Why Ultimatums Are Terrible

a black cat sitting in a fabric cat carrier
Image by I am R. / CC BY

Having moved a cat cross country once before, I knew what I was in for when setting out on the long drive from Ohio  to Texas. The awful noises I would be subjected to.

Cats aren’t like dogs. Unless they’re specifically trained to develop tolerance for it, cats despise car rides. And they aren’t shy about letting you know their displeasure.

Still, I was a bit taken aback by how my cats reacted to their fate. Bela, the older of our two cats, was the one I thought would scream bloody murder. But he instead sat stoically, clearly stewing (as evidenced by his body language and facial expression). He appeared disappointed but resigned.

Ratface, however, was livid. Screaming.

We had taken every precaution prior to the trip. Had gotten a new cat carrier for the journey, one without unpleasant associations. It was a beautiful fabric carrier that resembled the laundry hampers that Ratface likes to play in. And it was large enough for both cats to ride comfortably, along with a litter box and fresh water.

I’d put it in the living room several weeks before, sprinkled catnip in it. And both cats had taken to lounging about in it lazily.

Everything I’d read said it’d help ease them into this long journey.

I even sprayed it up with the calming pheromones that the vet had recommended.

I don’t know that I ever expected tranquility per se.

But I didn’t expect this.

Clawing a Hole Through the Cat Carrier

Ratface screamed and clawed at the carrier for 6 hours straight. Until he finally managed to rip a hole in the weak part of the fabric (which otherwise had seemed rather cat proof).

This was just outside of Cave City, Kentucky. Justin pulled over into a highway rest stop and bound up the hole with electrical test leads, the only thing we had in the car even resembling tape or ties. I navigated us to a Walmart. It was about 10 miles off the highway and would add another half an hour or so onto an already long trip. But what choice did we have?

As he drove on the dark country roads, we commiserated about how much it reminded us both of where we grew up. I kept the hole clamped shut in the carrier with my hand, keeping the tenuous suture affected by test leads closed as Ratface continued to yowl and even claw against me.

It hurt, but he didn’t draw blood.

Justin ran into the Walmart and came out improbably fast with two hard shell cat carriers, inescapable fortresses. Even in his anger and frustration, he showed the cats mercy, as he also bought two small cat beds that fit snugly inside and would surely make their ride more comfortable.

Ratface didn’t stop yowling until hour 12 — right about Arkansas. He basically passed out, exhausted. Still, he’d intermittently wake up every time we drove over a bump, at which time he’d come to for a few moments to complain like a cranky driving critic before passing out again.

It wasn’t pretty. But we made it to Texas.

Choice Makes All the Difference

We settled into our new place quickly, emptying the car of everything we’d brought — including the shredded and hastily repaired cloth carrier.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t very long before Ratface made his way over to it, crawled inside, and went to sleep.

As I’m writing this essay, I’m actually watching him take a nap inside.

“It’s remarkable,” I say to Justin, “How he couldn’t wait to get out of there, how he worked his hardest to destroy it to escape, and now he’s all about being in there again.”

Justin smiles. “That’s the importance of choice.”

I nod, agree. “That’s why ultimatums are so terrible,” I say. “It creates a situation where even if one person gets what they want, the other person is resentful.”

And it’s easy for one of you to end up like a shredded cat carrier.

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My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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