Laura Moss was volunteering for a cat rescue group when one day she discovered a note and a tiny blue harness dangling beside the cage. The instructions at the local pet store where adoptions were taking place: Take the orange tabby on a walk.
Take a cat for a walk?
Much to her surprise, the skinny ginger seemed comfortable on a leash and knew right where he wanted to go, exploring aisles devoted to cat food, and later climbing atop a cat tree.
While the leashed cat left an impression on Moss, she didn’t leash-train any of her own cats for another decade – until one of her own cats, Fiver, seemingly content to see the world outside from his perch near a window, suddenly darted out the door a few years ago.
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That’s when Moss, now 34, took steps, little by little, to leash-train her white cat with gray spots and started allowing Fiver explore a wooded backyard with a creek. She also started taking her cat with a big personality on walks in the neighborhood.
From there, she wondered about taking cats hiking, cats on camping trips, cats kayaking, even cat surfing (yes, really). Two years ago, Moss, a freelance writer, and her husband Cody Wellons, launched AdventureCats.org – an online resource for safely exploring the great outdoors with your feline friend. “Adventure cats” is a growing trend, challenging ideas about where a cat can go and what a cat can do.
The site already boasts 150,000 monthly visitors and growing.
Moss now has a new book, “Adventure Cats,” ($14.95; Workman Publishing) that includes step-by-step how-tos for turning your cat into an outdoorsy adventure feline which (once a cat is trained) can be easy as strapping on your backpack and grabbing your go-to litter box. The book also features a collection of sweet stories about adventure cats – like Nanakuli, the one-eyed cat who surfs in Hawaii; Jesper, the Norwegian kitty who loves trotting alongside his owner as she cross-country skis; Floyd the Lion, who scales the red rocks of Utah; and Bela, the Brooklyn kitty who loves urban exploring.
The book is filled with adorable photos of cats who shred the image that cats are lazy and aloof, content to be left alone inside.
While the best time to introduce a cat to a harness is as a kitten because they will be more accepting of it, Moss said older cats are capable of learning to walk on a leash but patience and plenty of rewards are required. Moss acknowledges not every cat is cut out, or has the desire, to leave the comfy, safe confines of a house. She even has a “Purrsonality Quiz” to help determine if your cat is a good candidate for going outdoors. (Hint: If your cat runs and hides at new situations and unfamiliar sounds and shows little interest in gazing out the window, he or she may be perfectly content indoors).
“I’ve heard about with some cats, you put a leash on, and it’s cool with it, but it is usually a gradual and deliberate process,” said Moss, who has a second cat, named Sirius Black, and a German Shepherd mix named, Maeby. (Both cats are leash-trained and venture outdoors but like to stay close to home).
In her book, Moss breaks leash training a cat down into a six-step process that begins with introducing the harness, and only by step 6 are you and the cat ready to go outside. The book is filled with many practical tips for traveling with cats – from what to do if you encounter wildlife on the trail to 14 essentials you need for every outing.
It’s worth noting walking a cat is vastly different than walking a dog. While dogs happily follow their owner’s lead, cats are more likely to take the lead. In other words, don’t expect side by side jogs or walks. A cat may see an insect and decide to hunker down for a closer look, or may want to stay put and watch a bird, or nibble on a blade of grass.
A different pace can be what makes it so special, too.
“It’s fun to watch our cats wander around the yard and see what they pay attention to,” said Moss. “Taking your cat outside is a unique way to experience nature. It makes you slow down.”
Here’s a look at some adventure cats on Instagram: