The correct way to walk a cat on a lead, according to a man I meet in the park, is to let it do what it wants. Like most cats, his pet’s preference is to take a few steps, then stop and stare at nothing in particular for indefinite periods.
“If people don’t have the patience for this, they probably shouldn’t try it,” counsels the Russian-born cat walker, Kirill. “It’s not like a dog, where you can make it do things with you. Because a cat is not going to do that. In fact, I gotta tell you, it’s a bit of a chore …”
I can see why.
Kirill’s big fluffy tom, Tykva (Russian for “pumpkin”), twitches his tail when I approach with Alfie the dog, then goes back to studying something invisible in the near distance. After a while, Alfie gives me his WTF look and trots off to pee on a tree. Still motionless, Tykva stares on – “reading the landscape” – while Kirill, lead in hand, politely awaits his charge’s next mystery impulse.
Kirill and his partner, Kateryna, had Tykva imported to Australia when they moved here from Ukraine a few years ago. Kirill got the idea of walking Tykva on a lead from the American reality-TV series My Cat from Hell, which suggested it as a behavioural intervention for stressed housebound felines.
Kirill used to believe that cats, as an invasive species, should be kept indoors. But now he’s taking Tykva on short training walks near his home, hoping the cat will remain within the same boundaries when he’s not on the lead. “I’m trying to balance my own sanity with the cat’s sanity,” he says, laughing. “For the good of wildlife, but also for his own safety.”
“I’ve read that if you start training them as kittens, you can get them to walk more like a dog, but with most cats the reality is they’re going to be walking you.”
Thanks to social media, cat walking has become a trend over recent years, along with cat boating, cat paddle boarding, cat wilderness trekking and even cat rockclimbing. Among the pioneers of the movement is Adventure Cats, a website and Instagram account started by American actress Laura Moss in 2015.
But animal-welfare groups have reservations, warning that some owners seem to think moggies on leads can be trained to trot obediently behind them, like dogs. (Soon after meeting Tykva and the patient Russian, I saw a man dragging a wide-eyed cat through a busy outdoor cafe on a harness, its paws barely touching the ground.)