I loved living in a high rise condo in a big city. I’m a city person and have never been interested in a suburban life, but after so many years of apartment living, I was excited at the prospect of a house, a garden and more privacy. And while I loved the benefits and safety of my cats being indoor only, I wanted them to experience sunshine and chasing butterflies and grass.
While we were still in Manila, we connected via Instagram to some other cat people who had a regular “park day” in a large park in the centre of Makati, a short distance from my apartment. Led by Jonna, the rescuer of Chico and Lulu, a group of people and their harnessed cats met in the park early on Sunday mornings before the crowds and the heat, and let their cats experience the outdoor world.
It took us a while to get organised for this; I wasn’t happy with the fit of the harnesses I bought and I had to select a kitty to take. I chose Chico – the most curious and confident when we had car trips, and I felt he would be the least stressed. Other than his short stint abandoned by the side of the road, Chico was the only kitty who hadn’t lived on the street and had only known my home as his home. I felt he was well grounded despite his innate craziness.
His first trip to the park was brief. He was frightened – to be expected, but behaved like a trooper, smelled the grass, walked on the tree branch and generally looked very photogenic and handsome. He was nice to Maru, another instagram kitty friend, and after about an hour, we headed home. At home, Chico was bursting with confidence and pride. He swaggered around the apartment as if he had just conquered the world, and allowed all the other kitties to sniff all the interesting smells on him.
The following week, when I put the harness and the cat carrier out in preparation for another park day, Chico got a blue feather from the toy box and dropped it into his carrier. So sweet! All up, Chico had three park days, one of them included Lulu and Trisha, my Christmas houseguest. Lulu was not happy about the experience. We didn’t go again because of our relocation to Cebu.
So now, in Cebu, my plan was to take them on supervised visits in the garden. Chico and Maxi absolutely loved going outside and didn’t mind the harness. No-one else would tolerate it, so instead, I tried a different approach. One day I took Pip on a “cuddle walk” around the garden. His ears were forward, his eyes big and bright, and he purred the whole way around the garden. Purr, purr, walking around the pool, around the bushes, I let him sniff the bushes, smell the tree and he purred the whole way round. I was so happy he was happy!
Asha refused to go outside, Lulu had a tentative walk on the harness. Kai had a cuddle walk, eyes wide, and when I let him smell the flowers on a bush, he opened his mouth and CHOMP! ate a flower whole!
The next day when I took Pip on his cuddle walk, he shook the whole way! He was terrified, the poor boy. I realised he hadn’t been purring because he was happy, he was purring to comfort himself because he was frightened.
I was starting to realise that supervised walks weren’t practical – it was too hot outside for me, and keeping the doors closed all the time was difficult. My wonderful driver, Nathan had previously volunteered in typhoon ravaged Tacloban, constructing houses for those who had lost everything. He worked as a driver but loved construction. We chatted about options and I googled designs and he built a gate to secure the back garden, and mounted angled poles and netting above the fence to make a secure area.
Once the garden was secured, I let the cats out. At first, it was just from 4pm each day for 1 hour. Lyn and I would strategically place ourselves at opposite ends of the garden so we could see everyone. They ran and played and sniffed everything. At first, Asha and Kai wouldn’t come out, but Asha – always keen to do anything that gets attention, cautiously tiptoed outside. The day Kai came out was a time for great celebration! Always a skittish, easily startled kitty, I thought that Kai would never go outside, so I was pleased when he made his first tentative steps out the door. I installed a cat flap, trained the kitties (Kai still won’t use it) and planned the next phase of the outdoor experience – the Catio.