We hope you enjoy this guest post written by Megan, @leonadventurecat about her experience with adopting, and harnessing her new kitten.
I hadn’t had a single thought about getting a cat until I saw Leon’s photo on the SCRAPS (Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service) page as I was scrolling through Facebook. I had been following SCRAPS for years and had enjoyed the photos and the stories but wasn’t looking to add an animal to the family. I had birds because I could give them food and water and leave for a week and they wouldn’t care. I’m hardly ever at home. I thought I was allergic to cats. I live in a tiny house, 320 square feet total, way too small of a space for a rambunctious kitten. I’ve always sworn I would only have indoor/outdoor cats and the area I live in is not safe for cats. he last cat I had died about 18 years ago. He was a feral street kitten I brought home from Egypt.
I think that animals pick us rather than the other way around. There was something very special and unusual about Leon’s photo that’s hard to explain. I screenshotted it in the morning and was showing it to people all day. I realized at some point that to everyone else he just looked like a cute orange kitten. Because it was such an unusual reaction for me to have I decided that maybe there was something “more” to it, maybe something unexplained that needed to be explored. I decided to go see him at Petco. Of course we all know where that story ends.
Bringing Leon Home
When I brought him home there was such uncertainty. I wasn’t at all convinced it was the right thing to do. There was no way a cat could live in the confines of my tiny house and grow up happy and healthy. I believe that having “paws in the dirt” is how cats ground themselves and connect with nature. There are very few outdoor cats that are neurotic. I knew I would have to get him outdoors somehow, and a leash was the only way I could think of to do it. At the time I didn’t know there were such things as adventure cats, so I thought I was one of the first people to ever consider trying to leash train a cat. Boy was I wrong!
Leon’s first harness was put on him the first day he came home and every day after that for quite a while. Our first outing was the back yard where he sat in a chair with me and didn’t get down. The next time he jumped down and started exploring. Each outing he got braver and braver. It seemed to be going well, and our first real “hike” was at a golf course that had closed down for winter with quiet trails and no traffic. We went about a mile and a half and he walked maybe a quarter of it. The rest of the time he rode inside my jacket with his head sticking out. I was completely blown away by the whole experience as I had never seen anyone walking their cat on a leash and couldn’t believe it had just happened.
He goes almost everywhere with me that I can take him. I believe that the more cats (and all animals) are exposed to and the more they are desensitized the better. If it’s cool enough I’ll take him in the car when I run errands and just leave him in there. I started taking him to Petco and Petsmart right away. Lowes and Home Depot allow pets inside their stores, and lots of outdoor cafes do too. We go on lots of hikes in the local parks and trails, and recently took a road trip to the Columbia River Gorge, Portland, OR, and the Oregon Coast. Leon has also been camping, skateboarding, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding. His favorite things to do are chasing bugs and rolling in dirt.
The best part of adventuring with Leon is that I hike a lot more in nature than I used to. I’m always looking for good trails to take him on and have discovered areas in Spokane that I didn’t know existed. I’ve found I need to be OK with slowing my pace. I need to let him sniff and explore things and stop at the trees to look up at them. He has the ability to get into “hike” mode and does when we’re with a group of people that are all walking at the same pace — he’s hiked most of some 5 and 6 mile trails, but prefers to take things a bit slower.
We love our local trails and Riverside State Park is close by. My favorite trails are along the Spokane River because I love being near water. This winter Leon did the Iller Creek trail up to the Rocks of Sharon in the snow. It was a little over 6 miles and we gained 1,250 feet. Leon hiked almost all of it! Recently we hiked to the Quartz Mountain Lookout tower on the top of Mt. Spokane off of the cross country ski trails and he refused to be carried at all on the way up. He also drank out of his first stream.
Leon is so brave with most things in life that I thought that a road trip to the Oregon Coast would be a snap. After 6 hours in the car, staying at a friend’s house and then a pet friendly motel, I boldly took him to a vista above the beach and set him down in his cat carrier. He didn’t want to come out. He was really scared. The ocean was loud, it was windy, and there were people and dogs down below. I thought I had broken my cat. I had pushed him too far. He would never trust me again. I was in tears walking back to the car when he jumped out of the pack and started chasing a bug into the trees. Leaping after the bug with the pure joy of a kitten who’s never seen spring before. He was just fine. We had three days on the coast and every day he got braver and braver. On the last day he walked on the beach and even posed for some pictures at sunset.
It has been awesome to connect with other adventure cats and their people from all over the world on Instagram. I have been inspired to do a lot more with Leon then I initially thought.
My advice for leash training your cat:
1.) When you start taking your cat out on trails, the most important thing is to find a quiet one with the least amount of traffic. Cats like small narrow trails that go through bushes or the woods or rocks, they don’t like being in open exposed spaces. It is much easier to get your cat to walk on a trail than a say in a park.
2.) I take a backpack with me on trails to put Leon in when he doesn’t want to walk anymore or when he gets scared.
3.) We have had to adjust our schedule a lot since summer began because of the heat. Leon really struggles in warm and hot temperatures and will start open mouth panting which is somewhat terrifying the first time it happens. I have a cooling collar for him which seems to help a bit, and I also put an ice pack in the backpack.
4.) I always take water and a small compact water dish.