It took seven long months training the cats to wear their harnesses and walk comfortably on leashes, but we finally did it! We took ShiShi and Haku out on a real hiking trail at Phillippe Estate Park. I would tell you that it was anticlimactic, but it really wasn't. Truth is, we were all totally stoked for our little Sarasota cat hike, and took hours to wind down from the excitement when we got home. Except for Haku - he crashed!
Happily, the park is only a short drive from home and thus not too much car torture for that first cat trip! It's also real easy on the eyes with a small flower garden, a few short trails through the surrounding woods, and even a public boat launch out onto the Bay. And, most importantly for our first adventure, I've almost never seen dogs there on past visits. Fortunately, our cats do great with dogs, but I've been worried about dogs who are allowed to run off leash. (Yup - a common Florida problem.)
I love that there's LOTS of room at the park for us to explore with the cats in the future before we move on to anywhere with a longer drive or a park that’s challenging in other ways. Hopefully we'll be able to go a bunch of times in the coming weeks. Red Bug Slough and Oscar Scherer State Park are both on our radar as well, but I’m just not feeling like our cats are ready for that much extra input with mega dog encounters to be had at one, and long sandy trails at the other.
And, lets be honest, I was also relieved to start out this cat hiking thing at a park where I didn’t have to keep eyes peeled for alligators if we came near a body of water. With the salty gulf right on the edge of the park, no worries there! (On the other hand, there was that moment when I looked over to spot my (otherwise amazing!) husband letting ShiShi pounce after a lizard – right through poison ivy!
On Our Way
We've been debating for weeks about which cat should go on an adventure away from home first – ShiShi or Haku. It was such a toss up trying to choose! ShiShi is usually MUCH better about actually walking (with paws on the ground!) when she is out on leash around our house/neighborhood, while Haku is hugely more tolerant of the backpack.
In the end, we decided that it would be best to take both cats at once - with three people to watch and be prepared if there was trouble.
**Side note (I really MUST get another of those Pettom Carriers – that thing is just the BEST!) I’m so glad that a friend recommended it – wish that I’d got one sooner instead of sticking it out with our first pack, which is too small and makes both kitties nervous with the tight space.**
The Hike at Phillippi Park
Our 45 minutes cat hike (we probably didn’t even go a quarter mile) was AWESOME! Haku and ShiShi were both asking to be let out of their backpacks almost instantly when we got out of the car, and I relented as soon as we got to the woods. Poor Haku kept trying to beeline back to the car for a few minutes, but eventually decided that he’d better follow ShiShi instead, who was forging ahead.
No fear for that girl! ShiShi's basic hiking theory is go everywhere, explore everywhere, and then forge ahead again. Fortunatley for Haku, she was willing take time out of her busy schedule to touch noses when he finally caught up with her.
After that lizard incident, though, it was SO hard to coax her to move along. In a total surprise switch, Haku became the cat who forged ahead. It was completely unexpected because he has only ever been willing to walk returning home from a walk around our neighborhood (and the lazy bum gets carried on the way to wherever we are going!) I think that he actually would have done the whole trail circuit easily if ShiShi hadn’t been poking along so much after that lizard, and the noaseeums hadn’t come out for an early evening feast (I suspect they were hiding in the aforementioned poison ivy patch).
In the end, both cats were happy enough to turn around and head back, although I'd wondered if they would be a pain about it. The only incident we had at all was when Haku startled at the sound of a kid screaming happily at the nearby playground when we'd almost made it out of the woods. He turned tail and dragged me right back past ShiShi and down the path again, poor guy.
True to his usual form, Haku was totally sacked when we got home and barely budged for the rest of the night. ShiShi, on the other hand, told me all about her adventure (endlessly!) and prowled for hours looking for more fun. We are definitely heading back to the park as soon as weather and time permit – an A+ playground for cats, and awesome fun for us too!
Training Tip of the Day: Patience, patience, patience. I honestly think that the reason this first bigger adventure went so well is the gradual way that I have led up to it. Over the last 7 months, I spent several weeks introducing the harness/leash indoors, and same with the backpack later on. It was another month of exploring our very tiny yard (both cats were terrified of even that for weeks) before I ventured in tiny increments into the neighborhood (I’m talking sometimes only a few more feet/day). It can seem like it takes forever to get a skittish cat used to these things, but the payoff is so huge that it’s easily worth the effort!
🐾💖🐾 We're so glad to see you here! Haku and ShiShi love sharing snippets of their lives with you on Instagram, but this is where you can find the real shenanigans! (And all the training that happens 'Behind the Scenes') ~ Love ShiShi, Haku and Mira💖