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Just as old dogs can be taught new tricks, cats too can be trained. In fact, felines of all ages, locations, and breeds are learning to walk on leashes, hike mountain trails, and even rock-climb crags. If proof is in the pictures, you’ll find plenty of them at the popular website AdventureCats.org.
The website was co-founded by Atlanta-based writer and journalist Laura Moss. The self-proclaimed cat lady says she kept coming across people who were taking “epic adventures” with their cats and, though she was curious about how they got to that point, was unable to find many resources or communities for adventurous cats and their owners. So she started one herself. “We became a focal point of the community that had long been in existence and just kind of became a way to share safety information and training information and connect people,” says Moss.
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The site, and her book Adventure Cats: Living Nine Lives to the Fullest—which she’ll discuss at Aspen Grove Tattered Cover on July 15—is also helping reframe the way the general public thinks about cats and cat people.
“I think a lot of us know that our cats call the shots,” she says, but that doesn’t mean they have no interest in play and adventures. “My cats are just to the point that they will come when I call, they’ll sit, and they do high fives. It’s very cute. I think people are always surprised by that.”
For some “meowtain” inspiration, Moss’ book includes three Colorado cats—Denver cover model Waffles, Boulder-area Persian Floyd the Lion, and Fort Collins resident Quandary. (Waffles and Floyd will be on hand during the Tattered Cover event, though Quandary’s parents just had a human baby, so she probably won’t make it, says Moss with a laugh.)
If you think your cat might have an adventuring personality, Moss suggests that you begin with leash-training indoors. Find a harness that fits your cat and allow them time to get comfortable with it. “It’s normal for cats the first time they put on a harness to lie down or walk really funny,” Moss says. “It’s because they’re not used to that. We don’t typically dress cats up in clothes like a lot of people do with small dogs, so it’s a new sensation for them.”
“One of my cats is the king of our house,” she adds. “And for him, we just took things very slow. We put his harness by his food and then we gave him treats on it. It’s all about positive reinforcement and making sure they always associate the harness with a very positive experience.”
Once your cat is ready to venture outside, keep in mind it can be overwhelming, especially if it’s their first time. Take them out on a balcony or into a fenced-in backyard. If that’s not possible, make sure the space you choose is pedestrian- and free of off-leash dogs. And one important tip from Moss: Discourage door dashing from the get-go. “Always carry your cat outside, because you don’t want to get your cat used to walking out on their own—even if they’re wearing a harness.”
If your cat is hesitant, or you’re not as adventurous as your family feline might be, Moss recommends installing a “catio,” an outdoor enclosure that will let them be safely outside and “have the wind in their whiskers.”
With their leash in your hand, the extent of what they can do is limitless. Just take it at their pace, and start small. Think short local hikes; not the whole of the Colorado Trail. Let them learn about water by pawing at a nearby creek before heading out in a canoe.
“There’s a veterinarian in Canada I’ve been talking to, and she takes her cat paddleboarding all the time. There’s a vet in Tennessee that I interviewed and she runs 5Ks with her cat in a stroller,” Moss says. “I guess it comes down to the personality of the cat, what they’ll put up with, and what they’re comfortable doing.”
If you go: Laura Moss will be discussing Adventure Cats and signing copies of the book at the Tattered Cover in Aspen Grove on Sunday, July 15 at 2 p.m.