by Sharyn Peacocke

May 2003

Moving across Australia with Dexter and Harley was enough to stretch anyone’s patience, especially when one is a shrieker and the other gets migraines.

THE YOWLS from the back seat are deafening – and exhausting. We’ve been on the road for almost two hours and Dexter has been raucously restless since we left. He is aggravated, bored and insists he needs a loo. Not later, but now! I’d like to call his bluff but is it worth the risk? Probably not. I think he went before we left, but I can’t be sure. His younger brother’s eyes silently beseech, aware of the unsavoury consequences if Dexter doesn’t get his way. Please Mum, please, they say. I gaze out the window for five minutes longer, then look back at Harley who by now has buried his ears in a blanket. He says nothing, sweet child that he is, but his gentle blue eyes continue to beg, and the deepening furrow between them tells me he’s in for another headache.

So am I. Marc keeps driving, staring fixedly ahead with a dark expression. I sigh deeply, wondering who will be the first to accuse the other of sheer madness in contemplating such a trip. Another howl splits the air, this time from Harley. I swivel to see Dexter sinking his teeth into the little guy’s neck. He won’t let go. Harley cries louder but Dexter hangs on, defiant, triumphant, knowing he now has the upper hand. Or paw, in this case. We stop, lock the doors, and release Dexter from the carry-crate that occupies most of the back seat. He stretches, yawns, then settles on my lap, purring contentedly. Peace at last. Thank God, peace at last.

* * *

OUR JOURNEY started six weeks earlier in Perth. Unexpectedly our house had sold, fast-tracking us towards our dream of moving to Queensland. But where exactly? We’d never been there. The solution was to base ourselves temporarily in Sydney with my parents. They were pleased to have us, but the cats were a problem. A few days, no worries. More, and we risked them escaping. Dexter and Harley are Ragdolls, two pampered fluff balls who have spent their lives indoors. As my son once told a friend when she expressed surprise at their confinement: “Don’t think cats, think guinea-pigs!” That about sums it up.

So along with the packing and planning and financial manoeuvres involved in relocating ourselves and our home-based business, we searched from Perth for a safe Sydney haven for Dexter and Harley. The choices seemed endless, but eventually – ignoring sniggers and the occasional guffaw from those less pet-inclined – we settled on a five-star cattery boasting luxury bungalow verandah apartments.

Leaving Perth was calamitous. The removalists arrived at 7am, three burly young men who looked as though they could hoist the whole house unaided and plonk it onto their truck. But when one gashed himself gruesomely on a sharp object and fainted, we were left with only two. The remaining humans laboured on: wrapping, packing, carrying, tidying, sweeping, scrubbing. Meanwhile, Dexter and Harley were closeted safely behind locked doors – the prima dona yowling indignantly, the sweet one hiding his furrowed brow with his paws.

At seven that night a friend brought us pizza. By eight I was nauseous. By nine I was sick. At ten Marc loaded the car with the bags and the cats and his pea-green wife and we drove to the airport. All the way, Dexter howled like a banshee. I threw up out the window. Harley studied us resignedly, then curled into a ball and slept.

At the terminal, Marc delivered us inside: the cats first, then me, the bags, the computers, and him. We boarded and took our seats. I swallowed a sleeping pill and expeditiously passed out. My lanky partner spent the next five hours awake, valiantly attempting to cram his 6’4” frame into an economy seat without disturbing the wife who slumbered insensibly against him. Resentful, perhaps, that she seemed so comfortable. But grateful, no doubt, not to be vomited upon, nor to be within cooee of Dexter’s stentorophonic complaints which we later learned were assailing two Dobermans and a Rottweiler in the hold below.

Once landed, thanks to a precision-planned operation involving three mobile phones, a rented station-wagon, and my tolerant Sydneysider son, we emancipated our boys from the freight shed. Their canine fellow-travellers, after five hours in the hold with Dexter, had glassy eyes and distinct corrugations much like Harley’s in their furry foreheads. We wondered if dogs could suffer migraines but decided not to stick around and apologise to their owners. Given the obvious pedigrees involved, it may have been an expensive atonement.

* * *

FAST FORWARD six weeks. Dexter seems relaxed after his luxury bungalow verandah apartment experience. He’s been watching pheasants and rare fowl stroll past his enclosure in the gardens, and given the size of the bill at check-out has possibly eaten them too. Harley looks tired. He still has a headache. Marc and I have been to Queensland, found a place to live, and are now back in Sydney.

It’s time to take our boys to their new home. We plan to fly, but at the last moment discover that unlike Qantas, Virgin Blue won’t let them travel in the same crate. We argue. They mumble something about ferocity and insurance. We assume they’ve heard about Dexter’s petulance and give in, desperately seeking alternatives. Eventually, we hire a car and set out by road.

Which brings us back to the third hour of our journey north, with Dexter on my lap, purring smugly, and Harley curled up on the luggage behind Marc’s head.

We’re breaking our trip just south of the Queensland border, where a bed-and-breakfast has cheerfully offered us cat-friendly lodgings. It can’t come too soon because Dexter is wailing again. But we’re nervous because “cat-friendly” probably means flea-ridden, basic and bunk-style.

As daylight fades, we navigate our way through country roads, past green cane fields, up a hillside and along a tree-lined drive. Before we know it, our hosts are at the car to meet us, gently lifting the cat-crate with its precious cargo onto their manicured lawn and inside. They show us our room. It is gorgeous. The bed is soft. The doona is fluffy. Floor-to-ceiling glass panels look onto the garden.

More importantly, Dexter approves. We lock the doors and let him out of his crate. He swans about, sniffing furniture before requesting his litter tray. We prepare it, he uses it, we empty it. He asks for food. We provide it, he eats it, we clean up. He sits by the window and gazes at the bats as they flock to the trees outside in the dusk. He purrs, his blue eyes sparkling happily. Harley quietly joins him, relieved no doubt, as are we.

Marc and I open the picnic my mother has packed – a hamper filled with sandwiches, cheese, crackers and a bottle of 12-year-old single malt Scotch. We take ice from the bar fridge, break out the plastic cups, and drink to our success thus far. And to my thoughtful mother. And to the soothing sound of pussycat purrs. And to the peace and quiet.

God’s in his heaven. All’s right with Dexter and Harley. All’s right with the world.

Story this page © 2005 Sharyn Peacocke