Monday, February 14, 2005

Cat on a Leash

Although many people consider a cat on a leash to be an abomination (my husband included), I have been leash training Cleo. It hasn’t been an easy task, but she finally got the hang of it last night.

After going back and forth with Mike over whether we should or should not leash train the cat, I bought a harness and a leash a week ago, Saturday. It is a figure 8 harness; it loops around her neck, crosses her back, and then loops around her ribs, just behind her front legs.

As soon as I got home from the store, I put the harness on Cleo. Aside from trying to bite the webbing, she was quite compliant. I then snapped on the leash and attempted to get her a walk. She turned into “cat-ball” – a ball of fur with no legs and her tail tucked up underneath. Our practice “walk” consisted of me dragging the fur ball across the dining room floor. While this could be a new way to polish the floor, I would be mortified if the neighbors saw me torturing the cat like this. I picked her up, carried her outside, and set her on the deck, thinking that the excitement of being outdoors would turn her from cat-ball to cat. No luck. I ended up carrying her and giving her a guided tour of the yard, while she trembled in my arms. I felt awful.

The next day, I turned to my favorite source of information, the internet, for advice on how to leash train a cat. The most sensible advice was a stepped program. First, put the leash and harness in an area the cat frequents, so that she gets used to them. Second, put the harness on her for 20-minute sessions, several times a day, indoors, until she becomes accustomed to wearing it. Next, attach the leash to the harness during those sessions. Then, practice walking around the house. Finally, walk outside. We never got past step two.

Cleo hated the harness. She remained compliant, letting me put the harness on and purring all the while, but she turned into cat-ball. She was frightened and mewed piteously. She rolled her cat-ball until she was against a piece of furniture or my legs. As we progressed, she would contort into odd positions, attempting to get out of the harness. I started out petting and talking to her during our “training,” but later gave her some time alone. When I left her, she would drag herself by her front legs to a piece of furniture and haul herself up. She refused to walk. Once, she did an odd back flip off the couch and wacked her head on the coffee table. I felt so bad for her.

I attempted to associate the harness with something positive. One day, we conducted training in front of the open door to the backyard. For a few moments, she forgot about the harness and sniffed interestedly at the night air, but, eventually, she drug herself into the dining room and hid on a chair under the table. I tried giving her cat treats during training time, but she ignored them. However, she did gobble the up after I took the harness off. I was hoping that she was beginning to associate the harness with treats and love.

Last night, I set her at the back door again, with the harness and leash on. She assumed the usual cat-ball position. Then, she drug herself over the threshold and onto the wet deck. Finally, she WALKED with ALL FOUR LEGS to sniff the recycling container and jump off the deck. When she tried to crawl under the deck, training was over.

Hopefully, tonight, she will cooperate again and we’ll be able to take a more extended tour of the backyard. I’m so proud of Cleo. She walked with the harness and leash on! No more cat-ball!


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