Last fall, in an effort to try to help keep Ivy the Wonder Cat’s weight under control, as an experiment, I purchased a harness and leash and to see if going out for a walk would be of interest to her. As described in the blog post “Taking the Cat for a Walk”, she surprised me as she really enjoyed it.
Over the winter months, not surprisingly, the walks got shorter and I completely respected that. I never forced the issue with her especially since getting 4 booties on her paws would likely leave me with scratch marks all over my body.
Funny enough, in bad weather, she would still meow to go out for a walk, but because she seemingly didn’t believe me when I told her that the weather outside was frightful, I would put the harness and leash on her anyway, as if we were going for a walk, as per her command. When she looked outside, saw the weather and made a u-turn back into the house, the decision was hers that this wasn’t a good day for a walk and then the meowing stopped.
But after the snow melted, our mud puddle yard dried out and the days got longer, the visits outside became longer and more frequent. In her ritual to announce that it was time for a walk, she would stand by the pet gate and meow a few times, and when I’d join her, she would walk me to where I hang my coat. She is a smart one!
Now, in late spring, the walks are definitely part of our routine. She expects them now.
Her reaction to the harness is strangely irregular. Some days, the sight of it has her running to the pet gate with great enthusiasm. Most days she stands perfectly still and even sticks her head willingly into the right loop. Other days, she puts up a huge fuss, attempting to bite me. When that happens, I learned that I just have to create a diversion to get her attention on something else, and try again one minute later.
Either way, once we have the harness securely on her and the leash clipped to it, she is beyond joyful outside.
The point of the leash walks is the exercise component, but I really don’t have to do much except to keep an eye on her. In her royal tours of the gardens, she spies on the chipmunks and squirrels, she chases after birds and moths, and she sniffs at the plants around the yard. It doesn’t seem to really matter what she is doing specifically, she easily gets her “daily steps” in without any prompting from me.
What pleases me the most is when the walking turns into running and jumping. In those moments, I ask myself who is walking whom as I have to hit the gas on my own middle-aged legs to keep up with her, but I love it. It is like she’s a curious young kitten all over again.
When she was an exclusively indoor kitty, looking out the window supervising the activity in the back yard, she seemed fine. But I guess it must be like humans watching something in 2D vs 3D. By being outside, she gets the full immersive experience with the sights, scents and actually being able to move closer to check something out.
In our supervised walks, I enjoy seeing things through her eyes. For example, even though we live on a quiet country road, there are large vehicle that occasionally drive by. At first, when she heard the sound or vibration from the approaching vehicle she would just run toward the house. But after realizing that the vehicle isn’t a danger, her new technique is just to crouch down, retract her tail, and make herself as small as possible. When the vehicle passes, she becomes full-sized Ivy again. It is an interesting super power!
I find it amusing that when she sees a bird looking in the opposite direction, she goes into stealth mode kitty, walking in slow motion to sneak up on her “prey”. The reality is that with a 5 foot 5 inch human behind her, I tend to be the one to scare off the bird, so she never catches any. I’m just waiting for her to look at me one day in annoyance and meow, “Get lost! You’re ruining my game” but I don’t think she caught on to the cause/effect yet.
Her most recent trick is to take off like a bolt of lightning and to use her spring-like legs to jump up tree trunks. She doesn’t get very far as she doesn’t have the strength to pull herself up (yet… but I’m watching her carefully), but it is most amusing to see her with the 4 legs completely outspread, hugging a tree, much like a cartoon character. I wish I had a picture, but it happens so fast.
As the temperatures went above normal in the last week, I found it interesting that her walks started getting shorter again. If it was 30 degrees Celsius outside with humidity, I wouldn’t be inclined to be out very long in a fur coat, so I get it. But when temperatures cooled off, she was outside for longer periods again.
As I mentioned in the blog post last fall, the challenge for me is to truly keep a close eye on her and the plants she explores as there are definitely poisonous plants out there like lilies, lily-of-the-valley and daffodils. Even their leaves are dangerous. Not surprisingly, some weeds are toxic too.
For that reason, I decided to get a plant identification app, to educate myself on the safe plants where I can let my curious kitty explore, and to know when to steer her away from the dangerous ones.
One part that is less fun for both of us is coming in from outside on a wet day. She positively hates it when I touch her feet, but letting her into the house with muddy paws is out of the question. It takes a little patience to calmly hold her to get in there and dab her little paws with a soft cloth, but we eventually get there, despite her scratching, biting and complaining.
In some ways, it’s very cool that rather than hovering near the food bowl, meowing for more, she now sits by the pet gate, meowing for another walk. Clearly the healthy habit has been established.
Is it for everyone? Maybe not. I don’t know that every cat or every cat owner would take to it the same way that Ivy and I did. And with cats, you really can’t force them to do anything, right?
I was very nervous at first about taking her out. But in keeping a very close eye on the straps of her harness, the plants she is checking out, and keeping an eye out for potential predators we seem to be in a good routine. Also, flea and tick prevention is a must.
But the best part in all this is that it’s not a huge investment on my part to take the cat out 3 or 4 times per day for 15 to 20 minutes. I just time it to happen before or after working hours, or on my break time.
While we haven’t been back to her weigh-in meeting yet this season, I am pretty sure that she has lost some more weight as she is indeed looking more slender. And with the exercise, fresh air and renewal of her natural feline curiosity, I do hope that she will live a happier, healthier and longer life.
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Have a great day,