I walk my cat. On a leash.
That particular day, Danger must have sensed that I was more malleable to her charms than normal. I happened to mention “kitty walk” in the morning, so she was already gearing to go by the time I sat down on the bench to dig for her leash. When I get near that bench, she gets pretty excited, especially when she knows she’s going to go for a walk. (Of course, to be anti-climatic, she stops just outside the door. Normally she bolts out and won’t even let me lock the door. Also, I swear my voice is not that squeaky, the mic on the phone is just not great for video.)
Plenty of people have told me this is strange behavior for a cat, putting on a leash and walking. Personally, I don’t think it’s the behavior that’s strange. The problem is that expectations are limiting.
So what made me want to walk my cat on a leash? Why not just let her outside to roam free? I live in a one bedroom apartment. There’s plenty of room inside for all of us, but we live close to a large road and we’re right next to a parking lot. My horrible fear was that something terrible would happen to my cat. At first I thought she wasn’t too bright. That was wrong. The issue is she’s rather too bright and curious. She’s always getting into things she shouldn’t, and it worried me that she’d end up getting harmed in some way. I’d be gutted if something happened to her.
So, I decided that I’d take her on walks. Because she’s so curious about the world, the space in the apartment is not enough for her. She doesn’t play with cat toys like the other cat does. She needs mental stimulation, so the two of us go out and explore the world together.
(The baa-ing is my laughing. But my cat really does sound pretty squeaky. She has the cutest meow!)
Here’s the thing– when we go out walking, I don’t treat her like a dog I’m walking on a leash. We head out together on an adventure, and generally, she’s the one in the lead. When we get to a place that I don’t like her to go, like the parking lot, I would stop and go no further. I never, ever had to tug on her leash, and I would never ever do that to a cat. She learns best by thinking she’s the one who’s made the executive decision to change course. Now we don’t even walk past those areas that I don’t like anymore. The couple of times we’ve gone near them, she’s even on heightened guard now. And if we run across something she really doesn’t like, she runs home, dragging me behind her. That’s unusual behavior for this cat. Nothing scares her; she’s always thought she could take on anything.
So how did I get her walking with me? That was a three step process.
Step One: Introducing the leash to the environment. For about a month or two before I even tried putting the leash on her, I left it by the front door so both cats could play with it and become familiar with it. This was an important step. It took a while, but when they were starting to play with it, I knew it was time for the next step.
Step Two: Putting the harness on. The boy cat was scared of it, so I didn’t force him. Danger though, she stepped right up. It was a struggle to get her to hold still long enough to size and clasp it. If I couldn’t get it clasped because she was squirming too much, I’d take it off her and leave her alone to try again later. The first couple of times I got the harness on her, I let her roam around the house with it on for a while. When I could tell it wasn’t that big a deal to her anymore, I proceeded to the final step.
Step Three: Putting on the leash and going for a walk. The first time out, I actually had to pick her up and take her outside. I put her down, and then I let her lead. That was the most important part of the entire experience. It’s not about me taking her for a walk, it’s about her going for a walk with my guidance.
The thing about walking cats is that it takes time and patience and a new way of thinking. And cats can actually enjoy it! I found out recently that one of my good friends walks her cat on a leash around the neighborhood. This isn’t to say that every cat will love walking on a leash. Cats are as different as people are. Some cats will never like being put on a harness and having a human following them around. My hope is that more people will stop assuming that all cats will hate it and that they’ll give it a good try.
I’d like to add: Happy new year! May you find yourself trying new things this year that you wouldn’t have considered possible before. Don’t let your expectations hold you back this year, and don’t be afraid to fail.