Regular readers will recall that in an effort to keep Ivy the Wonder Cat’s weight under control, I take her out for leash walks around our rural property.
Since the beginning of the daily walks, one big adjustment has been to get her on a routine of regular flea and tick medication to ensure she doesn’t pick up any bugs (literally) on her journeys outdoors.
The other big adjustment for me, was to learn about her natural predators and to keep an eye out for them.
Since our arrival in the country, we have spotted all kinds of wildlife. But the ones to watch out for where Ivy was concerned were the fox (that we have seen), the coyote (that we have heard) and the fisher (that has been the subject of town gossip). And then there is always the question of whether there is more than one of them.
Most of the time, Ivy can walk around the property pretty safely. However, I need to be wise to the signs to the contrary.
For example, on any given day, squirrels and chipmunks can be seen frolicking around the property, digging up a variety of treasures.
On the morning I wrote the first draft of this blog post, I couldn’t see any… anywhere. It was eerie. The absence of squirrels and chipmunks is definitely not normal for us.
I would not jump to the conclusion that they all got eaten by predators. There are simply too many squirrels and chipmunks for that. But when they disappear, it is usually a red flag and a temporary situation.
Is a predator present or was a predator around recently? My tendency would be to keep Ivy in until the squirrels and chipmunks reappear, a pretty good sign that the coast is clear.
However, if Ivy still insists on going out (i.e., meowing like an ambulance by the pet gate) it is with the greatest of caution that I will put the leash on her and open the door.
Interestingly, Ivy herself will determine whether we make it out the door or not.
Sometimes, she sniffs the outdoor air and turns right back into the house. When that happens, we will postpone the walk until she says it is safe. I trust her instincts.
Sometimes, she will go out but won’t get past our deck. With her nostrils flaring actively, she might only stay outside a few minutes. I’m fine with that too.
She might look in the direction of the field beside our house and remain fixed on that gaze for several minutes. If she is monitoring a situation in the spirit of self-preservation, I am more than happy to work with that too.
Funny enough, during a leash walk, if she is scared by something, her tail can puff up to three times its normal width and then she takes off running toward the house like the Road Runner. I’m not sure if every cat has this built-in feature, but I’ve learned to keep an eye on her tail, watch for any changes, and to follow her lead… which sometimes means calling upon cellular memory from my 5K and 10K days and sprinting to keep up with her.
Another sign is to watch the other wildlife. I spotted a skunk running like a cartoon character, moving quickly westbound on our gravel road. When you combine this sighting with the absence of squirrels and chipmunks, I figured that something must have been going on to the east of our property.
Similarly, if all of the birds are in the trees, and not a single one is pecking at the lawn looking for food (again, not normal), potentially there could be a threat at ground level.
I’ll never forget the day we were visited by a dozen wild turkeys, roaming around our property for over an hour. I don’t think Ivy was sure what to make of them as she made no requests to go out. She preferred to stay inside and watch them from the window.
What was stunning was to see the whole flock airborne and flying up into our maple trees like a perfectly choreographed flash mob of turkeys.
Moments later, I spotted a fox in our backyard, looking up at the turkeys, knowing he had just missed his window of opportunity. Fifteen minutes later, the wild turkeys relocated to another venue and the fox was nowhere to be seen. Needless to say, given all of the action (and likely the lingering scent of fox), Ivy didn’t go out much that day.
All that to say that as much as we want to encourage Ivy to go for her health walks to keep her living a long healthy life, it will not come at the cost of putting her in harm’s way.
On the days when Ivy wants to go out but shows signs of apprehensiveness, I am more than happy to act as her personal security detail, watching carefully in every direction, until she decides that it is time to go in.
And if she has a day that she will not make it past the door or the deck, I will not force the issue. I trust her instincts.
But on most days, when the squirrels, chipmunks and birds are going about their business at ground level, all is right with the universe. We take that as a good sign to go for our health walks and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and quality time together.
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