Published in the Rains County Leader on November 13, 2018:
Last week I mentioned that I’m trying to train Kitty to wear a harness and walk on a leash. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. I have a cousin whose cat loves his leash – so much, in fact, that he will stand on her chest and give her a death stare when he wants to go for “walkies.” A couple of months ago I asked her if she thought it was possible to train Kitty at her advanced age. She said that with time and patience she thought it could definitely be done.
The next time we made a Walmart run, I chose an inexpensive harness in a pretty shade of blue. No bling, though. We’ll wait on that until after we see how she reacts. I hesitated a bit on the size. I knew a small wouldn’t work, but I was afraid a large would fall off. I finally settled on a medium, hoping she wasn’t bigger than fourteen inches around the chest, and I found a leash to match. All the way home, I wondered if I had wasted my ten dollars.
The first step, according to my cousin, was to leave the harness on the floor for a week or so until Kitty was used to having it around. As soon as I got home, I removed the tags and the little plastic things that held it together. You know the ones – they have a thin thread of plastic between two tabs, and when you cut them off, you invariably lose one end and step on it later when you’re barefoot. I asked David what you call them, and he said, “A pain in the rear.” He’s not much help. Anyway, after removing the excess packaging and adjusting it to a size I thought would fit her, I held the harness down where Kitty could sniff it. Her reaction was somewhere between minor interest and total indifference. I put it on the carpet, and she lay beside it for thirty minutes before totally ignoring it for the next week.
Next, I put the harness in the kitchen beside her food bowl. She ignored it for a few days, so one morning while I was petting her, I rubbed the buckle across her back a few times. She was so busy with her breakfast that she barely noticed, so I moved it in front of her bowl. The next morning when she approached her bowl, one foot was inside the harness and one was outside. I very carefully moved her paw into place and pulled the straps around her chest – or nearly around. The ends were two inches short of meeting. By then, she had noticed what I was doing, so she gave me a haughty look and stalked away. I let out the harness to its full extension, and put it back beside her bowl.
That weekend was clear, and we left the front door open to let some sun in through the storm door. Kitty strolled over and gazed out, watching the birds and squirrels and such. I saw an opportunity, so I laid the harness in front of the door. She gave me an in-your-dreams look and went back to one of her window perches. Not one to give up easily, I put a few treats by the harness and went about my business. It wasn’t long before she was back at the door, sniffing at the treats with her feet very close to the harness. I slowly knelt beside her, moved her feet into place, and fastened the enlarged harness into place. I grabbed the leash, snapped it into place, and asked David to take a picture before we ventured outside.
David is a good photographer, but the sun was shining straight in the door, and all he could get was a black ball. While he tried several angles, Kitty realized something was different, and she lost interest in the treats. She lay down for a few seconds, and then she took off down the hall – and right out of the harness. Apparently, her feet weren’t in position after all. It’s hard to tell with all that fur hanging down, especially when she’s in a half crouch. Anyway, I called it a day and moved the harness back to her food bowl.
This past week, she’s been a bit wary, so I haven’t done anything except to occasionally rub her with the harness while I’m petting her. Then, Saturday was another sunny day. When I moved the harness to the doorway, I noticed Kitty was on high alert with her ears sticking straight up, so I put it in place and went back to my computer. Later I noticed that she and David were by the door. He was encouraging her to step into the harness, and she was stepping over it and rubbing against his leg. They both tired of that game after a few rounds, so he put the harness on one of the two TV tables she frequents. She spent some time stretched out on the tables, but she made sure to be on the end as far away from the harness as possible.
My cousin assures me that once Kitty comes to associate the harness with going outside, she’ll let me put it on her without a fight. We’ll see if I have enough time and patience left to keep trying until that happens.