Early on a mild January night, a faint, repeating beep began to sound in our apartment building. My wife, Liz, heard it first. We would have ignored it a while longer—we’re used to tuning out car alarms, agitated dogs and blaring televisions in our particular part of Queens—if we hadn’t then heard the neighbor kids running up the stairs. I opened the front door and listened as they pounded on the door to the apartment above ours, then ran back down shouting that they saw smoke.
And then we were trying to get our cat, Heidi, into her carrier. And there were people standing in the street, yelling directly at us to get out now. And there were sirens.
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No one was hurt. And only one unit in the building actually burned, but the whole place was soaked with hose water and today, months later, no one can live there. We found a new apartment quickly, but for two weeks the three of us were in hotels. (Paid for, largely, by our renters’ insurance—which, on the night of the fire, was one week from lapsing because we hadn’t gotten around to renewing online.)
I don’t recommend this experience at all. But if you find yourself staying in a hotel with a cat, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. There is such a thing as a disposable litter box.
We bought a three-pack at Petco while we were staying at a hotel in Midtown. These things worked well enough—they didn’t leak—but later, when we wound up spending a few days at the Conrad downtown near the Food & Wine offices, we arrived in our room to find something better: plastic disposable trays that come with litter. The Conrad had one ready and waiting for Heidi, along with a dish for her dinner.
2. You might get charged more than you’re expecting.
At best, you’ll usually pay some kind of nonrefundable cleaning fee. At worst, you’ll be billed hundreds of dollars if management decides your pet did something awful in the room. Heidi did no such thing (I swear), but at the Midtown hotel (which billed itself as pet-friendly) we got hit with an extra charge nonetheless. (Thanks, insurance.)
3. The best-case scenario is getting a suite.
This isn’t a matter of having extra space—it’s a matter of making it possible for hotel staff to service the room. Most hotels won’t clean your room while you’re not there if a pet is loose. If you have two rooms, though, your cat can spend the day in the bedroom with the door closed—allowing the maid service to, at least, refresh your towels. At the Conrad, Heidi spent the morning in the bedroom and when we came home from work at night, the whole place was clean and she was lounging on the sofa.
4. Cats enjoy hotels.
Or, at least, Heidi did. She seemed totally fine in the first hotel and downright comfortable in the Conrad. One night, as I was sitting in bed, drafting an annoyed email to our landlord, she padded up past me and jumped up on the headboard. Then there was a clunk, and when I looked up she was gone. Heidi had discovered a hidden windowsill (jackpot for a cat in any living situation) between the bed and the glass. For a moment perhaps she gazed at the Statue of Liberty in the distance. Minutes later she popped back out, and in the remainder of our stay she found cat-sized compartments all over the room: in the closets, under the furniture, in the shelving under the sink in the bathroom. This was an excellent hotel room for a cat.
In fact, Heidi probably would have preferred to remain at the Conrad. On the day we moved into our new place, we had to drop her off in the empty apartment before running to the old one to get what was salvageable. When we returned, she seemed to be nowhere. Had someone broken into our new place, taken our cat and left, locking the door behind them?
She’d actually burrowed to the bottom of a huge laundry pile. When you've grown accustomed to a certain level of accommodation, it's hard to go back.