Cats that cavort in the snow, camp in the wilderness, sail on the ocean?
Journalist Laura Moss says yes, absolutely, in her eye-opening new book, “Adventure Cats: Living Nine Lives to the Fullest.” We meet Kuli, the one-eyed Hawaiian surfer cat, who became accustomed to baths while recovering from health problems and now rides the (smaller) waves off the shores of Oahu. There’s Georgie, who has sailed to 16 countries — so far. The savvy tabby wears a life jacket at night, swims like a champ and enjoys bird-watching.
There’s Jesper, the long-haired Norwegian cat, who trots along with his owner as she cross-country skis.
“The first time I encountered one of these cats, I did not think it was for real,” Moss said. “I was writing a story about Millie the climbing cat. I talked to (her owner) Craig (Armstrong), and he showed me his pictures, and I thought, ‘This could possibly be Photoshopped.’ But no. He was taking his cat climbing, and hiking, and camping, and then I just keep finding more and more of these cats.”
Based on what she’s seen on Instagram, where Adventure Cats has 109,000 followers, Moss says there are hundreds of these cats, from backyard prowlers to seasoned campers. She recommends starting cats with leash and clicker training, so they’ll be safe and manageable outside, and then slowly introducing them to the joys of supervised strolls.
Moss, a former senior editor at the Mother Nature Network and co-founder of AdventureCats.org, recently talked to the Tribune. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: Cats that swim? I wasn’t expecting that.
A: If you put your cat into the water, you’re going to regret it. You always let them make that choice. But that’s one of the things that’s most surprising to me. There’s a cat, Yoshi, in Australia — I’ve talked to his owners several times _ and they can’t keep him out of the water. I think it’s the funniest thing because I can’t imagine my cats even jumping in the bathtub.
Q: Are your cats adventure cats?
A: They are to the degree of the backyard and the neighborhood. I leash-trained them, and we took it very slow, and we eventually walked around the yard. We have a stream in the backyard — it’s a little wooded, so they love exploring that. But since I trained them when they were 3 and 5 years old, I don’t think they’d ever be comfortable going camping or going to a really crowded place. We keep our adventures very close to home.
Q: How can you tell if your cat is an adventure cat?
A: It depends on a lot of things. Some cats are just very valiant. If they hear a loud noise, instead of running away from it, they may investigate it. That’s a really important quality — not being easily frightened and being very curious. Cats that are known as “door-dashers” because they’re always trying to get outside — they could be candidates. But you can always be surprised too. One of my cats has all those qualities, but he has no interest in going any farther than the yard. But then one of my good friends has a cat who hides when I come over — she’s very skittish. But she loves going outside. She begs to go outside.
Q: What do cats get out of this?
A: We domesticated dogs over thousands of years, whereas cats, they’re still pretty wild. I read a study a few years ago about how as few as 13 genes could separate the cats we share our homes with from wild cats. They still have a lot of these instincts and behaviors. So I think, when you’re taking your cat outside, you’re providing some physical activity, but there’s also a lot of mental stimulation. There’s a lot to see, and to smell, and to explore, and because your cat’s pretty wild, those are behaviors that (it) wants to engage in.
Q: What’s in it for the humans?
A: One of my favorite ways that it’s been described was when I was speaking with Craig Armstrong and his friend Zac. They take their cats climbing, and hiking and camping. And they always set aside a day where they follow the cats (wherever) they want to go, and they call it “catting.” And the way they describe it is, it’s such a mindful experience.
You’re letting your cat create the path and letting your cat go at its own speed. I think when you do something like that — even when you’re just catting in your backyard _ you start to experience nature in a very different way. You get down lower, and you see new things, and you see the natural world from your cat’s perspective.
My husband and I are very big hikers, but often we’re so focused on finishing at a certain time, or putting so many miles behind us, that we lose sight of what a wonder it is to be out there and seeing those tiny details. I think when you do that with a cat, you’re forced to pay attention.