Whenever I travel abroad, my eye is drawn to any animals that I encounter. When I was in Finland, and while travelling on a Finnish train, I was astonished to come across a tabby cat sitting in his own seat, as comfortable and relaxed as a human passenger. Here in Ireland, it is rare to see pets on trains, and any travelling cats are always securely confined in their pet carrier boxes. I stopped to talk to Sanna, to find out more about Anka’s story.
The first thing that Sanna explained was that Anka was travelling in a specially designated “pet carriage”. She pointed to a sign on the wall, and sure enough, there was a clear sign indicating that the carriage was non-smoking, and that pets were allowed. As I looked around, I saw that there were a few more cats (although the others were in their carrier boxes), and there was a large German Shepherd dog as well. The Finnish rail authorities have recognised that pets need to travel, and that designated animal carriages are better for pets and pet-owners, as well as for other train passengers who may desire to avoid sitting anywhere near pets. All pets on Finnish trains must travel in this special pet carriage. (Interestingly, Finnish trains also have designated “child-carriages”, with child-locked doors at either end, and a play-area for toddlers, so that in a similar way, parents can have a child-friendly area, and other passengers can enjoy a child-free zone.)
Sanna explained that she was a student living in Helsinki, but she often travelled home at weekends to visit her family. She could not leave Anka alone in Helsinki, and so the only option was to take him with her. He did not enjoy car or bus journeys, meowing and wailing continually in his cage. But she had learned that he seemed to genuinely enjoy travelling on trains. At first, she used to leave him in his carrier cage, but she noticed that he seemed so at ease during the journey that she decided to lift him out onto her lap. Soon after, he made it very clear to her that he wanted to hop off her lap, onto the seat beside her. After checking that there were no open windows, and no lively dogs in the area, she allowed him free to sit on his own seat.
Anka seemed to understand the situation, and he took his place on his seat like a king sitting on a throne. Sanna was a little anxious the first time he did this, but he has proved to be a reliable, safe train traveller. Anka always stays in his chosen seat, looking out of the window, and apparently enjoying train travel in the same way as a human passenger. He has never tried to jump up and run down the carriage, and he has even learned to tolerate the presence of other animals.
While I was talking to Sanna, the owner of the German Shepherd dog reached her destination and alighted from the train. Sanna picked Anka up and held him on her lap as the dog passed close by, but the cat remained at ease, completely unfazed by the proximity of the large dog. Sanna travels frequently in the pet carriage on the train, and she explained that she had never seen a serious fracas involving the animals in the carriage. It seems as if the pet owners take responsibility for their pets, making sure that the animals are well controlled at all times. When I thought about it, the train carriage did seem similar to a vet’s waiting room here in Ireland, but with much more space for each animal. There are occasional incidents in veterinary waiting rooms, but as long as dogs are on leashes, and cats can be put into carrier cages, animals are generally very good at tolerating each other.
I asked Sanna how she dealt with toileting issues, and she explained that like most pets, Anka is a creature of habit. He has a litter tray at home, and he always using it first thing in the morning, and after his supper in the evening. He very rarely seems to need to go at any other time. Sanna always made sure that he had used his litter tray before heading off to the train station, and there had not been a problem so far. The train journey was only a few hours anyway. She did have a spare, empty cat cage in case Anka did decide to relieve himself, but this had never been needed so far. The train pulled into our destination, and it was as if Anka knew that he had arrived. Sanna opened the cage door, and Anka hopped inside his carrier. It is impossible to know what goes on inside a cat’s head, but Anka certainly gave every appearance of being an experienced traveller who actively enjoys his train journeys.
Finland is a well-organised, efficient country, and the pet carriage on the train is a good example of a well-planned, thoughtful service for passengers and their pets. I am sure it is easy to think of possible complications and difficulties, but in Finland, none of these seem to have materialized. If anyone from Iarnród Éireann is reading this, what about starting pet carriages on Irish trains?
- Pets need to be securely restrained during travel, with dogs on leashes and cats in carriers
- If the situation is safe, pets can be allowed a little more freedom, like Anka on the train
- If you want pet carriages on Irish trains, write to Iarnród Éireann today!