Outdoor Urban America is NOT a comfortable environment for free-roaming cats. In addition to automobile-caused deaths and injuries, a roaming cat may develop wounds or abscesses from cat fights, unplanned pregnancies, contagious diseases, parasites, heatstroke or frostbite. Free-roaming cats may also annoy neighbors, get into garbage or be stolen.

With all of these dangers, why would anyone let their cat leave the house? Because cats are curious, human beings often believe they must be left outside to roam. Some cats love to investigate new situations and may become upset if they cannot explore beyond the front door.But is this a good reason to endanger their lives? Leash training, a safe and legal option for dogs and their owners, is a viable option for cats and their human companions as well.

Before rushing out to purchase the fanciest leash for your cat, evaluate your cat's personality. Some cats are shy and timid (they may hide under the bed anytime the door bell rings). A leash and harness may rub some cats the wrong way (literally, in the case of Persians and other longhaired breeds).

Some cats just prefer to stay inside. Not all cats will allow themselves to be leash-trained. In this case, keep your cat inside where he will be safe and comfortable. Cats that may be more interested in leash training include Siamese, Abyssinians and American shorthairs. Young cats may catch on to the idea of wearing a leash more easily than older cats.

Before trying to leash train your cat, choose your equipment carefully. You will need a harness made of nylon webbing or soft leather designed for cats, not for dogs, and a leash about six feet long. Using a regular collar is discouraged, as cats may slip out of a collar more easily. In addition, a cat may jump or fall and strangle himself with the collar.

Introduce the harness and leash as toys. Let your cat sniff them, play with them, and lose any fear of them. Next, put the harness on your cat for about five minutes each day. Be sure that the harness is fitted correctly, not too tight, not too loose.

Often, the cat will not stand up or move around with the harness on. It may seem as if wearing the harness has caused your cat to lose the use of his legs. This may be a reaction to the unfamiliar weight of the harness. Fairly soon, this game becomes boring and your cat will walk around with the harness on.

You may even make a game of wearing the harness. If your cat comes when you call (while wearing the harness) give him a treat or another type of reward (petting, play toys, etc.). Do not go over and pick your cat up. This will reinforce the "no leg" reaction and will not encourage your cat to walk around with the harness on.

The next step is to attach the leash to the harness during these five minute episodes. Don't hold on to the leash at first, just let your cat drag it around. Gradually increase the time that your cat wears the harness and leash to 20 minutes each day. By this time, your cat should be comfortable maneuvering around your house with the attached equipment.

As your cat tours your house, pick up the leash. Practice walking your cat around the house, around the yard and, eventually, around the block. Remember to work at your cat's own pace. He may be ready to walk outside in less than a week. Or, your cat may never want to go outside.

As you walk leisurely around your neighborhood, watch your cat. Cats can teach human beings a great deal about taking time and enjoying life. They are typically investigators, explorers, browsers. If you want a brisk walk or jog, you need to get a dog.

One additional hint: Cats often learn better in groups. A new cat can learn about the harness and leash game from a previously trained cat, or even a dog. If your cat is an explorer, he will not want to be left out.

Safety tips for cats on leashes:

*Make sure your cat's harness fits correctly and is securely fastened each time you take the cat out.

*Keep a spare harness on hand. Don't interrupt your cat's exercise routine because you weren't prepared for a broken harness.

*Be ready to pick up your cat when you cross busy streets, see a dog, another animal or other dangers.

*Don't take your cat outside unless all of his shots are current, including the rabies vaccination.

*Don't take your cat outside without a current identification tag.

*Never leave your cat outside unsupervised.

*Don't expect your cat to be a dog.

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*And please adjust harness and collar size as your kitten grows into a cat.

Another option - Some cats long to explore without the hamper of a harness and some owners can't find time to take the cat for a walk every day. Another way to let cats enjoy fresh air without endangering their lives is to build them an outdoor enclosure just like people build dog runs for dogs. The outdoor enclosure should include walls, a roof and no way for uninvited animals to come inside.

The enclosure should provide shelter from the elements (sun, rain, wind), and fresh water. In addition, the enclosure should have a wide variety of perches, hiding spaces and toys - something for your cat to enjoy. Don't leave your cat in the enclosure for long periods of time if he doesn't want to be there.

One solution is to close in a porch and provide a cat door so your cat can go out and in when he is interested. For more ideas on outdoor cat enclosures, contact Salt Lake County Animal Services Education Program, 264-2247.

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