The rise of the cat walk
The correct way to walk a cat on a leash, according to a man I met in the park, is to let him do what he wants. Like most cats, their pet’s preference is to take a few steps, then stop and not look at anything in particular for indefinite periods of time.
“If people don’t have the patience for this, they probably shouldn’t try it,” advises Russian-born cat walker Kirill. “It’s not like a dog, where you can make him do things with you. Because a cat is not going to do that. In fact, I must tell you that it is a bit of a chore… ”
I can see why.
Kirill’s big, fluffy tom, Tykva (Russian for “pumpkin”) wags his tail as I approach the dog Alfie, then resumes studying something unseen in the distance. After a while, Alfie gives me his WTF look and goes to pee on a tree. Still motionless, Tykva stares – “reading the scenery” – as Kirill, head in hand, politely awaits his respondent’s next mysterious impulse.
Kirill and his partner, Kateryna, had Tykva imported to Australia when they moved from Ukraine a few years ago. Kirill had the idea to walk Tykva to the head of the American reality TV series My hell cat, who suggested it as a behavioral intervention for stressed felines confined to the house.
Kirill believed that cats, as an invasive species, should be kept indoors. But now he’s taking Tykva on short training walks near his home, hoping the cat stays within the same limits when he’s not in the lead. “I try to balance my own sanity with that of the cat,” he laughs. “For the sake of wildlife, but also for their own safety. “
“I’ve read that if you start training them like kittens you can make them walk more like a dog, but with most cats the reality is they’ll walk you.”
Thanks to social media, walking with a cat has become a trend in recent years, as has boating with a cat, paddle boarding with a cat, hiking in the wilderness and even rock climbing with a cat. Among the pioneers of the movement is Adventure cats, a website and Instagram account created by American actress Laura Moss in 2015.
But animal welfare groups have reservations, warning some owners seem to think leashed moggies can be trained to trot obediently behind them, like dogs. (Shortly after meeting Tykva and the Russian patient, I saw a man dragging a wide-eyed cat through a busy beer garden on a harness, his paws barely touching the ground.)