Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Leashing The Tiger

Once, years ago, I saw a group of middle-aged ladies in our neighborhood 'walking' their cats on leashes. Leashes like you'd strap to a dog's collar, but fancier, mostly with rhinestones. The cats, most of whom were the stuck-up pedigreed type I've never been terribly keen on, were nevertheless self-respecting cats: they weren't having a bit of it. If you've ever tried to put a cat on a lead, you'll know what I mean: cats aren't like dogs. Once you've hooked a lead to their collars, they don't yank your arm out of your shoulder socket, desperate to run lickety-split with you chasing merrily behind. In fact, they don't move at all. They allow their legs to buckle under them and they curl up in a ball with a do-with-me-as-you-will look of martyred resignation on their faces. If you want to move them, you have to drag them.

The sight of half a dozen cats curled into balls, clearly on strike was funny enough, but the perplexed looks on their clueless providers' faces was so funny I had to look away fast or I'd have burst out laughing.

I know my cats: they won't be bossed and they won't be led. They won't tolerate being tethered and taken where you want them to go; they are free spirits who will go where they damn well please no matter whether you like it or not.

So imagine my surprise the other day when my daughter and I were out walking. "Mom," she cried, gripping my arm, look at that cat! It's on a lead!"

I looked. She was right. My jaw dropped as I saw that the cat was not only on a leash, he was perfectly happy about it. And even more amazing, he was standing in the midst of a group of dogs. Large typically un-cat-friendly dogs: a German shepherd, a greyhound, and a St Bernard. My daughter and I exchanged a long look.

"I've got to ask," I finally said. And my daughter, who is usually horrified by my American tendency to strike up conversations with strangers, nodded.

The person holding the cat's leash was a teenage boy. When we asked him how he'd managed to get his cat on a lead, he shrugged. "He kept following us when we took the dogs out for a walk. So we just got him his own lead and he's been fine with it."

We pet the cat, just to make sure he wasn't a tiny dog in drag. He did all the typical cat things: he cocked his head to the side to get us to scratch him where he wanted to be scratched, he purred, he pushed his head into our hands. He was 100% cat. And there he was on a leash, happily fraternizing with scary dogs.

"He's okay with these dogs?" we asked.

The boy nodded. "They get on fine. They're pals."

The other day, my husband and I set out on one of our long walks. Our cat Mitzi started to follow us, so I scooped her up and ran back to the house with her. I threw her over the gate and ran back to my husband. We resumed our walk and had gone a few blocks when we heard the sound of a bell tinkling behind us. Sure enough, there was Mitzi again, clearly intent on accompanying us. After five or ten minutes of her slinking along behind us, we worried about her safety, especially when cars whizzed past. So my husband picked her up and stuffed her into his jacket. He zipped her in tight and she seemed quite happy with this arrangement. I'll bet she'd have stayed there too if a tractor hadn't rumbled past and spooked her.

"Next time, we lock that *(&$" cat indoors," my husband fumed after I'd brushed him off, staunched the bleeding, and reassured him about his eye.

"I've got a better idea," I said. "Let's get her a leash."

The last time I was in town, I picked one up. It's black, with white rhinestones. I'll let you know how it works out. I know my cats, but you never know.


MG Higgins said...

Yes, PLEASE let us know what happens. This entire story is hilarious, but, "We pet the cat, just to make sure he wasn't a tiny dog in drag," made my morning. Not only do cats simply refuse to walk on a leash, they're notoriously good at wriggling out of them. I tried this when we were living in an apartment and thought the cats needed exercise. We never made it out the door.

meredith said...

I rabbit sat once and the owner included the rabbit's leash with all the other necessaries...but darn if I couldn't get that rabbit harnessed up. He clearly didn't want to go for a walk. And seeing as that I had a stone-wall enclosed backyard, I just let him bounce around my backyard. But boy, did he not want to back in his cage after that :)
Let us know how it goes with your cat.

Chocolatesa said...

Ha! I can't wait to hear the result of this :P

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

There's a Dutch expressions, that goes, translated, miracles haven't left the world yet.

So, you never know!

Fun story!

Vijaya said...

Mary, I believe you must leash train a cat when it's a kitten. I tried with my first cat, when we moved to Belgium, but he hated it and would plop down. I gave up. My daughter tried to do the same with our kittens, and pretty much they walked her. Hahahaha ...

Carole said...

So funny. When we moved from Montana to Kansas we had to take the cat along, but needed to leash him for rest stops and such. We got an extra small shoulder harness type collar so he couldn't escape in unknown country. First rest stop, he wriggled out of the contraption, gave us a defiant look that said, "Catch me if you can." After a half hour of begging him to get in the car,he complied we didn't let him stretch his legs again.

Charles Gramlich said...

Isn't there a horror story that starts with. "I put a leash on my cat?"

Mary Witzl said...

MG -- I suspected a Chihuahua hiding under a damn good disguise, to tell you the truth. But that cat was no dog; he even smelled like a cat.

You're so right about cats being good at wriggling out of collars and leads! If I had all the money I've shelled out on lost collars and our collection of pristine scratching posts (which are a joke, as I know you've also found) I'd have enough to start a scholarship program.

Meredith -- Rabbits have a lot more intelligence and cunning than we give them credit for. We tend to think of them as cuddly and harmless, but the few I've known have been fierce and canny, and good for them -- though I'm glad I didn't have to put the one you bunny-sat back in his cage. Their claws are not to be sneezed at.

Chocolatesa -- If my mission is successful, you can bet that I'll come back here to brag.

Miss Footloose -- That's a good expression. We need more miracles in this world, even if they are nothing more than cats who are prepared to walk on leads.

Vijaya -- When I lived in New York, some of my neighbors had trained their cats as kittens to wear leads, use the toilet, and allow themselves to be bathed in the shower, with people. I wish I'd kept in touch with those people; at the time, I knew that what they did was amazing, but I didn't realize just how amazing it was. Tell your daughter I've been walked by many a kitten too -- but that there ARE cats out there who don't hate leashes.

Carole -- That's a great story, and an experience we've had too. We had a no-pets lease in Cyprus and were forced to keep our kitten on the balcony and take her with us when we went out. That made for some amusing experiences, such as the time she bolted and we spent a frustrating hour wandering around a garden and parking lot, calling out to her. I know she was just making us pay for her humiliation and wounded pride at having been tethered. Your cat was doing the same thing: 'All right, foolish humans, let's see how you like being strung along'.

Charles -- Wow, what a great idea you've given me for a horror story! I already know the beginning -- daft woman buys patent leather lead with bejeweled harness for cat -- and I'm pretty sure the ending is going to be when her bones are finally discovered, along with a handful of disintegrating patent leather and a scatter of rusty rhinestones.

Bish Denham said...

This is the first I've heard of walking a cat on a leash. At one point I had two dogs and three cats. When I'd take the dogs for a walk all three cats came along. I've never had that happen since. They were quite the menagerie.

I've got something for you on my blog Mary.

Tabitha said...

Ha!! LOVE this story!! :) I've never seen a cat happy on a leash, so please do share how Mitzi handles hers. :)

I tried putting a leash on my cat once when I was little. I didn't understand why he didn't like it since all the neighborhood dogs obviously were fine. It was a few years before I figured out just how different cats and dogs are. :)

Jeaux said...

Maybe they don't mind the leash - but balk at the rhinestones.

Dawn Malone said...

I love this! That cat amongst the dogs clearly was suffering from an identity crisis. That reminds me of the Disney movie, The Ugly Dachshund, when the Great Dane thinks he's 10 times smaller than his real size. Good luck with the leash! I'm staying tuned...

veach glines said...

I've been Hiking With Housecats for over a decade. Vijaya is right about not being too sucessful with teaching an old cat new tricks when it comes to lead-training, but as you've witnessed many cats want to accompany their people on a walk and if they do, they (mostly) will stay with you for the duration of a hike!

Falak said...

I'm not entirely surprised to hear about cats on a leash, a few weeks backs I saw a couple of toddlers on what looked like leashes tottering around in a park!
But all the same I'd love to hear how Mitzi reacts to a leash :)
Amazing post as always.

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- I love it that all three of your cats came along with you and your dogs. The more I talk to other people who've had cats, the more I learn. I've had the odd hiking cat before, but really had no idea there were so many of them out there!

Thank you for that award. It made my day.

Tabitha -- I did the same thing myself when I was a little girl: I put my cat on a lead, desperate to take her for walks in the hills, like a dog. She went limp and refused to budge, and it was ages before she forgave me.

Jeaux -- You've definitely got a point. I got her the rhinestones to tease her. If my cat was a human, she'd be a jeans and flannel shirt girl all the way.

Dawn -- You had to see the cat to believe it: he was perfectly happy among all those dogs, but entirely a cat. I was amazed. But I'll keep you posted about whether the cat lead works.

Veach -- I really do live and learn, and I've learned a lot through blogging. Until I read your blog post this morning I had no idea there were actually cats who could be trained to do that! I can imagine the reaction of people who run into you and your hiking cats -- I'd flip out. And that cat backpack is marvelous! If the leash doesn't work, I'll be sorely tempted to get one of those.

Falak -- I've seen toddlers on leashes too, especially with grandparents who aren't quick on their feet. On one hand, I think it's awful to keep kids tethered like that; on the other, though, if the kids' grandparents aren't spry enough to chase after them, those kid harnesses are probably a good idea as a short-term measure. But I'm still amazed by the idea of cats on leashes. HAPPY cats on leashes, no less!

Marian Perera said...

Now I'm imagining a cat in one of those baby slings people wear against their chests, except with the cat facing outward and all four paws poking out so as not to bloody the human should the cat get rattled.

Thing is, cats are so flexible they'd probably just twist around and scratch you up anyway.

Robin said...

Wow! I hope it works out! I've never even seen someone try to walk a cat. I assumed they were too independent to enjoy such a thing. But that boy did it, and your cat showed some interest... Is video footage out of the question?

Liz Straw said...

I once had a cat that loved walking on leash. We would also put him on the dog's run outside (we kept a close eye on him so no stray animal would get him) and he loved running down the run at full speed and going part way up the tree.
I remember the first time I took him into a vet's office; I had him on the leash (plain leather) and two draped over my arms. Apparently mine was the first one they had ever seen walk on a leash and the other two were the most laid back cats they had seen come into the office. Beggar lived to the age of 18, but after the age of 10 we stopped with the leash.

Anonymous said...

I tried that when we had to stay in a flat for two months this summer. Nico refused it twice. Then in the third try he seemed to have agreed. We were walking in the park when he went into a bush and came out rid of it and ran away! It was a very stressful experience. I do not recommend at all. ~Pelin~

Lily Cate said...

I once saw a guy walking a dog walking a cat, down a very busy touristy street, too.

The guy had a rottweiler in a harness with a pad on the back. The cat's leash was attached to the dog's harness, and when the cat got tired of walking, he would jump up on the dog 's back and ride for a while.

I can't imagine how that scenario came to be routine for them, but it did.

Pat said...

Mary I cannot believe you got a leash with rhinestones. In Scotland? And you're actually going to walk out with it?
I'm speechless - but had a giggle at your poor husband:)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cats on a leash? You will love this short video, a clip from a spot from an animal shelter trying to encourage people to adopt a cat... Well maybe not THIS cat!

Kim Ayres said...

Along a similar I-can't-believe-you-treat-your-pets-this-way kind of thing, last week in Castle Douglas I saw a woman carrying her dog - even though it had a collar and lead. It was one of those little things that looked like it could have been poking out of her handbacg - an accessory rather than a pet. I've only ever seen it on TV. But then, twice more in the space of 10 minutes I saw other little dogs being carried by their owners. I wondered if there was some kind of pooch-carrying convention

Angela Ackerman said...

I can not see you with a cat on a leash, so if it works, you have GOT to take a picture for us. ROTF

Angela@ The Bookshelf Muse

Lisa Shafer said...

I think it has to do with cats that are raised with dogs. We had a cat that was taken from its mama very early, and our older female dog kind of mothered the kitty. The cat picked up a few doggy habits. It moved in a dog-like way, would fetch small balls and return them in a game, and held bones to gnaw on in the manner of a dog. It also liked to come on walks. However, it would never have taken a leash. No, the cat liked to follow us, hiding in the bushes of each home, then leaping and dashing ahead of us, like it was all some great chase. We just let it go; it was having so much fun. And, like you said, you can't herd a cat.

Mary Witzl said...

Marian -- It may yet come to that once the kids have all left home. We were thinking a cat snugli might be a good investment. Soon we'll be known as the sad couple who miss having babies.

Robin -- My husband took photos yesterday as we inched along with our harnessed cat. If I ever get photo- and video-savvy, I'll try and post the better ones. We managed a quarter-mile walk yesterday in just over an hour. Sigh...

Liz -- I love reading all these great stories from other people with cats-on-leashes experience. I had no idea so many cats would go along with this or I'd have tried it a lot earlier. We put our cat into a harness for the first time yesterday. The look of stricken betrayal in her eyes haunts me still.

Pelin -- Remember a certain birthday of yours at Green Heights Garden Cafe? ;o) Nothing more aggravating than chasing over a "%£$! cat who doesn't want to be caught. Get the little bugger a harness and lead and make sure it fits snugly. THEN he'll be safe! (I can't comment on your blog for some reason -- urgh!)

Lily -- That is a FANTASTIC story, and what a character that man was -- I wonder how long it took him to get those two trained? Now I'm dying to borrow a large cat-friendly dog just to try that out myself.

I used to know a man whose dog carried his lunch box in his mouth every single day. I thought that was pretty impressive until I read your story.

Pat -- The collar and harness have rhinestones, but the leash is plain. But the end result is still striking. Mitzi doesn't think much of either so far, but we're still going to give this a good try.

Robert -- I keep getting a 404 message telling me that this video is no longer available. I'll try again later.

Kim -- I'm betting that those dogs are more of a fashion statement than they are proper pets. Still, some people carry their little dogs for a good reason: with their short little legs, they can't keep up on walks. Also, they tend to be nicely groomed and people don't want to risk muddying their coats. Personally, I'd never carry a dog. But then again, I thought I'd never put a cat on a leash.

Angela -- I know -- I'm really not the kind of person to do this! But if it works, I'll absolutely take pictures and post them (a very big 'if').

Lisa -- Believe it or not, she's actually been out on it once. She wasn't crazy about the harness going under her legs, but she took it very well. We went at a snail's pace, though, so it was more her taking us for a walk than vice versa. But we're going to keep trying anyway.