Diary of a Cat Walker #9
Another weekend is quickly coming to a close...yet I still have so much to do, including updating this walking diary.
Yesterday was something of a milestone. Longest walk ever. Not only was it the longest walk ever, but it was in a park/trail that winds through a neighborhood. Gloria has always balked about the neighborhood portion, and so our walks were cut a bit short as she struggled with entering the neighborhood portion of the trail. We'd never gone very far on this trail.
Yesterday was different. For some reason, as we entered the neighborhood, she didn't falter. It was a strangely quiet Saturday, so there weren't a lot of people out running lawnmowers and stuff, so that may have contributed. Anyway, we kept going. And going. And going.
Total trip was at least a mile. In a word, amazing.
The trail took us through the neighborhood, across the tracks (literally), and across a fairly long bridge. At one point we ran into a family of black cats...one of which, a tuxedo, meowed to us and followed us for a bit. Because I thought they might be feral (as it seemed like a family unit, and the others wanted nothing to do with us) I was pretty careful. But at one point, Gloria got pretty close to the tuxedo.
All-in-all, it was a phenomenal walk through an area she wasn't familiar with.
That brings up another tip. When training your cat, you'll likely find a route, path, or neighborhood that your cat likes. I know Gloria has one. And it's awful easy to take your cat back to that spot over and over again. That's okay at first, but the eventual goal is to help your cat see that ALL places are safe and worth exploring. So after a dozen trips or so to the "liked" spot, begin to throw in more and more places she's not comfortable with. After she's found her spot, reduce your walks to that spot to every other trip. Then fewer and fewer as she begins to accept other places. While taking your cat to varied places, include Lowes/Petco/Home Depot and other indoor venues that allow pets. These are GREAT on rainy or chilly days when you can't go to a park or a walk through the neighborhood, but still want to keep up the regular walks (which I heartily recommend).
So back to Saturday. After such a long walk I expected Gloria to crash when we got home, but she didn't. In fact, she didn't seem tired at all. It was a bit perplexing -- hadn't she just walked a mile? Okay, I'm going to look into this more as I expect indoor/outdoor and outdoor only cats do quite a bit of walking. This is probably not out of the ordinary for unleashed cats.
Earlier, I took her for her walk. My intent was to take her to her favorite park, but on my way, I took a detour and we went to some new walking trails. It was a busy Sunday morning and there were more people than she likes to see...she still is shy around people she encounters on a walk and stops and usually tries to make herself very small until they're 5-10 feet away. Then she'll get up and continue. She did some of this today, but was quite good at walking even though she'd NEVER been here before. Yeah, never. This was pretty huge, but it seems my work is paying off sooner than I'd estimated. She's months ahead of where I had hoped she'd be now, but may be due to the fact that I've been pretty good at keeping to our walking schedule. She generally gets 6-7 walks a week! The exposure is key.
After the trip to the trails, I went to my favorite cafe. It has a patio area where I can take Gloria and drink my coffee (what I don't spill of it). Gloria hates going into the busy cafe and since they have food, I have to hold her while I get my coffee. She does a bit of howling in protest, and I end up treating her like a crying baby. Ugh! Anyway, a couple weeks ago I went to the cafe and after placing my order I went to the back of the cafe, sat on a bench near the roaster, and waited for my name to be called. Amazingly, she calmed down almost immediately and sat on my lap and just observed. I tried it again today, and again, she calmed down. She also wasn't as noisy while in line. We've probably been to this cafe four times and I'm seeing progress already. Anyway, don't underestimate the power of sitting. At first, Gloria didn't get it, but now it's very comforting to her. It gives her the opportunity to check out her surroundings for dangers before braving it. Cats do this all the time. I've incorporated into my training as new places usually get about 5 minutes of observation time before we venture out on our walk. Today, at the new trails, it only took a minute or two before she was ready to explore.
After the coffee we went to her favorite place. Tail up, she began to walk through the park a little anxiously. She needed to go to the bathroom. Watch for signs of this. I now know that if I'm carrying her and she's crying, she needs to go. If she's scared and doesn't want to go, sit down and let her root around until she goes. Don't continue the walk -- she'll only get more and more anxious if she feels there's no opportunity to do her business.
We didn't stay long at her favorite spot as she was happy -- even purred a bit while sitting on a bench with me -- but it was damp from recent rains and I think she'd had enough of exploring for one day. After making a loop of the area and checking out the squirrels at the squirrel feeder, I let her lead me from the park and back to the car...my car. To Gloria, all cars are the same so she will lead me to the nearest one and demand entry (: We're working on this still.
Amazing weekend. But that doesn't mean tomorrow will be equally good. There are so many factors that go into this, and one day's success doesn't necessarily predict the future, but despite this, I have hope. Accept each day.