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How to Walk (a Cat) on the Wild Side

An Adventure Cat’s mom talks harness training, safety tips, and her kitty being mistaken for a raccoon.

by Mai Lynn Miller Nguyen
May 22, 2021
adventure cat walking on a bridge in harness and leash
Courtesy of Theoretically Teddy

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Two things have given me great comfort over the past year: My Covid kitty Pippi, that came into my life a couple months into the pandemic, and my newfound appreciation for nature, where I’ve sought refuge for socially distant recreation. So, it should come as no surprise that the concept of ‘cat exploring’ (from which the Adventure Cat movement was born) and training my kitten to walk on a leash would appeal to me. Pippi was found in the woods in Oregon and craves time outside, so she easily took to wearing a harness and stepping out of the house with me. But while my cat explores the great outdoors of my backyard and goes on strolls with me around the neighborhood, Insta-famous #adventurecats are blazing trails from the Moab desert to the Rocky Mountains.

@Theoretically.Teddy is one such cat. Based in Vancouver, B.C., his mom Selvynna Tang captures his weekend escapades hiking, camping, kayaking, and watching sunsets in Banff National Park. (The views are stunning — if you look beyond the little tiger.) She also posts how-to videos on IG, including one on harness and leash training, so who better to ask for tips on how to walk a cat? While we spoke via video, Teddy was gazing out the window of Tang’s apartment with wanderlust.

Teddy is inspiring. When and how did you start walking him?

I’d seen other cats being walked on Instagram, but it didn’t seem super realistic to me. Then I saw a friend walking her family cat around the neighborhood. She showed me how she trained him and I thought, this is awesome!

I started harness training Teddy when he was a three-month-old kitten and he’s almost three years old now. It’s a much easier process with a kitten. Some cats will try to get out of a harness when you first put them in one, but Teddy has always been low energy. He just laid there, then he fell asleep. I was like, “alright, you’re good” [laughs]. That pretty much sums up his harness training. But other cats might need a more structured approach to get started. If they’re older, you’ll need a lot of patience and planning. Don’t just expect that things will go well the first day.

theoretically teddy photo on a branch
Courtesy of Theoretically Teddy

When I walk my cat, it’s more like she’s walking me…very slowly. How do you get Teddy moving?

We have two different modes. When we’re in a park, Teddy can go wherever he wants and I’ll follow him. But when we’re on a hiking trail, he has to follow the path. If Teddy’s not walking, I’ll encourage him by moving forward and calling him. If he doesn’t come, I’ll pick him up and put him in the backpack. Over time, he’s learned that I won’t let him [deviate from] the trail.

Walking a cat opens up a world of possibility. Can any cat be an adventure cat?

It really depends on your cat’s personality if their suited for exploring. Some cats just don’t like being walked on a leash. I tried training another cat to walk in a harness but she hated it, so I stopped trying. It’s not beneficial to the cat if they don’t care to be outdoors in the first place. But I think many cats could be adventure cats, even if the adventure is just sitting outside in the backyard.

Teddy was always looking out of the window. Whenever we opened the door, he tried to run out. We live in an apartment and he really wanted to be outside. Going out was natural for Teddy. He’s not super interested in toys so he doesn’t burn energy that way. The only way to let him have fun was to bring him outside. Recently he’s been waiting at the door, meowing to go out. Be consistent and have a schedule — your cat will look forward to it every day.

My cat gets restless at home but seems truly happy when we’re outdoors. What gear do you recommend for taking your cat adventuring?

For a hike, a backpack is definitely a big piece of the gear. You’ll probably be carrying your cat around in it, plus you’ll have to fit your own gear like water and safety essentials. I have two backpacks. It’s a little excessive [laughs]! I have a Petsfit backpack that’s more of a boxy, carrier-style backpack, then a Kurgo backpack for dogs which I use for hikes — it’s more comfortable for the person who is carrying it. When Teddy’s tired of walking or engaging with the world, he’ll go in the backpack and fall asleep. That’s his safe space.

Besides the harness and leash [which your cat will be wearing], a portable bowl for their lunch, flea-and-tick medication, and a jacket if it’s wintertime. Treats are super important, especially for Teddy as he’s very food motivated. Poop bags are essential too — I once forgot them and had to wait for a person walking a dog to give me one.

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And what harness do you recommend?

We use the RC Pets Moto Harness. It’s actually a dog harness but somehow it fits cats really well. It has a handle at the back so I can grab Teddy from behind, instead of trying to pick him up from the front, and two leash attachment rings. In the winter, some of his jackets have leash holes in different places, so this harness fits better under a jacket.

I have the same one, in hot pink! What would you say is hardest part of taking a cat on hikes? 

Off-leash dogs have been a challenge. Some trails are designated as on-leash only, but dogs are still off leash. I try to pick up Teddy if I see an off-leash dog or keep the dogs away. If the dog runs up too quickly, Teddy starts to react and will instinctively scratch me.

How do people react to seeing you and Teddy on a walk? People tell me, “That made my day!” A cat on a leash is definitely a conversation starter.

People will say, “Oh it’s a cat, that’s so cool. He’s living the life.” Or, since Teddy’s usually in the backpack on hikes, sometimes they’ll go, “I wish someone would carry me.” A lot of people will stop and chat — if I didn’t have Teddy, no one would talk to me! They recognize you — the cat lady. There’s also a notion that only Bengals can go outside so some people ask if he is one (he isn’t). It’s not a breed thing — I know a lot of non-Bengals that definitely enjoy being outside. Someone also asked, “Is that a raccoon?” [Laughs.] Is that really more likely?!

Any last tips for people looking to walk their cats?

Everyone has their own strategies and ways of walking their cats. Cat personalities are so different, so I don’t think one piece of advice fits all. Find cats that are similar in personality to yours, and ask their humans what they’ve done. If you’re on Instagram, there are a lot of experienced cat accounts, like @catexplorer.community and @cat.school. Don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us for help. We’re all trying to help each other — to be outside more.

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Mai Lynn Miller Nguyen

Mai Lynn Miller Nguyen is a freelance culture writer who launched a neighborhood publication called The Pet Times while in elementary school. She is a devoted (read: obsessed) pet parent to Pippi, a spirited little orange cat who was found in the wilds of Michigan in 2020, has since crossed the country three times, and loves to climb trees.