There’s one in every neighborhood. You know, that special person who wears the jaunty cap and always says “good morning” while striding along. Or, maybe it’s that person who knows everything that’s going on but never passes on gossip in a mean-spirited way, or better yet, that man or woman who never fails to lend a hand to a neighbor in time of need.
At Little Neck Village in Marion there is just such a person. Okay, maybe not a person; instead it is a charming seven-year-old orange tabby with white boots aptly named Boots. But you may call him Mr. Boots.
Every day, Mr. Boots takes in the fresh air strolling around the courtyard ensuring all is well and giving the neighbors something to smile about because Boots just isn’t out checking the perimeter, he is walking with a leash.
It isn’t often you’ll see a cat being walked by its owner, but it is becoming more popular. In any pet shop, you’ll find leashes, collars, and harnesses scaled to accommodate the sleek bodies of felines. For Suzanne Peterson, it was absolutely necessary when Boots came to live with her.
“I lost two other cats to wild animals,” Peterson sadly shared. Peterson has never declawed her cats and therefore, presumably, they were able to defend themselves or escape up a tree if needed. Tragedy, however, was not averted. When Boots came into her life, Peterson opted for leash training.
“I wasn’t going to get another cat right away,” she said after losing the last one to a fox. “But my granddaughter’s neighbor’s cat had a litter and when she brought this one over to show me. Well it was a kitten – you know, I fell in love.”
It wasn’t easy in those early days adjusting to having a kitten again in her home. Peterson said, “He was all over the place, climbing the curtains, jumping on top of cabinets. Boots needed to get rid of some energy.”
Unwilling to simply open the door and let him roam outside, Peterson started the process of acclimating Boots to a harness. “But he kept slipping out of it, so I just use a collar and leash now.”
Cats, unlike dogs, retain a great deal of their natural hunting instincts. Domesticated cats are constantly on the alert to any movement; they are curious, which makes walking outside with a cat on a leash challenging. Peterson said she doesn’t so much walk Boots, instead Boots “walks me.”
There are numerous websites and printed guides on how to train a cat to walk on a leash or even use a toilet instead of a litter box. And it’s all about positive reinforcement versus discipline.
For decades, animal training included a level of discipline versus rewarding the creature for performing a task correctly. Animal behaviorists now espouse a kinder, gentler, and frankly, better method of gaining the cooperation of an animal: a reward system. While the reward may simply be a gentle verbal cue or reinforcement, when training first begins it may also include a tasty treat. For Boots, it’s the people he meets along the way that reinforce his desire to be out and about, allowing Peterson to clip the leash onto his collar.
Demonstrating just how much Boots enjoys walking with his leash, Peterson strolled outdoors. The neighbor ladies sitting out in the warm autumn afternoon sun murmured, “Oh, there’s Boots…” each grinning and enjoying the sight of a cat walking his mistress.
“Every cat is different,” Peterson explained. “Some cats are perfectly happy to stay indoors,” but apparently that’s not the case with Mr. Boots. “He knows everyone in his world,” she said smiling.
By Marilou Newell