I have decided to try and teach my cat Eclipse to go outside on a harness and lead. Sound like a crazy idea? It’s not as daft an idea as you might imagine..
How did this come about? We’ve recently moved house, and I already decided before we moved that I didn’t want to take any risks with his safety. Although Eclipse has been a ‘free to roam’ cat for many years I didn’t want him roaming the streets in the new house. Why? Because we have a road to the left of the house, and dogs in each of the houses that surround us.
Plan A was to try and find a way to contain him in the garden. I did a lot of research into different ways of doing this. There are basically two approaches. One is to use some kind of containment fencing around the edge of the garden, and the other is to use a cage.
The fencing is the better solution of the two in terms of giving space for the cat to move around in and enjoy. The fencing is designed with an angled top to prevent the cat jumping over it. This also flexes downwards so that cats can’t climb up it. Its not really suitable for every garden, it is over 5ft high, and it doesn’t necessarily keep other animals out. It is also quite expensive.
The second approach is to buy or build a cage. This ranges in price depending on whether you want to build your own, get a purpose built one, or get someone to build one for you. For a cage of any size and resilience you need to spend quite a bit. Usually the cat runs available are over 5ft high again, and there may be issues about planning permission. The better ones are the kind where you can fit them around the doors or windows of the house enabling the cat to come and go as they please, and making it easier to ensure they don’t escape through the door being opened accidentally for example. The ideal kind of cat playground I’d like would be difficult to do with the garden space (and slope and possibly planning permission issues) that we have. Also realistically it would be tricky to make it big enough for Eclipse to feel that he was really outside and no just in an extension of the house. Also it would have to extend (or exist) at the back of the garden in order to get any of those precious sunny spots!
So I thought before investing in a cage that might turn out not to work for the cat, I’d give cat walking a go instead. For a relatively small amount of money I could buy a cat harness and lead and at least try it. So I had a look around at different sorts, and thought that the jacket style of cat harness would be the safest for Eclipse. The aim being to ensure that it is escape proof – I don’t want him escaping and jumping over a fence.. and also safe, I don’t want it injuring him. I decided that the jackets made by Maria of Mynwood here would be the best sort to have a go with. The “escape proof” description, and the fact that it wasn’t at risk of damaging the cats necks were important factors.
Rather impressively I got my custom made jacket for Eclipse the following day. I provided his neck and behind front legs measurements and choice of material.
Now I should point out that Eclipse is a 9 year old cat who is used to being able to walk around freely in the outside world (except at night). Certainly he had been getting frustrated being stuck in all the time for the couple of weeks after we moved. When I got the jacket I expected he would be resistant to putting it on and then would be difficult on a lead. I expected scratches and lots of them! In reality though, he has been absolutely fine since the first time with me putting on the jacket. No problem at all. He was quite vocal the first few times it was on, mostly because it seemed to disturb his balance. He did flop onto his side a few times, and he was very nervous about going up or down with it on. However he was fine, and after a couple of practice goes I took him outside on a ‘training lead’. A short lead so I can keep him close and basically pick him up if anything goes wrong.
The first trip out went amazingly smoothly! He enjoyed the grass, a bit of sun, and some sniffing around. Next time out was at dusk, and that wasn’t so good. His sense of balance made him rather skittish and we had a bolt back indoors when he got spooked by some sounds. Next day all was well, until again he got spooked and made a dash back indoors. Unfortunately this time I ended up face in the mud trying to hold onto him! He of course was fine.
For a couple of days after that he wasn’t keen to go out, but we persevered. He got more used to the jacket, and now he enjoys going out and asks to do so. He patiently waits for me to put the jacket on, has a good explore. I have him on an extension lead now so he can feel a bit more ‘free’ and he’s learning there are places he can’t go, when I restrict the length of the lead. Like in the depths of the thorny bushes or climb up the fence. He also brings us both in when he has had enough, and waits patiently for me to remove the jacket.
It does mean he is supervised, and I get led around the garden, but to be honest he doesn’t like the cold and rain, so I get enjoy the fresh air with him. He is much happier because he gets some fresh air and exercise, and I’m much happier because I don’t fear him getting into trouble. Fingers crossed, I think Plan B works well enough not to have to resort to Plan A.
Who says you can’t train a cat..? And I think he looks good in it!