You've heard of crag dogs, but what about crag cats? Our feline friends typically prefer to go on adventures of their own, but one cat in Derby accompanies her humans on climbing, walking and camping trips around the UK - from Stanage to John o' Groats. Meet one-year-old Kat, short for Kathmandu, and her owners Andy Dodd and Georgina Jackson. Their story was recently featured on The One Show and Kat has become a bit of a celebrity, with her own Instagram page, website and a personal dressing room for her TV appearances. She also has some FFAs (First Feline Ascents) to her name...
Since Kat was too busy being adventurous to respond to emails, I sent some questions to Georgina and Andy to find out more about her.
What breed is Kat?
Kat is a moggie, which means she's a bit of a Heinz 57. However we do know that she has some Bengal in her, both by the markings on her fur and from her personality traits and characteristics.
What made you consider taking her on adventures with you?
We had always wanted a pet that could join us on our adventures, but because we work varying and sometimes long hours during the week, we didn't think it fair to get a dog. Cats on the other hand, can sleep for up to 16 hours a day, and with the right personality they can quite happily be trained to walk on a harness, fist bump, and do all manner of clever things in pretty much the same way as a dog can (basically, cats have a huge amount of potential). But it was when we first brought her home that this idea sunk in fully - it was immediately obvious she would be the perfect adventure cat to take away with us. The rest was history!
Depends who you ask! I (Georgina) just like names which are a play on words (our van is called 'SteVan', and the previous one was called 'KeVan'). But Andy likes to think it's because Kathmandu is often called 'the stepping stone to the Himalaya'. Well, Kathmandu the cat has been the stepping stone to even better adventures for us!
What was the first adventure you took her on, and how did she react?
Again, depends who you ask! Andy thinks of her trip to Carsington Water as her first adventure, but I don't think that that really counts as it was just a day-trip. I think Kat's first true adventure was to Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace - a weekend spent exploring the festival, winding up dogs, and napping in the van.
Tell us about her 'accidental bobcat' incident!
To be honest, the Great Tail Saga of December 2018 was a bit of a drawn out and complex process, but here's an abridged version for you! As you can see, Kat is missing about two thirds of her tail. She is usually pretty good at coming home when we call her, and she is cautious of other human beings and has always been very wary of cars. But one night before Christmas, she didn't come home that night when we called her in. Thinking it was a bit strange but not worrying too much, we left it. She came home a couple of hours later, and was obviously in pain (normally cats can hide pain very well), and unable to raise her tail. This meant a quick phone call leading to an overnight stay with the emergency vets, because tail injuries in cats can cause other problems with some of their internal organs. We will never know for sure what happened that night, but it's thought that a car managed to trap her tail, and unfortunately killed the nerves in the process. Her tail was left for two weeks in case some of it started to heal, but unfortunately no such luck. In fact, the opposite started to happen and the skin around the break started to die as well, and clumps of fur fell out. So it had to be amputated. Luckily though she is absolutely fine now (it could have been a lot worse, let's be honest!), and having a short tail doesn't seem to bother her at all. If anything, she seems more determined than ever, and that she's got a bit of a point to prove... Maybe her tail was even holding her back!
What's she like as a cat? Typically cats are more independent than dogs and not as keen on being told what to do - is Kat a bit different?
Kat is absolutely still very independent and knows what she wants (she'll tell you all about it, too!). But more like a dog, she is also extremely trusting of us and has an incredible sense and understanding of what's going on around her. Although we humans may decide where we are going in the van, she definitely decides where we are going once we get there and start walking! Fundamentally she is for sure a cat. But there are dog-like traits which certainly shine through too, for example she loves to be involved in everything we do (from cooking to DIY), and unless she is outside, she pretty much has to be in the same room as us otherwise the world has ended (her meows can get very loud). But we really wouldn't have it any other way. It feels a lot like the best of both worlds!
How do other people react when they see her in her harness?
We tend to get one of three reactions. One is of curiosity that there is a cat walking around on a harness, often ending in a couple of strokes (which Kat normally couldn't care less about!) and a bit of a chat about how we go about doing it and sometimes swapping hints and tips, which again, Kat could care less for unfortunately! One is the pure question of 'why would you do that?', and perhaps some (judging but we'll intended) questions about how we look after her welfare, and other animals and the environment when we take her out (which of course we do). And the last one is my favourite, where out of the corner of your eye you catch a couple or a family tugging at each others' sleeves, pointing excitedly, and whispering with huge grins on their faces and wide eyes that there's a cat going for a walk with its owners just over there. Yeah, that's the best one!
How do dogs react?
Dogs tend to react in a similar way to humans be honest! Either they want to chase her in an aggressive manner and bark loudly, they are curious and just want to greet and play with her in a friendly way, or they don't care/have no idea how to react to a cat on a leash! In general we try to avoid dogs and popular dog walking spots as it's not fair on anyone (or any animal) to be put in that situation. However sometimes it is of course inevitable, and we have to be adaptable in how we handle it. On the whole though, most encounters are reasonably positive, and having made friends with the neighbourhood dogs at home, Kat knows when to stand her ground around a friendly and inquisitive pup, and when to make it to safety in her backpack or on our shoulders from one which may not be quite so happy to see her!
What's her favourite treat to pack for an adventure?
Kat makes it really obvious that she loves going on adventures and away in the van in general, but we do like to ply her with cat treats as well to let her know that she has been extra good in some circumstances, and of course to reward good behaviours. She loves Whiskas Dentabite treats and Anti-Hairball treats in particular!
You were on TV recently. Tell us a bit about that!
We had so much fun filming on Stanage Edge for the BBC's The One Show. Out of the blue about a month before it aired, we were contacted by a friend about an opportunity for a British cat to be filmed for a 'Cats Vs Dogs' episode, and of course we said yes! We spent a beautiful day in April scrambling up Stanage and wandering around some of the nearby fields, as well as capturing some footage of us preparing for an adventure with Kat. Kat was an absolute natural and what you saw in the short film is exactly what she's like normally. But the next thing we knew, a week before the show we were invited to go to the studio to appear live. We had no idea how Kat would react, as she isn't a huge fan of people in general, let alone a small audience, and to be honest we expected her to hide under the sofa a little bit. But the little fuzzbutt seemed to sense that she had a job to do, and she really rose to the challenge. We had one small hiccup where the round of applause from the studio audience spooked her (we hadn't thought about introducing her to clapping before!), but she dealt with the check-up by the vet on air like an absolute champ. We are really very proud, and the whole experience totally cemented our trust and belief in her.
Kat has her own Instagram page. What do you hope to achieve through the page?
The main thing we hope to achieve through Kat's Instagram is simply to raise awareness and help demonstrate the huge potential that cats have. Cats can honestly make fantastic adventure companions, and we've heard so many stories from others who have or have previously had cats which join their humans for walks or enjoyed trips away with them. A pet's world is only as big as its owner allows it to be, and we don't want Kat's world to be any smaller than it has to be. Plus, she is pretty cute!
You're climbers. Has Kat climbed any rock routes, or does she make her own First cat ascents on smaller rocks?
Kat has very gracefully managed some boulder problems at Stanage Plantation, and she's done the odd graded scramble as well. But as a rule, she likes to find her own way, which definitely includes some FCAs!
What has been her biggest adventure to date?
Our longest adventure with Kat was when she was only about 6 months old, and we wild-camped the North Coast 500 route in the van, taking lots of hikes, sights, smells and sounds in along the way. Since then she has spent a week at the opposite end of the country in Cornwall, and has set foot on prestigious mountains such as Blencathra in between.
Perhaps our favourite adventure so far with her though was summiting Mam Tor multiple times in one day - mostly in the dark! Kat has a real love of climbing, and the only way we could get her back down (on the correct side) was to roll a stone for her to chase, which was brilliant fun to watch. A great night was had by all!
What's she like to camp with?
So far we haven't spent the night in a tent with Kat (I am worried she might put a hole in the fabric and then no one would have a good night!), but we have spent countless nights in the van, and a couple of times staying at the houses of friends and family. Kat really loves the van and knows the routine we have when we go away, so she is usually quick to settle with lots of purrs as well. When we go to a new house, she loves exploring but may take a little longer to settle because she gets carried away with all the new smells and exciting hidey-holes to explore. Hopefully we can brave a tent at some point soon, but for now we are all happy enough living our best lives in the van!
What would Kat's advice be for house cats (and their owners) who want to go on an adventure?
Kat's advice would be to start harness training as early as possible (cats cannot be walked on a lead attached to a collar, since they have soft throats unlike a dog's hard throat. This means they can choke from the lead pulling at their collar), take it slow (little and often is good), and make sure everyone is comfortable with the situation, especially the cat! Not every cat is suited to being an adventure cat, and it's very much a personality-dependent thing. Your cat should be microchipped, insured, vaccinated, and you should regularly keep on top of de-flea and worming treatments. Cats can overheat easily and cannot cool down by panting like dogs can, so aim to stay out of the sun in the hottest part of the day, or for long periods of time. When we go out at night Kat wears a little flashing light to help us find her, and we have a small GPS tracker which we attach to her harness as well just in case. We also have her backpack and of course plenty of fresh water and some kibble with us on every adventure to make sure she can stay comfortable and safe. Communities and websites such as www.adventurecats.org can be fantastic sources of information, hints and tips, and can be a good place to start for those interested.
What are her next plans?
Aside from our usual weekend trips away to the national parks, we are planning to take another road trip to Scotland, exploring more of the west coast's incredible climbing spots, and of course the beautiful islands there. In the new year, however, we hope to complete Kat's tour of countries of the United Kingdom, and make it across to Ireland in the van. Neither of us have been before either, so the Emerald Isle is calling!
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