In both cities that I’ve lived in since sharing my life with Ghost Cat, the municipal bylaws surrounding cats couldn’t be clearer. The wording of “no owner shall allow or permit his cat to run at large” doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation. By the time I became a pet parent to Ghost Cat, I was old enough that my rule-breaking days were long behind me, so I’ve tried my best to make sure my kitty gets some fresh air without disobeying City Hall.
While I don’t believe leashes are the solution for every cat, a leash has been a lifeline to the outdoors for my Ghosty. We started putting her into a harness pretty quickly after we brought her home from the shelter in September 2013, because we figured she was probably used to going outdoors. Pets weren’t allowed on the roof-top outdoor space in our building, so we hooked up her leash and took Ghost Cat out onto the sidewalks and alleyways of downtown.
We used to take her for walks just around the block, around our building. We let her lead us, and she’d meander in a zigzag, getting close to the side of the building at times, and sometimes stubbornly stopping altogether. In my experience, walking a cat isn’t the same as walking a dog — it’s really more of an outdoor adventure than a straight up walk, and a cat on a leash is a rare enough site in some cities to attract attention. Passersby would see her and smile, call her pretty, or make a joke about us walking a cat. Ghost Cat would sniff every bit of concrete (we discouraged her from licking or eating anything), and paw after liquor store receipts or candy bar wrappers abandoned on the ground. She seemed to like getting out into the sunshine, but the fun was over as soon as the noisy bus drove by, leaving Ghost Cat cowering.
We’d walk her away from the sounds, give her some treats, and take her with us on the two block trek to 7-11. Unfortunately, the common occurrence of broken bottles and blood on the sidewalk meant we often had to pick her up or risk exposing her to the biohazards left behind by late-night fights. The downtown environment seemed to be too noisy for Ghost Cat to enjoy, and too dirty for us to let her enjoy. So we took her to other places, like a fro-yo place across town. We met a friend there after one of Ghosty’s vet visits, and the staff let me bring her through the store and out to the patio. She sat with us on the little patch of grass outside the fro-yo place, climbing onto the patio fence and smelling everything while we supervised and ate our treats.
The fro-yo season is short where I live, replaced quickly by frostbite season. We didn’t take Ghost Cat outdoors during the harsh Canadian prairie winter, for fear of frozen paws. Her out-of-the-apartment excursions were limited to cat-friendly indoor places like pet stores. But in the springtime (also known as late winter here in Canada), we moved to a new city, to a more typically suburban neighborhood, and the leash came out again.
During the first month after our move we were waiting to get possession of our new place, and staying with friends. Although there was still a little snow on the ground, we would leash Ghost Cat up and take her out in the backyard to play with our friend’s kids — and Ghost Cat loved it. It was a closed space, away from traffic noise, where she could investigate smells and torture old bits of dry leaves to her heart’s content. Even with my friend’s dog out there with her, Ghost Cat loved being on leash in the backyard.
When we finally got our new place, one of the first things we did was hook Ghost Cat up to the leash and let her enjoy the yard. We’ve since swapped her old clip-away harness for a softer, handmade harness, which is more like a vest. Ghost Cat likes to go out in our yard, and because the street we now live on is a school zone, the cars must slow down to 18 mph. These slow vehicles don’t scare her as much as the buses and motorcycles that used to blast past our old apartment.
While Ghost Cat loves being on leash in the yard, she is also enjoying the freedom of our sunroom. It’s not quite as open as a catio would be, but it gets more of a breeze than the rest of the house and provides plenty of vantage points for Ghost Cat to monitor what’s happening in our backyard. Occasionally a moth will get in there and provide Ghost Cat with some good pouncing opportunities.
The sunroom is good, but it’s still a step removed from outdoors. I am considering getting some kind of clothesline contraption to set up in the backyard. I think it would be cool to hook Ghost Cat’s leash to a clothesline so that she could be outside with us without having a human hold the end of her leash.
What do you think about cats on leashes? Have you tried to put your cat on a leash? Do they enjoy it or fight it? Tell us your story in the comments!
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is Ghost Cat’s mom. She is also a wife, writer and former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts GIFs of her cat on Google +.