My Furry Friends

Jiab Wasserman

I’M KNOWN AS A FRUGAL, rational and practical spender. My husband Jim likes to remind me that, six months into dating, my first birthday present to him was prefaced with, “I think I know what you want and need.” It was a three-compartment laundry hamper to separate his clothes before washing.

But one area where I’m neither rational nor practical is cats. I wholeheartedly agree with Jim Kerr’s recent dog story, where he wrote that a pet is a terrible investment—if we’re only considering money. Unfortunately, knowing this rationally and denying myself a furry friendship are two different things.

We recently returned from a family vacation in Portugal with our two sons. Having previously lived in Spain, we realized how much we miss the slower-paced, life-celebrating Iberian way of living. Jim and I have a renewed itch to live there again, at least part-time.

We moved back to the U.S. last year to be closer to our sons, who work in Texas. In discussing our renewed desire to live overseas, Jim and I agreed that the best balance would be to alternate six months in Portugal with six months in the U.S. We’re not getting any younger, and our go-go travel years will end one day.

We plan to rent an apartment in Portugal while maintaining our home in Texas, which gives us the best of both worlds. We’ll have a base from which to explore Portugal, other European countries and the rest of the world, plus a home in Texas where our family and friends can easily gather and connect.

The only snag in this plan is our cats. Traveling back and forth across the Atlantic every six months with cats isn’t impossible, but it is difficult. We’ve done it twice in the past four years, and there were many hoops to jump through, all accompanied by loud howls and meows.

Moving to Spain in 2018 required as much paperwork—all at a cost—for our two cats as it did for ourselves. We also had to find an apartment that allowed cats, which added complications and reduced our choices among long-term rentals. The hardest part, however, was simply arranging the transatlantic flight with our two cats in the cabin.

Only some airlines allow cats to fly transatlantic. Those that do allow a limited number of small pets on board, and that quota can fill up quickly. Lufthansa was highly recommended for flying to Europe by most American ex-pats.

We flew Lufthansa, but the airline rerouted our flight to Spain through Frankfurt. This threw us into another paperwork scare because, while the cats were cleared for entry into Spain, we weren’t sure if they were permitted in Germany. Happily, it all worked out.

Then there’s the challenge of the cats’ cooperation—or lack thereof. One of our cats passed away in Spain and we adopted a Spanish street cat that hates traveling. During the entire 24 hours of the car and plane trip back to the U.S., she had one loud message. No me gusta—I don’t like it.

She cried—make that howled—the whole trip from Alicante to Paris to Atlanta to Dallas. There were three crying babies on our transatlantic flight, which prevented us from being the most-hated passengers onboard… well, almost.

Now we’re toying with twice-a-year travel across the Atlantic. Without our cats, we would’ve already gathered our paperwork and applied for Portuguese long-term residence visas. Anticipating fractious feline flying, however, we’re hesitating. It’s illogical.

I know we aren’t alone. Behavioral economics acknowledges that human decision-making is often irrational. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than with pets. From a logical perspective, if we want to be able to travel freely, we’d be much better off without them.

To make matters more complicated, we’ve just adopted yet another cat, a young male named “The Dude.” We fostered him for a bit and then found we couldn’t let him go. On our first night back from Portugal in early October, all three cats curled up with us and made a warm human-cat pile on the bed.

Jim and I have had tremendous luck financially, helped partly by keeping each other rational about our money decisions. We check each other’s blind spots.

But let’s call this one our double-blind spot. No matter how illogical cat ownership may be, they’re part of us and we can’t separate them from our lives.

Jiab Wasserman, MBA, RICP®, has lived in Thailand, the U.S. and Spain. She spent the bulk of her career with financial services companies, eventually becoming vice president of credit risk management at Bank of America, before retiring in 2018. Jiab lives in Texas with her husband Jim, who also writes for HumbleDollar. She’s an advocate for addressing the issue of gender inequality. In addition to writing and playing tennis, Jiab creates and sells art, which is available through her online shops. She and Jim are working on a new book, due out in 2023, that examines the impact of social media influencers on youth consumerism and identity development. Head to Linktree to learn more about Jiab, and also check out her earlier articles.

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