Lewis and Clark’s cats ride in a canoe in Crescent Lake, central Oregon. Cats name Frank wanders the trails of Sunriver while Sister Betty, a touch fickle, remains in the screened play area in the backyard. Olivia is camping at the MeerKat Trailer on the Oregon coast with her two legged companions.
Welcome to the world of adventurous cats that safely patrol off their property and outdoors in the company of humans, sometimes called Pawpa and Pawma.
Karen Kraus of the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon says that wearing a padded harness and leash while walking around the neighborhood, or bobbing inside a backpack on a driveway can be a safe cat trip outdoors.
“It’s a way to interact with your cat and enrich her life without letting her roam free,” she says.
Roaming felines can get into trouble, Krause says, and the cats that live in the house can get bored.
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For 10 years, her organization has teamed up with Portland Audubon to encourage cat owners to create a safe outdoor space. Here, in the cat yard – Katio – cats can run and snooze in the sun and play their hunting instincts with games, rather than chase birds and other wildlife.
Jory Olson, Pawpa to Siberian forest cats Lewis and Clark, understands the need for a catio in his home in southeast Portland.
“People say cats are kind of neurotic,” Olson says. “I would also be neurotic if all I did was sit at home all day.”
Cats are mentally and physically stimulated by the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. And exercise can prevent cat obesity, according to experts at Tractive, which makes GPS collars for cats and dogs.
Some cats, depending on their personality, like to explore beyond their home, and a walk is the next step. People who attended the 10th Annual Catio Tour on September 10 saw a variety of portable catios, including a “puppy” tent to protect their cats outside, whether they were in the yard or while they were traveling.
Experienced owners can tell when a hiking cat is tired—”Frank will stop walking and look up,” says Amanda Thompson of Portland and Sunriver—or frightened. Sunny Anderson, who lives in Ashland with Olivia, sees a coarse tail if her cat doesn’t want to cooperate.
Felines on the go need updated vaccinations and a microchip cat identifier in case they get lost, Krause says. When they get off their collar and run away, they must trust that a human will protect them. And they need a guardian who understands that not all cats care about stepping into their comfort zone.
Here’s a look at three groups of adventure cats, where they go, how they interact, and the advice their parents give.
Jory Olson and his Siberian Forest cats, Lewis and Clark, explore the Pacific Northwest, including Westmoreland on the cliff overlooking Oaks Bottom Wildlife Sanctuary.
Olson takes the cats he named to the ocean, for a road trip on the Lewis and Clark Trail and Tryon Creek, then posts photos and videos, often with music, on their Instagram page, lewis.clark.explorer.cats.
“Cats are more adaptable than we give them credit for,” Olson says. “They just need more experiences to gain the confidence that dogs naturally seem to have.”
Olson introduced Lewis and Clark to a cat backpack the day they as kittens arrived at his home during the pandemic, and they’ve been sleeping and playing comfortably in it ever since.
However, the belts caused “a lot of drama, especially with Clark because he’s kind of a drama queen,” says Olson.
Both cats fumbled on the floor, scraped up the dead cockroach and bit the seat belt, he says. Olson thought: Maybe they’re not adventure cats, and that’s okay.
“It’s their choice to be the adventure cats,” he says.
The first time cats were taken to the backyard with a leash, the sky frightened them, he says. There were also insects, birds, and the sounds of the wind, followed by the sounds of cars, bikes, and people passing by.
The adventure sessions lasted about 15 minutes. Within a week, the cats were quietly spending an hour twice a day under the bamboo on a quieter side of the house. They were hidden and high from the street, but they could see what was outside.
10 weeks later, Lewis takes to the street with Clark and Olson jogging. They made it around the block, and the range kept expanding.
“In terms of them, they own this place and we all just live here,” Olson says.
The trust deed is key. They need to know if an unleashed dog approaches or falls from a canoe in the river, and both have happened, Olson will have his back.
The second most important ingredient after the trust bond, Olson says, is socialization.
Cats cannot be afraid of people when they need help. Olson says Lewis and Clark are as social as cats can get.
They will come to strangers, allow themselves to be picked up and then show the back of the head.
While visiting Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Village in British Columbia, the cats were full of people taking selfies, wanting to hold the cats and ask questions.
“We were trying to get to an ice cream parlor and the store closed because we didn’t have forward momentum,” Olson says.
“Like dogs,” says Olson, an electrical engineer who designs a cat backpack to better distribute his 30-pound total weight.
He believes that Lewis and Clark correct a longstanding imbalance in the preferential treatment of canines over cats.
When Airbnb hosts say they are ‘pet friendly,’ they really only mean dogs.
On their first nocturnal adventure, they enter a room which they discover has a long-running mouse problem. The mobile cats removed the rat population and left the evidence in Olson’s slippers. The Airbnb owner was grateful.
Tryon Creek friends held a summer day dog photo contest on Instagram. Olson walked in on Clark “to deal a blow to cat equality”. Clark finished second.
“It made my day,” Olson says.
Amanda Thompson, a dentist who lives along the Willamette River in southwest Portland, is walking around town with Frank, a British shorthair cat. When Frank is tired or afraid of something, he rides inside her hood with his paws on her shoulder.
Frank wears a belt with a leash when he walks. On hiking trails, he crawls over logs — “like an obstacle course,” Thompson says — and seems to prefer rough terrain over the track.
Frank’s success is based on the most popular advice: acclimatize the cat when it is a kitten.
Since Frank was nine weeks old, Thompson has taken him on a car ride, shopping, and even a wine tasting in Newberg. “This helps the cats get used to new environments and is more likely to adapt to the adventurous feline lifestyle,” she says.
Her second cat, Betty, was a year old when she was adopted, and would prefer her cat to be indoors, but rejects the idea of a harness and leash. And if Thompson tries to put Betty in the backpack, she will tense up and brace her legs, and then the cat will melt to the ground.
Thompson takes Frank to remote trails in Sunriver, with fewer people, dogs, distractions, and perceived threats. If Frank sees something new to him, he goes low and makes his body as small as possible until the threat is gone.
Because of a close call, “He doesn’t like bikes; even the clicking sound they make scares him,” says Thompson.
She brings water but Frank rarely drinks while walking, and although he may have a jungle to himself, he will wait until he comes home again to use his litter box.
Speed: Frank takes 10 steps and then pauses to focus on a mistake. Or he will look around and assess his surroundings. “It’s not aerobics, but it’s fun,” says Thompson.
Ashland residents Sunny Anderson and Mike Lou Turno, and Olivia’s cat, enjoyed the landscape stretching from the Oregon coast to Palm Springs and Tucson from their 13-foot Meerkat trailer.
Her longest camping trip: three weeks.
Anderson, a longtime volunteer with Animal Shelter Friends, first met Olivia four years ago when the six-month-old stray gave birth to six kittens. Anderson and Le Tourneau nursed cats and socialized them until they were old enough to be adopted.
Olivia was very shy, however, and Anderson was afraid that no one would adopt her. So they did.
In their house, cat towers are in front of four covered windows where Olivia spends her day, getting fresh air, moving from tower to tower, and watching squirrels and birds in a giant walnut tree.
Olivia did not like being in a covered container in the yard and was lying on her stomach when Anderson or Lou Tourneau tried to put a belt around her. She also refrained from riding in a backpack. The former stray explained that she was much happier at home, looking outside.
“I respect that,” Anderson says. “When she is nervous, her eyes are wild, her tail is quivering, she is hunched and restless. Olivia is a talkative, and she tells us so.”
Anderson and Le Tourneau found a way to make Olivia feel comfortable on road trips and while camping. She travels in the back of a Subaru CrossTrek inside a wired kennel where she can see and move, and there’s plenty of room for her food, water, and litter box.
Once you arrive at the campsite, Olivia walks inside the MeerKat Trailer, with vents covered with fresh air, natural light, and ever-changing sights and smells.
“During the day, she can safely run in the trailer while hiking,” Anderson says.
Olivia gets used to the camper at home during her 15-minute workout sessions. Routine relaxes cats, Anderson says. Now, the trio take two to three day trips to explore nature.
“We are very careful and it is very safe. No wildlife can reach it,” Anderson says. “She walks inside and plays. And at night you sleep with us.”
Experts offer this advice to keep your cat healthy on trips:
Talk to a vet about vaccinations. Has your cat been vaccinated against rabies and feline leukemia? Ask about heartworm preventatives and flea and tick medications.
Watch out for predators. Avoid places known to unleash dogs, dangerous wildlife such as coyotes and hawks, or distracted drivers.
Check the weather forecast. “Although Frank has a fluffy coat, he doesn’t like the cold,” Thompson says, adding that her other cat, Betty, likes to roll in the snow.
fetch the water. Watch for signs of dehydration and carry your cat or carry a backpack until the cat rests.
Look for ticks. After walking, use a brush to remove burrs and seeds from the cat’s fur.
– Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072