Last week I talked about why I don’t toilet train my cats — because in addition to the real health concerns, it just seems kind of unnatural. But you might be surprised (or shocked and horrified) to find out that I do enjoy engaging in another unnatural cat pastime: taking my kitties out for walks on a leash.
All right, I enjoy taking one of my cats out for leash walks, because only one of them really enjoys it. My leash-walking experiment began at my last home, a basement apartment on a semi-rural road in a small Maine city.
Siouxsie, my oldest, thinks going for walks is the most awesome thing ever. When she’s out with me, she chortles at other cats stuck inside: “Look at me, I’m outside! Oh yeah, baby — you just wish you were me. Ha ha ha!”
I took Siouxsie out pretty regularly. Each time she made her rounds, patrolling every corner of her domain. She scaled the five-foot retaining wall between my basement apartment and the front lawn with reckless abandon, and probably enjoyed the hell out of watching me scramble to keep up with her.
She got a thrill out of setting off my upstairs neighbor’s Jack Russell Terrier, putting him into a frenzy of yapping as she crossed “his” yard without even a second glance. I think we almost caused a couple of accidents as people driving by gawked at my cat on a leash, too.
As you can see in this video, even snow and ice can’t stop Siouxsie from enjoying her daily constitutional.
Thomas liked his outdoor leash adventure — until he realized that he couldn’t go everywhere he wanted to go. He tried to run into the woods, but the leash caught him and jerked him back. He grumbled at me when I stopped him from going under a storage shed and pulled him out from under my landlord’s RV. He was actively PO’d when I picked him up and carried him back into the house.
I never took Thomas out on a leash again. I was just too scared that he would escape. I trusted his “road smarts” well enough, but I didn’t trust motorists’ “cat smarts.” The road in front of my old place was a steep hill with a 45-mph speed limit, and people usually drove a lot faster than that.
Operation Dahlia was a catastrophic failure. As soon as I got the harness on her, she started screaming and flapping around like a fish pulled out of a pond. I’d never, EVER seen a cat freak out like that. I braved the storm of claws and teeth to catch her before she hit her head on the concrete floor, and removed the harness as quickly as I could. As soon as I freed her, she flew to the farthest, darkest and most inaccessible corner she could find.
I was in tears. I felt so awful that I’d panicked her so. I apologized and begged her forgiveness, and promised I’d never, ever do that to her again.
It took a few hours before Dahlia dared to approach me again.
Fast forward to last weekend. I knew I was going to write this article, and I wanted to see what Bella would think of a harness and leash.
She wasn’t sure whether it was a toy or a torture device.
I’m not taking anybody outside on a leash these days. The fleas and ticks are hellacious this summer, and since I’m getting ready for a cross-country move, I don’t want to add de-fleaing to my 738,759,348,574-mile long to-do list. Once I arrive in Seattle, I might experiment with walks if — and only if — I live in a place that has a safe, fenced backyard.
If you’re thinking about taking your cat out for leash walks, here’s what I recommend:
- You absolutely must use a harness. Cats can easily slip out of collars, and exerting pressure on the neck can cause injury. I recommend an H-harness rather than a figure-8. There are also some very effective vest-style harnesses on the market.
- Get your cat used to wearing the harness indoors. Once she’s acting comfortable and not skulking around, add the leash and let her get used to the feel of that. If she never acts comfortable, don’t force the issue.
- Keep your walks to safe areas during quiet times of the day. As your cat gets used to the noises and smells of outdoors, you may be able to expand your range.
How about you? Do you walk your cat on a leash? Have you tried it? Do you have any other advice for people who want to take their cats out for a walk? Please share your thoughts in the comment!
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.