Meet Leon the adventure cat. He adores kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and long walks on his leash. Above all, though, he is most excited about hiking quiet trails in the woods, but his owner says he is willing to go anywhere in his cat pack.
“Leon always wants to go,” says his owner, Megan Ferney. “His harness hangs by the front door, and he often tries to put it on himself because he knows that means he gets to go outside or in the car.”
Gary, a spunky, domestic long-haired cat, is particularly fond of “meowtaineering” trips and has been known to gladly trek across a glacier and join his owner on ski excursions. By that, I mean, he rides atop his owner’s shoulders – often while sporting ski googles and puffy vests – while said owner is careening down the ski slopes.
Believe it or not, these intrepid cats with a taste for the outdoors are not an anomaly. Search #adventurecats on Instagram, for example, and you’ll see more than 300,000 photos of cats accompanying their humans on outdoor excursions. Think: camping, climbing boulders, jogging and rock climbing.
Among these courageous cats are, Suki the 3-year-old Bengal who has traveled to 13 countries and loves canoeing. And Hokule’a, the surfing cat on Oahu, Hawaii, who happily spends hours on a surfboard and isn’t afraid to launch himself into the saltwater for a quick swim.
This begs the question: How exactly did these cats end up so brave and bold when so many cats are just the opposite? For Leon’s owner, who lives in a tiny house in Spokane, Washington, it was out of necessity. She knew he needed more space to explore in order to be happy and healthy. And allowing him to roam wasn’t safe in that area. So she bought him a harness and the training began.
“I knew that I wanted Leon to associate the harness with good, fun things,” she recalls. “I attempted to give him treats as an award for putting it on, but he was so frantic for the treats, I’m not sure if he understood he got them after it was on or not. It worked though, and every time I picked up the harness he came sprinting over.”
The next step was getting him to actually move while wearing the harness.
“That can be difficult because a lot of cats flop over on their sides and remain statue-like until the harness is removed,” she says. “I’d leave the harness on for longer and longer periods of time, up to a few hours if I was at home. It wasn’t too long until he was accustomed to it and did all of his normal cat things with his harness on.”
Since then, Leon has conquered tons of hiking trails in his home state and has done his fair share of camping in Idaho and road trips on the Oregon Coast.
Laura Moss, co-founder of adventurecats.org and author of “Adventure Cats: Living Nine Lives to the Fullest,” says she thinks it’s becoming more mainstream. “I’ve been writing about pets for years for various publications, and taking cats on adventures has been around long before my website or social media existed. We just became a place for this community to share stories and photos and swap advice.”
Think your feline has the makings of an #adventurecat? Moss can help you with the next step: you can find leash-training techniques on her website.
“Some cats take to a harness very easily,” says Moss. “This is especially true with kittens who are very open to new experiences, so if you can begin leash training from a young age, that’s ideal. However, some cats, especially older ones, may take a bit longer – but it’s still possible. Just practice patience and start slow.”
“Older cats can sometimes be more difficult to train, but it totally depends on the cat,” she says. “We’ve been on walks with a senior cat named Pan in Central Park who was adopted from an New York City shelter when he was 10-plus years old. He rides the subway, hikes, and recently moved to England where he continues to explore.”
Regardless, you never know what will happen day to day, so stay flexible.
“One of the challenges of traveling with a cat or training a cat can be its sensitivity to the environment,” says Martina Gutfreund, Suki’s owner. “Sometimes it’s too hot, too windy, or Suki just doesn’t like a certain place. You have to be prepared to call it quits upon arriving somewhere if your kitty isn’t feeling it. We try to look at weather conditions and plan ahead as best as we can, but there are times where we have to head back home.”
Some cats even love the ocean
Swimming through saltwater off the coast of Honolulu is certainly an activity that 99% of cats would abhor. But not Hokule’a. When Alessia Sapori and her boyfriend adopted this shy kitty, he started following them everywhere, even into the shower, which he didn’t mind at all.
It dawned on his owners, who are avid surfers, that Hoku might want to paddle out into the ocean with them on a board. Turned out, he trusted them completely and took to it quickly. And when there are no waves in sight, he’s equally content hanging out on the board or taking a nap.
Likewise, Anneka Rains and Ryanne Cando discovered their cats, Moose and Duckie, have a fondness for trekking the trails near Seattle where they live. In fact, Moose conquered an 8-mile trail once. Other times, however, if his owners are sporting snowshoes, he’d much rather ride in the backpack.
Duckie, their young tortoiseshell cat, on the other hand, is still an explorer-in-training. At her age, it’s too cold for her to walk on hikes. So, she gets bundled up in a blanket for now.
Ultimately, the biggest thing to remember is to always have your cat on a leash if you are out exploring.
“You want your cat to get used to only venturing out with you. If they start walking out the door themselves, this may encourage door-dashing later when they’re not harnessed,” says Moss.
So, can any cat potentially be an adventure cat? The answer is no.
“Not all cats are going to be comfortable on a harness or outdoors, especially if they’re used to living indoors,” says Moss. “There are a lot of sights, scents and sounds that can be overwhelming and even intimidating. When you start going outside, do so after your cat has been leash trained indoors and begin your trips out somewhere quiet and close to home like the backyard. Read your cat’s body language. Take things slowly. Don’t force them to venture anywhere they don’t want. Always let them take the first step.”