Mom, why aren't we going outside already?
Malcolm is the kind of cat who will let you get away with a lot. Well, actually, he’ll let me, his human mama, get away with a lot. I cut his nails, mess with his teeth, and carry him around when need be. Mostly, he’s compliant.
Which is how he ended up walking on a leash and will now sit by the door and wait for me to snap on his harness before we venture out into the world together.
What can I say? My best buddy is a 14-year-old* rescue tuxedo cat with a busted tail and an X-shaped scar on his thick neck. We saved him from the streets, and I don’t want him getting roughed up again. So, we compromise.
I’ve felt conflicted ever since we brought Malcolm home a few years back. At the shelter, he’d had a caged-in outdoor space to play in as well as his cozy indoor area. (My partner and I adopted Malcolm in Denmark, where the cats have it better than a lot of folks have it here in the States.)
When the shelter folks rescued Malcolm, he was in pretty bad shape. It wasn’t clear if he’d always been an outdoor cat, but he did enjoy going in and out of the little cat door between his indoor and outdoor space.
As the nice shelter lady put it, “He doesn’t like for his feet to get too cold.” This remains true.
Strapped in for fun!
So I started to wonder, as a human who is often overly concerned about animal rights, whether my pal should be allowed to go out. I didn’t want him to end up in another scuffle, but I also wanted to give him freedom. Was there a secret to achieving both goals?
Let me tell you, my secret also isn’t a secret. It’s borrowed directly from the most obvious yuppie source ever (which I love, btw): The Gray Lady, also known as The New York Times. I’d certainly considered a leash for Malcolm before, but some very obvious and mainstream advice convinced me to give it a try.
Last December, I was thrilled when this piece illuminated how to actually get your cat to do more than roll over if you tie something to him.
This particular writer has the opposite problem I believe I would have. Her cat was known to catch birds and terrorize neighbors when let loose. While I fully trust Malcolm to take care of himself, I don’t trust other creatures in the world to be as kind. Dude already has battle scars from unknown brawls. Let’s not tempt fate, eh?
But more than any other piece had, this one -- featuring the advice of cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy -- helped me think about how to get Malcolm to do what I want him to do -- never an easy task. The solution to leash-resistant felines?
As you can see, Malcolm will mostly come with me based on the lure of snacks. Mostly.
Having a cat on a leash isn’t just some hipster way to torture my pet. One reason I want my apartment-dwelling cat on a leash is to get some exercise. We don’t have a ton of space, and while I already make him run laps for treats -- no doubt helping him understand the whole “come over here while attached to this string and you will be rewarded” approach to leash walking -- I like the idea that we can go explore our building without worrying too much about what will happen when we run into one of the many dogs who also live here.
Similarly, I eventually hope we can go out in nature so Malcolm can roll around in leaves and sniff bark or whatever cats do outside. We have a nice backyard space with a lemon tree and some succulents, and I think he’d enjoy lolling around out there every so often.
Not exactly the great outdoors, but enjoying some lap time on the roof deck is a pretty good substitute.
I don’t have the best leash for him yet. The current one is meant for a small dog, but it just barely fits around Malcolm’s chunky body. So for now, we’re basically practicing this whole routine inside until we get a proper harness meant for outside exploration. Still, not bad, right?
In fact, my biggest problem now is how to deal with Malcolm’s obsession with the hallway. See how he swatted my hand when he wanted his treat? Imagine how he tortures me when he wants to go roll around on the hall carpet.
*Our Danish and American veterinarians agree that Malcolm hardly seems his supposed age, aside from some mild dental issues. You show me an aging 14-year-old, and I’ll show you one who is as crazy as a kitten.