to those vicious pet doctors that steal his blood, or teeth, or bone, but neither does he freak out - he drives loosely and keeps lying down even when I open the car's door. He feels comfortable in new environments, being in new flats is no big deal to him. He does that all the time anyway, whenever some human responds to him meowing at a door - he learned that someone eventually will and so I guess he must have seen half the neighborhoods' flats already, and he certainly had multiple sleeping points over the first years.

However, I am anxious that I screw this up. Any advice which way you would prefer doing the move in this situation?

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  • From your last paragraph I concluse, that you want him to move with you, right? So the paragraph about the old home is only explanation, right? I was some kind of confused by the long text, sorry :) Maybe you can write a conclusion, which states clear your aim and question. Aug 22 at 10:09
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    thanks for your feedback, I added a short question at the beginning, hope this is clearer now.
    – kaiya
    Aug 22 at 11:55
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    It sounds like it might be time for him to move indoors; what kind of enrichment do you have available for him there? By which I mean cat toys, cat towers, windows he's able to look out, and so on; frequently the reason a cat will "demand" to go outside is boredom in an indoor environment that doesn't suit them well.
    – Allison C
    Aug 23 at 17:06
  • what do you mean by 'time for him to move indoors'? Yeah, my flat is small, not much I can do about that. Actually no cats allowed here, hence no obvious cat equipment here. Nontheless, I tried a cat tower once, he never used it in months, so I discarded that idea. Also, he is not the type that likes toys, like literally we never play, he's simply not interested. The only activities he seems to enjoy are going for a walk, sleeping (outside/inside), cuddling and food. He once was taken care of by a person who showered him with attention (he barely can get too much), still no good :-/
    – kaiya
    Aug 23 at 18:10
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    C.Koca summed up what I meant well in their answer; he's getting older and showing health issues, and left as an outdoor or indoor/outdoor cat, he won't have much time left as a result, but can happily live quite a while longer indoors with a comfortable and enriching setting.
    – Allison C
    Aug 23 at 22:13
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While it is impossible to give a definitive answer, transporting by car seems safer.

1.5 km is a long way for a cat to follow you. He will probably take breaks to rest on the way and might get spooked even if the path is relatively safe. If you decide to carry the cat, the minute he is stressed, he will sink his claws into your skin. It would probably be very stressful for the animal, and very bloody for you. Furthermore, remembering a path of 1.5 km is not a small feat and I have doubts that every cat can do it. Therefore, even if you take him by foot, there is no guarantee that he will learn the path.

Keeping cats that are used to going out is a pain. You have to offer similar amount of enrichment to the outside environment. Contrary to the general knowledge, cats don't have a good eyesight except some special circumstances, so sound based enrichment might help you. There are some bird videos dedicated for cats, you can open up one of them on your TV for your cat to listen to. A variety of toys will help the cat as well. Don't forget catnip! Cat tower wouldn't mean much for a cat that can't jump, but some horizontal entertainment, such as boxes and tunnels might help your cat a lot.

Just like Allison commented, a cat that has trouble jumping might have finished its roaming days and ready for a retirement. If you let him roam

  • He won't be able to carve himself a new territory. Cats are very territorial and in order to challenge a territory undisputed, the cat should be much larger/stronger, otherwise the existing owner of the territory will not give it up without a fight. These fights wouldn't be fatal as long as you clean his wounds and take him to a vet if the wounds seem more than scratches, but it would demoralise the poor animal.
  • He won't be able to escape if he is attacked by a larger being, such as a dog or a child. In short, cats which can't move vertical are very vulnerable.

If you decide to let him out, make sure that you have an easy-break collar with a nametag with your details on it. Cats that moved to a new place tend to get lost a lot and some people who would recognise that the cat is in distress will reach out to you if they have your details. Also, if you haven't, a subcutaneous cat microchip will help a vet to contact you if it gets lost and a responsible person contacts a vet. If microchipping is common in your area, checking if the cat is chipped is one of the first things someone who finds the cat would do.

While I am against letting him out, supervised outings with you might help the animal. Leash is great if the animal lets you, but if he doesn't, you can still observe him while he is discovering his new neighbourhood. If he darts away from you, playing a recording of fighting cats would make him return back to you. Cats are always afraid of invisible fighting cats and they seek the help of their humans when threatened. Still, try playing such a recording at home first to gauge his response.

If you can set a fence that he can't penetrate, you can let him out any time you are at home. Just make sure there is a safe box with a small opening that your cat can withdraw to if challenged by another cat. You will be alerted by the screams and you can run and save your cat which probably is taking refuge in his safe box.

To sum up, I feel that it is better to take him with a car rather than on foot and it is better that he is confined to a safe space for his retirement.

I hope this helps.

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  • Carrying him is absolutely not bloody, he is used to that from vet visits (and after surgery I actually carried him whenever he got scared outside, which immediately calmed him, he has no reason to harm me at all as long as I don't harm him). Unfortunately, the flat is too small to offer horizontal entertainment without as humans having a bad time stepping over it all the time. Thanks for pointing out sound-based entertainment, I didn't know of that and will try. I refuse to keep him in against his will, though. I see no point in forcing him my will, I will certainly leave that up to him.
    – kaiya
    Aug 24 at 12:12
  • Where we currently live he has his safe territorium where he obviously feels very comfortable in. You should see him sleeping, sometimes even laying on the back like a seal, mostly in the middle of the pedestrian way so to get attention from neighbors. Certainly not any problems with cat fights. Also, he is very brave when it comes to dogs. He doesn't mind having them next to him at a vet's, and no dog ever even looked at him the wrong way. Don't know why, he seems to calm them, too. Maybe his self-esteem showing he is not pray. I never saw him fighting or being chased.
    – kaiya
    Aug 24 at 12:16
  • At his new home he will probably not have to share some areas with other cats as most flats do not allow cats (here in Germany, most people rent and thus have less rights). So I don't see why I should even consider the problem with other cats, there are so few they will certainly get along. When I leave the house he always has the choice to stay in or go out, so I would leave that up to him. I do get that he probably would have a hard time defending, but the same applies to our human elders; we don't imprison them for that - well at least we shouldn't.
    – kaiya
    Aug 24 at 12:19
  • Thanks for your answer, though I will leave the question open as I would prefer an answer focusing on the move itself, and not old-cat-considerations ;) He is chipped and he will not wear a collar - I don't see the necessity as the people who find cats usually take them to a shelter or know what they are doing -> read out the chip. So, as a sum up, I am open to answers that involve letting the cat outside after a finite transition time, but thank you anyway as this might help others in other situations ;)
    – kaiya
    Aug 24 at 12:23
  • @kaiya It makes perfect sense to leave the question open. But it doesn't make much sense to compare old cats to humans. Human values are not shared by cats. This might be slightly reductio ad absurdum, but if you neuter a group of cats, it is called common sense but if you neuter a group of humans it is called genocide. The consequences faced by elder abusers are not the same as consequences faced by young and strong cats bullying old cats or small children (accidentally) hurting cats unable to escape.
    – C.Koca
    Aug 24 at 15:22
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We eventually decided to show him the new flat first before moving him entirely (very short drive with the car), and after some seconds of being scared he started exploring, so then we started cooking and presented him also his food which resulted in him being happy and relaxed (purring, wanted to cuddle).

Several days later I moved my inventar first and let him go in and out at will (contrary to the usual advise). He started being in my sight all the time, which is unusual and clearly showed he did not want to be forgotten.

Then I moved the cat, the first two days he had to stay insight with short walks on the leash, then followed 2-3 days with a fence. Need not say he found a loophole which I did not consider after that time: He pulled the fence DOWN right in the middle of two poles and walked straight above it. [Note: He is very big for a cat given that he had a large number of foodgivers, so he has some extra weight to use for this action that you would normally not expect]

At the end of the first week I had so few sleep due to his frequent meowing in the night as he would sometimes do when being imprisoned during night(the first night I simply slept with him on the couch which kept him quiet and at least allowed my fellow to get some sleep and to help the cat feel more comfortable). Some habit [the nightly meowing] I partly managed to stop, but sometimes reoccurs. So one night I simply let him outside as I thought the fence would keep him. When I awoke before the alarm, he was gone, found him before the terrace of a neighbor from which I actually tried to hinder him going when going for a walk with him. The next two days I let him out whenever he wanted, but kept calling him back after half an hour, an hour, two hours, and so on. Once I found him sitting in another frontgarden together with another cat relaxing in the sun, so I let him there. He returned after some hours, so I decided that was the point where I would let him roam free. Luckily, the road I was afraid of was shut due to roadworks, but he did not seem to be interested in finding back. I think this might be because he saw how all our equipment was transferred and understood that there was no going back without being a stray again - which he certainly does not wish to be, given that he since has started again meowing at other peoples' door to find new door openers :D

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