Kitty on a Leash

Kitty on a Leash

Are you thinking about leashing your cat, so he can be happy outdoors? Perhaps my experience can help.

My first childhood cat went outdoors almost all the time, even at night during the summers. But I was a kid then and never gave the situation any thought. In fact I assumed this was the only way to keep a cat.

Since then I have never been without a beloved cat or two, and although they continued to go outdoors, at least I always kept them in at night, mostly because I was afraid they would be hit by cars. Then sometime back in the early nineties, I learned that an average house cat can kill as many as 40 birds in one short summer season. Yikes! I loved the birds too. I would have to learn to somehow change my ways.

At that time I had two cats, Lucy, a female stray who had moved in with us, and Mistoffeles (Stoff), a male we’d had since kittenhood. Both were over 12 years old by then, and definitely outdoor cats.

The first change I made was to wean them slowly. I began by letting them go outdoors for shorter and shorter periods each day, always before suppertime when they were hungry. Eventually, I’d call them back in to eat after only about twenty or thirty minutes.

The next step was to let them out fewer days each week, until finally we were down to just once a week. I chose Sunday mornings because I was home from work and the neighbourhood was quiet then. At first I put up with some complaints, meowing at doors, a bit of scratching and so on, but not as much as I had expected. Soon my cats, adaptable as all cats are, became used to this new routine.

Next my husband screened in the area under our high back deck to make a ‘Cat Condo’. Now they could be out there whenever we were home. It was a mixture of gravel and a few weedy areas, nothing special, but at least they had the smells of outdoors and it seemed to satisfy them.

When Stoff was 15 years old, I got the bright idea from somewhere, not sure where, to train him to a leash. I emphasize his age because I’ve heard people comment that you must have to start them on a leash as kittens. Not true. I was, however, exceedingly patient.

First I put the harness on Stoff, indoors, for just ten minutes. He crouched, squirmed and writhed, but left it on for the full ten. Each day I increased the time a little bit, until he would put up with it for about half an hour. That’s when I started taking him out into the grassy back yard in his harness with the leash attached. He did not try to run. He soon learned not to pull either, perhaps because pulling would hurt his neck.

And so, bit by bit, Mistoffeles became my first leashed cat.

Now we have Gesso, age twelve, who we rescued from a shelter before she was a full year old. Because of the success with Stoff, I started training her right from day one. Yes, I was patient, but she caught on quickly. I wonder if cats realize on some level that having the leash on let’s them go outdoors, which is where they like to be. In those days we had a little travel trailer, and for five years Gesso got to go camping with us because of her leash skills. She was leashed out in all kinds of spaces that were completely unfamiliar to her. No problem.

One thing we’ve noticed is that if Gesso does occasionally slip out of the house without her leash on, she doesn’t run, or even move quickly. She walks slowly, and only as far as she could go with the leash. It’s as if she doesn’t actually know when she’s on the leash and when she’s not. Odd!

If you decide to leash your own cat, and I hope you will, you will find that leashing is only appropriate for people who have time and are willing to be vigilant. Here are some tips to help you on your way.

#1. Be patient. Always, but especially in the training stage.

#2. Never leave your leashed cat unattended! The rope will get tangled a hundred times, leaving kitty stranded. And if your cat pulls very hard, he or she could escape. Also, there’s always the chance a dog or cat will come along, and Kitty on the leash wouldn’t stand a very good chance in a fight.

#3. Your cat will likely love going for walks, but don’t imagine it will be like walking a dog. Kitty sets the pace and the route. There will be a lot of stops for rolling around on the sidewalk, climbing a tree, or for just sitting and staring. Also, be prepared to get some funny comments from passers by. My favourite: ‘Do you realize that’s a cat you have on your leash?’

As you can see, you will need to be vigilant, but I think you and your cat will be pleased with the result. Oops, I hear the stove timer reminding me to check on Gesso. Yup, there she is curled up on the front porch in a sunspot. Happy Kitty. Safe birds.

Good luck with leashing your cat.

– Diane Wile-Brumm