Thursday morning, as I was getting ready for the onslaught of arctic weather, I heard the unmistakable cries of a cat in distress. First thing I did was check on my two fur balls who were both asleep, one in the v-berth, the other back in the stern. Making sure they were ok, I listened again and heard the cries coming from outside someplace. So, I headed onto the dock to find out where they were coming from. Sure enough, about three slips down, I heard the cries again only much louder. I peered over the side into the water and there it was. Sopping wet, cold, and scared, sitting on a ledge in about 2 inches of water with the tide coming in. I had never seen this cat before so I thought it might be a stray or belong to someone who had just come into the marina. No matter, a rescue was needed. The little shit was just out of my reach but definitely wanted out of being where it was. So I found a neighbor with one of those big fishing dip nets and went to work. It took a few minutes as the cat was a bit scared of the net, but it had no place to go. I was finally able to get it into the net and up onto the dry dock. As soon as it was free of the net, it took off and headed back onto the boat that was docked there. I was guessing that was where the cat lived and later on the owner came by and thanked me for saving the poor critter. Apparently it don’t get outside very often and isn’t that sure footed on the deck. But, all is well. The cat survived the ordeal and I’m sure is now warm, dry, and comfy back inside the boat.
Many people who live on boats also keep a pet or two with them. I am one of those people. I have two cats, both of which stay inside all the time. They have always been inside. And in fact, one of them, Charley, the dumb one, managed to get out one time and fall in, or rather jump in, not knowing what water was, and spent an entire night clinging to a rope in the water before I found and rescued her. Not the smartest cat in the world. While living on a boat may not seem like the ideal situation for some pets, in fact, if properly trained, and conditioned, cats and some dogs do quite well living on a boat.
Of the two, cats are by far the easier to take care of. They don’t need to be walked. For the most part they can handle getting around on the deck. And as long as you have a place for the litter box, and keep them fed, they can adapt to boat living with no problems.
Dogs take a little more doing. They do need to be walked, or at least trained to use a paper toilet or such. Some breeds just don’t fit into the small space of a boat cabin and will have a hard time getting around. They are more maintenance heavy.
Here in the marina there are a lot of pets running around. In addition to my two cats and the one that went for a swim, there are a couple of other felines who, though they live on boats, are allowed to run free and patrol the docks. Both are quite friendly and everyone is kind to them, although they may get yelled at for jumping on a boat that doesn’t belong to them. There are also some strays that hang around the marina. The security guards feed them and they do keep the rat and mouse population under control.
As for dogs, there are at least 8 on the docks that I live on. Everything from little chihuahua’s to a boxer and a larger mix breed. They are for the most part well behaved but occasionally one will get into a mood and bark at everyone and anything that moves. The owners are all pretty good about keeping them on leashes. The marina has a small grassy area that is an unofficial dog park. No fence but room for a dog to do what dogs do, and plastic bags to pick up what the dogs do do.
If you are moving onto a boat and planning on adding a pet to the mix there are some things to think about. As I said, cats are a bit easier and adapt pretty quickly to life on the water. Dogs may take some more work. If you are adding in a new pet, the younger, the better. A kitten or puppy who grows up on a boat will have a better time getting used to what is what on the boat. If you are adding in a pet that has been used to living on the land, then you will need to take some time to help the animal get used to it’s new surroundings. Everything will be scary at first. The boat is always moving, there will be strange sounds and smells, and the animal will need assurance from you that it’s all ok.
Cats will sit in the corner in fear until curiosity gets the better of them and then they will start to snoop around into every hold, bilge, and corner of the boat. Be careful that they don’t get stuck anywhere or fiddle around with the wiring or other essential parts of the boat. If the cat is not declawed say good by to your cushions and pillows unless you can train them in the use of a scratch post. Find a nice out of the way spot for the litter box. Someplace that is still easy to get to so you can clean it. They will find it quick enough. Change the litter often as the smell can travel through the boat pretty quick. Same with their food and water dishes. If you let your cat on deck, keep an eye on it the first few times it goes out. Decks can be slippery and even those sharp claws might not be enough to prevent an unexpected swim. If you are at a slip make damn sure it’s ok to let the cat run loose around the marina. My marina is ok with it. Others may not be.
Dogs will need to acclimate in a similar way. Take them out for frequent walks so they can get used to the sights and sounds of the marina. If you can paper train the dog, all the better but they still need to get out and stretch their legs a bit.
As with any pet, make sure your pet is healthy, has it’s shots, and if possible, one of those chips so if the critter runs off, you stand a better chance of finding it. But, suppose you are traveling on the boat. What then?
There are some precautions you can take to protect your pet while under way. One of course, is to keep them inside the cabin. A dog or cat running around the deck while you are trying to rig sails, steer, and keep from sinking can be a big distraction. And if someone decides to go overboard while under way, you may not be able to come about and retrieve them in time. For dogs, because cats are too damn proud to wear one, there are pet life jackets. They will fit all manner of dogs and if you are going underway, and letting the dog on deck, wrap him up in one. They can still move about and do doggy stuff and will float if they go over the side. You can also add in nets along the safety lines that run around the deck of the boat. These will help somewhat in keeping a critter from sliding over and into the water. While at anchor or even in a slip, a thick rope hanging over the side can provide a hold for a cat to hold onto.
If you are traveling to other ports, keep in mind that the destination may not be as pet friendly as the one you left. The couple who recently took off for a three year around the world cruise had to leave their beloved dog, Sadie, behind as many countries would not allow her to enter the country. Some even claimed that they would kill the dog if they attempted to bring her on shore. Keep that in mind if you are planning on visiting foreign lands by boat. Even Hawaii has severe restrictions on bringing animals in.
Keeping a dog or cat, or any pet for that matter on a boat is not a big deal if you take the time to make your boat pet friendly. My two cats have plenty of room, they sleep most of the time anyways, and seem fat and happy. It’s not a cruel lifestyle by any means if you can train and care for your pet properly. Just be sure that you can before taking them onboard.
And keep a big dip net handy for rescues.