Some cats, apparently, don’t like being walked on a leash.
But some do, and according to an animal behavior expert, some cats can be trained to walk on a lead, ensuring they can still enjoy the outdoors.
More council areas are banning cats from roaming around off-leash and threatening native wildlife, so they are being herded inside.
A recent study found pet cats kill about 230 million native animals a year. Add in feral cats, and the total is about 1.7 billion native animals. Research suggests cats, wild and domesticated, are responsible for dozens of extinctions, and threaten another 120 species.
Owners in many areas of Australia are being told to keep cats indoors, with some councils implementing curfews and even bans on letting cats out.
From July, all Canberran cats will have to be kept indoors. Greater Bendigo already does that, and the Adelaide Hills brought in similar rules at the start of the year.
In many cases, though, cats are allowed day release – if they’re kept on a leash.
The RSPCA says that, unlike dogs, cats are in charge on a walk: The humans are expected to follow them. (As author Terry Pratchett said: “In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”)
Dr Jacqui Ley, a Melbourne specialist in veterinary behavioral medicine, works with animals with mental health problems “to help them become well again”. She says you can teach a tethered cat to walk.
“Some cats like going out for a walk on the lead,” she says. “They’re just like people. Some are much more sociable, outgoing, and some … like to stay home.
“The trick is for the human carers, guardians and owners to figure out what sort of cat theirs is and whether or not they’re going to like it.”
She concedes training a cat to walk on a lead may not be a fast process. First, find a cat harness – they’re available online, and at a range of pet stores – and it must be a harness. A cat collar won’t cut it. Then let your moggy pad about the house with it on, while it gets used to it. Treats will help.
Then attach a lead to the harness, and move around the house (without pulling on it – kitten gloves, people).
When you think your cat is comfy, try a stroll in the yard first, before heading into the big, wide world and bracing for the occasionally catty glance.
The RSPCA’s policy is that “a leash and harness may be used to walk cats outside the owner’s property under direct supervision”, but goes on to say: “Despite some owners successfully training their cat to walk on a leash, in general the RSPCA does not recommend it”.
New environments can stress a cat, the association says, and an escape-proof enclosure might be a better option. It also warns against taking cats to public parks, but doesn’t specifically mention alleys, litter, or tin roofs.
Vet nurse Nina Gibbins has been diligently trying to teach her two-year-old Burmese cat Summer to walk on a lead. Summer seems deeply contemptuous of the idea that she should obey Gibbins’ directions, but relatively happy to be on a lead.
So to save native wildlife, and to avoid having a fat cat, it might be worth teaching the old mog new tricks.