My three-year-old cat spends most of her time lounging by the window. It faces the high branches of the tree outside our apartment, and she stares intently out at the rusty-red wood thrushes and brown house sparrows that perch there; her eyes dilating when the occasional squirrel rustles the branches.
She’s a seventh-floor housecat who longs for the outdoors. But even if there was a feasible way of letting her go outside, I wouldn’t let her loose on native wildlife on her own (if you’re not familiar with the war being waged between cats and birds, my colleague Rachel Gross has chronicled it in all its gory detail here).
So, as a compromise, last year I bought her a leash. After some initial hiccups, we have settled into a rhythm where I buckle her into her harness, scoop her up and carry her down to the soft grass adjacent to a nearby duck pond. There, I let her down, and her whims dictate our path.
Often, people stare. Sometimes, they’re walking their dogs: big ones, small ones. They squint at my cat, trying to decipher if perhaps she, too, is just a poorly shaped one of them.
She’s not. She’s a cat on a leash, and she’s not alone.
Earlier this summer, Laura Moss, a human at the center of a community helping introduce housecats to the outdoor world, published a book, Adventure Cats, bringing awareness to some remarkable cats who are out there hiking, camping—even surfing.
Moss, who also runs a website by the same name (adventurecats.org), explains that this kind of cat is far from a new phenomenon. “People have been doing this with their cats long before social media existed,” she tells Smithsonian.com. But in recent years, the community has received new recognition, she says, in large part thanks to people sharing photos and videos of their furry friends on various media accounts.
It’s not exactly surprising that it took the internet (which, undeniably, has done much for cats) to bring new awareness to this kind of anti-Garfield feline. While cats have been arguably unfairly stereotyped—as anti-social, afraid of water, lazy—history contradicts that narrative.
“From their beginnings in Egypt, the Middle East, and Europe, domestic cats have accompanied people to almost every corner of the globe,” write Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist in Wild Cats of the World. “Wherever people have traveled, they have taken their cats with them. Geographic features such as major rivers and oceans that are barriers to most animals have the opposite effect on cats. Almost as soon as people began to move goods around on ships, cats joined ships’ crews. These cats traveled the globe, joining and leaving ships at ports along the way.”
credit : By Jackie Mansky