This guest blog marks the first in an occasional series of ‘success stories’ from our community of cat and bird lovers.
Last year a couple of stray kittens showed up at our door and my husband and I decided to give them a home. As bird and cat lovers, we adopted them not only because they were extremely cute, but also with the hope of giving them a good life, while, at the same time, lessening the impact of outdoor cats on nature by at least two, not to mention all their potential offspring. Having devoted a combined thirty-five years to the study and conservation of wild birds, Graeme and I appreciate and are deeply concerned about the devastating role domestic cats play in the decline of songbirds and other native species.
This being the case, and while making an effort to accommodate the cats as well, we decided to take them out on a leash every day starting when they were kittens. They stay indoors the rest of the time. It’s a win/win situation – birds and other small creatures have fewer threats to worry about, and the cats have a safe, exciting, fun-filled romp in the great outdoors! While we know everyone’s circumstances differ, here are a few things we’ve learned after more than five hundred outings.
• Older cats may not adapt to a leash, but kittens quickly accept the harness as soon as they associate it with going for a walk. For our two – Momo-chan and Chibi-chan – putting their leash on is often the most exciting part of the day.
• As most of us with cat companions know, they like routine, so it’s good to take them out on a regular schedule. Whether it’s once a day or once a week, it’s best to stick to it. We take Momo and Chibi out once a day between 1 and 2 p.m. for about thirty minutes.
• Like with small dogs, it’s important to be alert when you’re outside with your cat. Cats in this position obviously don’t respond well to threats, especially dogs, and interaction should be kept to a minimum. Depending on where you live, you also need to watch for things like racoons, coyotes, foxes, birds of prey, snakes, stinging insects, etc. Not being attacked by them (unless they are ill or defending themselves), but accidentally cornering or startling them.
• Sometimes when our neighbour’s dogs are loose we take the twosome for a short drive. If they have their harnesses on they welcome the ride because they know it’s time for a walk. Just like dogs! We usually find an open space to walk and don’t stray too far from the car.
• Don’t let your cat climb a tree any higher than arm’s length. The leash or harness can get tangled in the branches, which may require a ladder or the fire department.
• If you have two cats, don’t take them out at the same time by yourself! Either call a friend or take them one after the other.
• Set boundaries where they can and can’t go, and be persistent. Before long your feline friend will figure things out and won’t try to drag you around the neighbourhood and countryside!
• While there are fewer concerns compared to year-round outdoor cats, think of your pussycat as an outdoor cat when it comes to shots and other recommendations that might not apply to strictly indoor cats.
• Encourage them and make sure they are comfortable with their surroundings. It’s no fun if they are stressed.
Taking the time to go for a walk with your cat requires an adjustment – cats are loved for their independence! – but the way we feel now about Momo and Chibi is no different from the attitude of millions and millions of dog-lovers. And, while it’s undeniably best for birds and nature for all cats to stay inside if they must, you only have to see the excitement of a finely-tuned animal like Momo and Chibi (actually, Momo’s not much of a climber!) – on a beautiful spring day, with all their senses going at once, to know they enjoy their safe outdoor time.
Have fun and be safe – your cat will thank you for it. Or maybe not!
Sumiko Onishi & Graeme Gibson
If you’d like to access step-by-step instructions for how to leash train your cat, click here.