Cat owners employ leashes to keep their pets — and wildlife — safe


Anyone could get bored stuck inside all day, and cats are no exception. A vast industry caters to the idle feline. A quick check at Chewy.com turned up thousands of cat toys, 140 of which are interactive, as well as 695 options for cat furniture such as trees, condos and scratching posts. Some cat owners prefer to get their cats outside for some fresh air and entertainment, but how they do it can be a matter of life and death, for the cat as well as wildlife.

When Lyric Reynolds got Midnight as a gift from her mother, she thought, “You’re always going outside.” The cat wouldn’t stop looking for a way to slip out the door. Reynolds, who lives in Wilmington, initially thought she might take Midnight outside in a carrier, but she wanted him to be able to stretch his body and move around on his own. Reynolds didn’t want Midnight to be out unattended but knew it wouldn’t be easy to keep him near her. The solution: a leash.

“It seems better to put them on a leash when you’re outside. They don’t know how to walk with you when you’re out there. They sort of wander away,” Reynolds says. “He’s a little skittish. It’s the best way to keep him close to you but he can still get his freedom.”

Tonks takes a walk, safely, with her owner, Navin Sasikumar. Photography by Rachael Warriner.

Navin Sasikumar, who takes his cats, Sansa and Tonks, outside into his garden and into the alley behind his house in East Falls, also keeps them on a leash for their safety. “I don’t want them to escape,” he says. He also doesn’t want them munching on plants they shouldn’t eat. But Sasikumar also hopes to keep other animals safe. “I don’t want them catching birds.”

Research by scientists studying outdoor cats has led to estimates that domestic felines kill about 2.4 billion birds in the United States every year, making them the leading way that humans kill birds, well ahead of collisions with buildings (including windows), which kill about 600 million. This is in addition to other wildlife killed by cats, such as reptiles, amphibians and small mammals.

Keeping a cat indoors is one way to make sure it doesn’t kill any wildlife, but for cat owners who want to get their kitties outside, a harness and a leash give them the ability to keep the cat close and supervise its interactions with other animals.

That isn’t to say that a leash is perfect protection for wildlife. “I was with my naughty cat [Tonks] in my backyard,” says Sasikumar. “A sparrow flies by and she jumps from one corner of the backyard to the other corner and catches the sparrow. They are such good hunters, so even with the leash it isn’t 100%, but it will cut back on what they can catch.”

Oh my God, he loves it. He’s like a dog.”

— Lyric Reynolds, cat owner

Taking a cat out on a leash also helps keep it safe. Indoor cats tend to outlive outdoor cats, since they avoid hazards such as getting run over by cars, getting mauled by dogs and catching diseases such as feline leukemia from other outdoor cats.

It can take some training to get cats used to a harness and leash, says Reynolds. She has found that while Midnight tolerates the leash, “the other black cat we have — oh my God, he loves it. He’s like a dog. He’s literally like that; he waits by the door. He’s so eager to go on that walk. He’s got that personality,” she says.

A leash isn’t the solution for every cat. “We like to say, ‘Who rescued who?’” says Victoria Wilson about Lily, who ran into the Sharing Excess warehouse where she and her partner, Evan Ehlers, were working the day before Thanksgiving last year. “Evan said to me, ‘The biggest rat I’ve ever seen ran over my foot.’ We armed ourselves with a broom, looked under the couch and saw the cutest little kitten we had seen hiding.” Wilson grabbed an empty cardboard box, corralled the kitten and took her along with them to Ehlers’s family’s house for Thanksgiving.

Lily turned out to be a social butterfly. “We noticed she really liked [interacting with people],” Wilson says. “She’s a super social cat. She came from the streets, but these indoor environments were welcoming and warm. People were giving her food.”

Wilson and Ehlers started taking Lily outside on a leash to let her interact with more people, but she didn’t seem to enjoy it. “We took her outside and she dropped to the ground. She is not interested in walking outside,” Wilson says. They have found other ways to get Lily out of the house safely. They spend time on the roof of their West Philadelphia house, and the couple takes her on walks inside a backpack cat carrier. “We transitioned to a backpack, which she likes a lot more. … We take her to the farmers market, then to Coco’s Creamery, get her a pup cup, and people enjoy seeing her up there.”

Dogs have been kept on leashes for thousands of years, so no one is surprised when a dog walks by on a leash. But a cat like Midnight draws comments from people who don’t expect a feline to be leashed. “They think it’s so cute, so adorable since it’s nothing they’ve seen before,” Reynolds says.

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