Janet Eastman oregonlive.com
Cats Lewis and Clark canoe in Lake Crescent in central Oregon. A feline name, Frank, roams the trails of Sunriver while his slightly temperamental sister Betty stays in the screened-in backyard playground. And Olivia is camping in a MeerKat trailer on the Oregon Coast with her two-legged friends.
Welcome to the world of Adventure Cats who safely patrol beyond their property and outdoors accompanied by humans, sometimes referred to as Pawpa and Pawma.
Wearing a padded harness and leash on a walk around the neighborhood, or swinging around inside a backpack on a trail can be a safe outdoor cat excursion, says Karen Kraus of the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon.
People also read…
“It’s a way to engage with your cat and enrich their life without letting them roam free,” she says.
For 10 years, her organization has partnered with the Portland Audubon to encourage cat owners to create a safe outdoor space. Here, in a patio for cats – a catio – the felines can run around, sleep in the sun and play out their hunting instincts with toys, rather than hunting birds and other wild animals.
Jory Olson, dad of Siberian forest cat adventurers Lewis and Clark, recognizes the need for a catio in his southeast Portland home.
“People say cats are a little neurotic,” says Olson. “I would also be neurotic if I just sat at home all day.”
Cats are mentally and physically stimulated by the sights, sounds and scents of nature. And exercise can prevent feline obesity, according to experts at Tractive, which makes GPS collars for cats and dogs.
Some cats, depending on their personality, want to explore beyond their home, and a walk is the next step. Attendees at Catio’s 10th Annual Tour on September 10 saw a variety of portable catios, including a “puppy” tent to protect cats outdoors, whether in the yard or while they travel.
Astute owners can tell when a hiking cat is tired — “Frank will just stop walking and look up,” says Amanda Thompson of Portland and Sunriver — or scared. Sunny Anderson, who lives in Ashland with Olivia, sees a spiky tail if her cat won’t cooperate.
Felines on the move should have up-to-date vaccinations and a cat ID chip in case they get lost, says Kraus. If they slip out of their collar and run away, they need to trust that a human will protect them. And they need a sitter who understands that not all cats care about stepping out of their comfort zone.
Hike with Lewis and Clark
Jory Olson and his Siberian Forest cats, Lewis and Clark, explore the Pacific Northwest, including their neighborhood of Westmoreland on the bluff overlooking Oaks Bottom Wildlife Sanctuary.
Olson takes the cats out into the ocean, to hike the Lewis and Clark Trail and Tryon Creek, then posts photos and videos, often accompanied by music, on their Instagram page, lewis.clark.explorer.cats.
“Cats are much more adaptable than we think,” says Olson. “They just need more experience to gain the confidence that dogs seem to have naturally.”
Olson presented Lewis and Clark with a cat backpack the day they arrived as kittens at his home during the pandemic, and they’ve been sleeping and playing comfortably in it ever since.
The harnesses, however, caused “a lot of drama, especially with Clark because he’s kind of a drama queen,” Olson says.
Both cats collapsed on the ground, cockroaching dead and biting the harness, he said. Olson thought: Maybe they’re not adventure cats, and that’s okay.
“It’s their choice to be adventure cats,” he says.
The first two times the cats were escorted into the garden on a leash, the sky scared them off, he says. There were also bugs, birds, and the sound of the wind blowing, followed by sounds of cars, bicycles, and people passing by.
The adventure sessions lasted about 15 minutes. Within a week, the cats calmly spent an hour twice a day under the bamboo in a quieter side of the house. They were hidden, elevated from the street, but they could see.
After 10 weeks, Lewis rode down the street with Clark and Olson trotting. They circled the block and the range kept growing.
“As far as they’re concerned, they own this place and we all live here,” Olson says.
A bond of trust is essential. They need to know if a raging dog approaches or if it falls out of a canoe into the river, which happened in both cases, Olson will protect them.
After bonding, the second most important element is socialization, says Olson.
Cats cannot be afraid of people when they need help. Lewis and Clark are about as social as cats can get, says Olson.
During a visit to the Olympic and Paralympic Village in Whistler, British Columbia, the chats were overrun with people taking selfies, wanting to hold the cats and asking questions.
“We were trying to get to an ice cream shop and the store closed because we had no momentum,” Olson says.
Cats are “like dogs,” says Olson, an electrical engineer who designs a cat backpack to better distribute his cats’ collective 30 pounds of weight.
Hike with Frank
Amanda Thompson, a dentist who lives along the Willamette River in southwest Portland, walks through town with Frank, a British Shorthair cat. When Frank is tired or scared of something, he climbs inside the hood of his hoodie with his paws over his shoulder.
Frank wears a harness with a leash when he walks. On hiking trails, he crawls over logs — “it’s like an obstacle course,” says Thompson — and seems to prefer rough terrain to path.
Frank’s success is based on the advice most often given: Acclimate a cat when it’s a kitten.
Since Frank was nine weeks old, Thompson has taken him on car rides for shopping, even wine tastings in Newberg. “It helps cats get used to new environments and more likely to adapt to the adventure cat lifestyle,” she says.
Her second cat, Betty, was one year old when she was adopted and prefers her catio to be indoors, but she rejects the idea of a harness and leash. And if Thompson tries to put Betty in the backpack, she’ll tense up and strengthen her legs, then the cat will melt into the ground.
Thompson takes Frank on secluded trails in Sunriver, with fewer people, dogs, distractions, and perceived threats. If Frank sees anything new to him, he becomes weak and makes his body as small as possible until the threat is gone.
She brings water but Frank rarely drinks on a walk, and while he may have a forest all to himself, he will wait until he gets home to use his litter box.
The rhythm: Frank takes 10 steps then stops to concentrate on a bug. Or he will look around and assess his surroundings. “It’s not aerobic,” says Thompson, “but it’s fun.”
Safety tips for cats when traveling
Experts offer this tip for keeping your cat healthy while hiking:
– Talk to a veterinarian about vaccines. Has your cat been vaccinated against rabies and feline leukemia? Ask about heartworm preventative medications and flea and tick medications.
– Watch for predators. Avoid places known to have loose dogs, dangerous wildlife like coyotes and hawks, or distracted drivers.
– Check the weather forecast. “Even though Frank has a fluffy coat, he doesn’t like the cold,” says Thompson, who adds that his other cat, Betty, likes to roll around in the snow.
– Bring water. Watch for signs of dehydration and carry your cat or have a backpack for the cat to rest.
– Look for ticks. After the walk, get a brush to remove burrs and seeds from the cat’s coat.