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The Cougar in Coach

Dear Rudy,

I have traveled with pets a number of times, all of them memorable in the worst possible sense. But the trip that stands out the most was our return from Berlin, Germany when my husband got out of the army. We brought back a very large, part-Siamese cat which had, up until then, been a marvelous and gentle companion. In fact, we had named him Copain, meaning "friend" in French.

We decided to give Copain a tranquilizer to make the flight home easier on everyone. Since I had never used an animal tranquilizer before, I tried it out a week before the trip and it worked beautifully. He took a nice long nap and woke up with no side effects.

On the day of the flight, I gave Copain the same tranquilizer at the airport, but apparently he had developed a sensitivity to it. He went berserk. His carrier, given to us by the airline, was only cardboard. Sitting in my narrow seat, the box on my lap, I was trying to hold it shut while a raging, very vocal cat was trying to claw his way out. Eventually, he created a large enough hole to bite my finger -- through the fingernail. That pretty much discouraged any ideas we might have had about letting him out during the flight.

The flight attendant was, to be generous, a stoic. She had ignored the whole incident up until that point, and was completely unmoved by the sight of my hand dripping blood everywhere. Finally my husband insisted that she at least provide a bandage, but there was no further offer of either sympathy or assistance. I prefer not to reflect on the feelings of the other passengers, but I suspect that in terms of in-flight annoyances, a crying baby would pale by comparison.

Upon our arrival, a customs agent listened to the sounds coming out of the carrier, looked at my bloody and bandaged hand, asked if we were bringing in a cougar, stepped a good distance back from the box and waved us through. It was the fastest passage through customs we've ever had.

Copain survived the trip, but was never quite the same. He accepted family members, but no one else was safe. Forever after he seemed to think that he was a cougar, and would seek out first cats, and later dogs, to attack. At one point we had to take him to the vet. When my husband went to pick him up, he warned the handler that Copain was rather aggressive, and offered to get him out of the cage himself. The handler, a very large and muscular man, wouldn't hear of it and said that he managed all kinds of animals all the time. The poor fellow came out of the back with his hands all chewed up, bleeding profusely. My husband had no problem removing Copain himself, but we never took the cat to that vet again. It was a trip to remember for a long, long time.




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