I was climbing at Smith Rock State Park the other day and two people ahead of me on the trail caught my attention. It wasn’t that the man was tall, as muscled as Paul Bunyan and carrying an impossibly heavy pack.
Or that his climbing partner, with an equally heavy pack, (and forearms to rival Popeye), was grinning ear to ear about the last climb they’d finished and the next one on her dance card. No, what really amazed me was the adorable cat that pranced proudly between them, darting back and forth on the trail, pausing now and then to sniff a spring of juniper or startled beetle.
I stopped, stared, and stammered out the obvious. “Is that a CAT?!”
Turns out, lots of people hike, even camp with their feline friends. Now that I’ve started paying attention, an entire world of cat hiking, cat packing and yes, cat walks, has opened before me.
I met a woman who is confined to a wheel chair who has rolled over miles of trail with her faithful cat on her lap. Now I look more closely when I see other hikers on the trail. Yep, there are more cats on leashes out there than you’d imagine. Also plenty of cats in packs (word is that front baby carriers for cats are popular in the Adirondacks, Boulder, CO and Ashland, OR).
If your cat likes to hike, or ride along in your pack, here are a few tips to make life safer, more fun, and more comfortable for your feline friend.
- Make sure your cat has a chip with up-to-date I.D. and a current rabies vaccine.
- Practice, practice, practice. Some cats won’t take to the leash, while others love to trot alongside you. We go on short hikes in the neighborhood and our cat stalks along like he’s a mighty predator following a caravan of mice.
- Select a well-fitting harness, preferably one that is bright, with colors that contrast to the flora and fauna where you’ll be hiking. Bright pink, turquoise blue, or neon green are great colors that make your cat stand out on the trail (and in those pictures we want to see).
- Remember, cats don’t have the stamina of dogs. While there are reports of people hiking five or six miles with a cat, start with shorter hikes (around the block is a good way to start).
- Pick your hike well. Cats will generally avoid snakes and more aggressive rodents, like skunks or badgers, but as safety is the highest priority, hike in cool, places where aggressive animals and poisonous snakes aren’t part of the adventure. Remember that predators don’t always come from the land….keep an eye on the sky.
- If you are backpacking, pick a tent with plenty of mesh at eye level so your cat can stargaze. Cats love to be able to look around, and they like being warm and cozy, so plan accordingly. Invest in a soft-sided cat carrier where your cat can rest while you are swimming or cooking dinner.