Feeling Like a Freak on a Leash

You'll never see me fall from grace. (Photo: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)
You'll never see me fall from grace. (Photo: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)

I never planned to be the weirdo walking her cat around on leash during a global pandemic. But stuck inside for months, there’s nowhere for the difficult truths in your life (cat-related or otherwise) to hide.

Lockdown will reveal that you and your longterm boyfriend have irreconcilable differences. It will expose that none of your housemates — despite being grown-arse adults — actually know how to cook. And, in my case, it will force you to accept that your stress rubs off on your cats, turning one of them into a wailing mass of fur with a bad case of cabin fever, kinda like his mum.

At this point, getting out of the goddamn apartment is the only thing keeping either of us from scratching at the walls and screaming. And because I’m not bougie enough of a New Yorker to have, say, a patio or backyard where my boy can scamper to his heart’s content, I am now very much the weirdo walking (one of) her cats around on a leash.

Whether you want to be one or not, walking any non-canine animal outside will turn you into a public spectacle. People will appear out of nowhere to inquire about your creature’s name (Cajal), his breed (unclear), and whether he likes being pet (who doesn’t?). Others will snap candid photos as if he’s a small, fuzzy celebrity, not unlike Danny DeVito. Soon, you and your cat will get used to being eyeballed more than either of you is truly comfortable with. That’s been the case for us, at least. I’ve been walking this cat since we first moved from the sprawl of the suburbs to the city years ago, but he never stops being a neighbourhood attraction. People typically assume that we’re going on a little jaunt to make a statement. We’re not. I’m just a firm believer that inside cats deserve some outside time.

I’m not the only one. A 2018 cat-walking op-ed in the New York Times compared a housecat confined to a cramped apartment to “a Lamborghini left idling in the garage.” I’d agree that this “proud race of savanna kings and nomadic carnivores” should be able to enjoy the open air sometimes, but most haven’t quite adapted to the mundane terrors of life in the city the way their owners have. A good leash comes in handy when you notice your cat, say, wandering into the road or getting too close to a dog that could easily kick its arse.

Like some cat owners, these little guys despise being told what to do. As The Telegraph put it back in 2017, asking a cat to come along on a walk is, in essence, asking it to give up a degree of independence — one that some felines just aren’t born comfortable with. If you look up videos of cat parents trying to walk their fuzzy friends, you’ll find numerous clips of cats stubbornly asserting their autonomy in their own little ways. Sometimes that looks like a kitty plopping down in the middle of a footpath and refusing to budge. Other times the defiance is more overt, taking the form of hissing and spitting while puss’s owner tries to strap him into an Instagram-ready harness.

A cat that doesn’t want to walk is a cat that doesn’t want to walk, and rarely will any amount of begging or bagged treats really change their mind. But if you — and your feline companion — are open to the idea, here’s some of the cat-walking-wisdom I’ve amassed over the years:

  1. Wrangling your fuzzy friend into a full body harness might seem like a pain in the arse when you think about how their doggie counterparts can get away with a basic collar. That’s what I thought, at least, when I took my little guy out on his first walk with exactly that. What I quickly found out, dear reader, is that cats have little delicate baby necks that aren’t suited to the kinetic forces of dog collars. (In my case, he was trying to bolt away from an oncoming skateboarder.)

    If you also want to avoid choking your cat, a harness that supports their neck and chest is crucial, even if it is more of a pain to get around their little kitty ribcage.

  2. No matter what type of cat harness (or, if you’re like me, tiny dog harness) you’re buying, I can promise you that your cat’s going to be some kind of pissed off about wearing it. The first few times Cajal got strapped in, he spent a good few minutes trying to moonwalk out of there the same way you’d try to shimmy out of a sweater that’s a bit too tight. Give your guy the time and space to get used to the feeling, and ply him however you can until he stops noticing that he’s being squeezed by what’s essentially a snugly tailored vest.
  3. Even after getting your cat used to his new duds, he’s still going to act like a cat once you plop him somewhere outside. Cats are rude. Cats are self-centered. Anyone who’s ever walked a cat can probably attest to the fact that it’s more often like the cat is walking you. If Cajal wants to spend 20 minutes sniffing around our neighbour’s dumpster, there’s no amount of leash-pulling I can do to get him anywhere less dumpster-y. Ditto if he wants to spend that time hiding in a brush or chewing on a clump of grass. Once you get them out of the house, you’re on their time — that is, until they get too overwhelmed/bored/whiny and want to go back to the safety 0f the great indoors.
  4. Finally, I learned that there’s no way to escape the attention you’re going to get. Cars will slow down while the drivers rubberneck in your direction. Covid be damned, children will run over and will get their sticky little faces way, way too close to yours. Depending on the type of cat you have, he’ll brush off these newfound fans with the grace of a grizzled Hollywood veteran or at least pretend to ignore them. And maybe we could all learn to do a bit more of that.