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Diary of a Cat Walker #19

Puma checking out the park.

Yesterday was a busy day, but somehow I managed to take three cats on walks. The most important of the three was Puma. About 8 months ago, as I was beginning Gloria Vanderbilt's training, Puma was getting daily walks in the neighborhood. Most days, he loved his walks, and looked forward to them. About midway through his walks, nearly without fail, he'd go into what I refer to as "Bliss Mode". He'd stop in his tracks, give me a loving gaze, begin kneading the ground, and solicit pets. It was marvelous, and the first time he did it, after nearly six months of difficult training and lots of fear, I nearly cried. So back to 8 months ago. Puma figured out how to get the door to the garage open and exit through the doggie door and escape into the neighborhood. He would be gone for roughly 12 hours each time he escaped. He was able to do this a number times until we figured out what was going on. On one of those occasions, he got into a fight with another animal. The next time I took him out on leash, he was seriously agitated, and when we encountered a red tom cat on our walk it really set him off. I'm pretty sure that's the cat that he'd fought with. I had to take him back home. The next few times I took him out, he was seriously agitated and scared and wanted to immediately return home. It was obvious that after his fight, he no longer felt safe on leash. At the same time, Gloria was making slow progress, so I decided to amp up her training schedule and discontinued Puma's walks. I figured it would take quite a while for Puma to get over his fear of being outside on leash again. Flash forward to this week. It was finally time to get him back on leash. I could tell he missed it dearly, but was still petrified of walking on leash. I decided the best course of action would be to take him to the park, away from the neighborhood where he'd had the fight. I struggled to get him in the car. He was terrified and howled all the way to the park. When I took him out, he was shivering. He was as afraid as he had been when I first began training him. So I sat down under a tree and held him in my lap for about half an hour. Finally, the shaking stoppedH and he was able to calmly look around. e wouldn't take an offered treat, which meant he was far from comfortable still. It appeared I was back at square one. So I got up to leave, but decided to carry him about 20 feet further in the park, and then set him down so he could walk/run back to the car...something he's more than willing to do when he's afraid. I set him down and he took off, but he'd gotten disoriented and was going in the wrong direction. He was walking deeper into the park rather than back toward the car. I decided to go with it, and we walked for about twenty minutes before I stopped him and turned him around. That was difficult. He still thought that he had been heading toward the car. So the walk back was punctuated by tons of stops and starts as he tried to turn around and refused to go forward. I was tenacious, and waited him out. He'd go another 6 feet and stop again. It took us quite a while to get back, but he finally realized his mistake and the last 100 yards or so were a breeze. The sun had set and night was right around the corner when we returned home. I let him out of the car and he walked into the front yard. I sat down on the porch and let out his leash so he could explore and sniff the front yard. Every minute or so he'd come up to me to be petted. I was amazed. I knew he was comfortable in the yard still, but this was almost like normal. I gave him a treat and he gobbled it down and wanted more. I gave him another and another. He began to purr. I tried to take him inside, but nope, he still wasn't ready, and then, to my surprise, he headed toward the sidewalk as if he wanted to go for a walk. I followed and he began to confidently walk in the neighborhood. Within a few moments, he went into bliss mode and began kneading the ground, gazing up at me lovingly, and brushing against me. I reached down to pet him and he jumped up to reach my hand. We walked another couple of feet and the gaze, the kneading, and the petting returned. This happened over and over again...every couple of we walked through the neighborhood. He was beside himself with joy and so was I. Something had clicked, like a switch had been flipped, and he was back. We didn't go far -- about four houses down -- when he stopped, sat down, and stared at the bushes in front of a house on the other side of the street. I figured this was it, one of the places where he'd likely encountered the other cat. After a few moments, I encouraged him to go on, but he still sat, staring at the bushes. I turned around and he followed me back home, going into bliss mode every foot or two. When we arrived home, he still wasn't ready to go in. I gave him a few more treats and then, to my surprise, he wanted to go back into the neighborhood again. We did. And this time, he stopped to watch a kid setting off sparkly fireworks. I thought he'd be scared, but he wasn't. He was intrigued. We watched for a minute or two and then I told him "come on", and turned toward home again. He was in bliss mode all the way home. Puma is back, and I couldn't be happier. And while this entry is all about Puma, at lunch time, Gloria had an amazing walk where she ended up catching a lizard!

Gloria stopped on a brick path.

I was so proud of my girl and though she didn't know what to do with it (good!) and it quickly got away, I could tell she was proud of her prowess too. I don't think I've ever seen her happier. Yeah, it was an amazing day all around.

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