Go, Cat, Go!
Adventure cats are living the dream and carrying on their feline heritage of exploration
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
My husband and I were loading up our kayak and stand-up paddleboard a few weeks ago when I squealed, “An adventure cat!” Sure enough, a tabby cat wearing a yellow flotation device tugged at his leash as the people next to us unloaded their kayak. It was Pan’s first time out on the water, they said.
He’s not alone. Instagram is full of photos of cats hiking, camping, boating, surfing, sledding and snowshoeing (on their built-in snowshoes, er, paws). Earlier this year, Laura Moss, who founded Adventurecats.org in 2015, published “Adventure Cats: Living Nine Lives To the Fullest,” a guide to safely taking cats outdoors.
If you think about it, cats are the original adventure animals. They globe-hopped with Phoenician traders; sailed with Vikings; crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower to help settle the New World; and traveled in wagon trains with pioneers across prairies, plains and deserts. In 1950, a black-and-white kitten climbed Matterhorn with a group of alpinists. Clearly, cats are impressive adventurers.
While exploring the great outdoors with their humans is nothing new to cats, it sometimes surprises their people how well they take to it. Emily Odum Hall of Macon, Georgia, had previously tried leash-training a couple of her cats, but they wanted nothing to do with it. Then Sophie came along. She had a laid-back personality and enjoyed hanging out with Hall and her husband in their backyard. They ventured farther, to a concert in a park. Sophie’s adventures blossomed from there, and she has been joined by Kylo Ren, an adventure cat in training.
“They really like parks and being outside and smelling new smells and seeing new sights,” Hall says. “My husband’s parents live in Florida on the St. John’s River and have a boat. We’ve taken them out on the river, and they both really enjoy that.”
The best cats for an adventurous life tend to be either laid-back or bold. Sophie and Kylo Ren fall on the easygoing end of the spectrum.
“It was her temperament and her laid-back personality that made us want to try it in the first place,” Hall says. “Sophie always has this look on her face like, ‘Oh, man, this is so much fun.’ She just goes with the flow all the time.”
Physical condition need not hold a cat back. Sophie has a neurological condition called cerebellar hypoplasia that affects her coordination. She can walk with a leash and harness, but often she rides in a sling that Hall wears. Being able to carry Sophie and Kylo Ren that way is helpful for urban adventures or places they might encounter dogs, Hall says.
The people we met who were taking their cat kayaking did so without a dry run, so to speak, but a little practice and acclimation beforehand is always a good idea. Exposing a cat to a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard, for instance, could involve having it in the yard or home, allowing him to explore it at his leisure. Place treats on it for him to find. Go slowly, fitting him with a flotation device, and reward frequently with treats while he’s wearing it. For a larger boat, start by hanging out on it at the dock, letting him get used to sounds he might hear, such as the engine starting, boat horns or gulls squawking.
Wherever you go with your adventure cat, don’t forget necessary items, such as a portable water dish, a supply of food in case you don’t get back before dinnertime, and for camping or boating, a litter box. A collar with ID and a microchip are musts as well.
“It’s so much fun having adventure cats,” Hall says. “You see people with their dogs all the time, and having two cats I can take places is a lot of fun.”