By Susan Roberts
It’s great living in Australia where there are rules and regulations that people actually obey, and fitting consequences if they don’t. These rules are not just for people, but for their pets as well.
My cats ave settled into their new home easily, but they’ve had to make a few adjustments. They weren’t used to living by other people’s rules in Africa, where the law of the jungle dictates that if you venture into the territory of next door’s dogs, you may end up as a snack. My feisty little ginger cat Galadriel used to have great fun baiting the big dogs in the area, but Valentine, the black-and white, favoured a more strategic retreat when faced by his canine neighbours. Either way, they both loved being outdoors.
In Australia, animals are more protected, but many are also threatened by domestic pets. Cats in this country have been responsible for wiping out entire species of small indigenous animals, so it’s only right that cats need to be placed under firm control before they destroy any more. Our neighbourhood is limited to two cats per property, both must be registered with the local municipality, and there is a curfew that prohibits them from being allowed outside between sundown and the next morning’s sunrise. They are not allowed to wander into neighbouring gardens or into the street, unless taken out on a lead. They also have to wear collars, which wasn’t a requirement back in South Africa.
Since my two hooligans have never been restricted by anything other than their own instincts, this has come as a bit of a shock to their little systems. Actually, the whole Australia thing seems to have been a shock to Galadriel’s system. Never one to accept change, she has adapted surprisingly well after three plane journeys, ten days in quarantine and a colder winter than any Durban cat has ever imagined even in its worst nightmares. Six months on, she’s taken it all in her stride, but don’t bring a harness near her!
Even without the harness, she can’t quite pluck up enough courage to face the great Australian outdoors. After whining to go outside, she retreats in terror when the door is opened, and if she does venture out there, she suddenly realises the enormity of her mistake and spins around, scratching and scrambling to get back inside, amidst plaintive howling and yowling that is vocal enough to wake the dead, never mind the live neighbours.
Valentine, on the other hand, has discovered the pleasures of strolling around outside on a long lead attached to a harness. As soon as I take him outside his first trick is to walk under a chair so that I have to fumble with transferring the lead from one hand to the other on the far side of the chair, while he tugs me towards the barbecue. I think this is his way of saying, “Suck it up, Princess. If you want me attached to a lead, you go where I go.”
He was a bit hesitant the first time I approached with the brand new red harness, but with his natural curiosity he trusted me enough to let me fasten it on him. When I opened that magical door to the wider world, he quickly realised that there was a reward for pandering to my madness.
He does great dog impressions now. If I rattle the harness he runs to the door and waits for me to put it on him. Each day when I take him out, he wanders slowly around the garden with me in tow, while he sniffs every piece of garden furniture, the canvas cover on the barbecue, the pot plants and all the same shrubs and groundcovers that he sniffed the day before.
As you can imagine, this is potentially quite a boring walk for me. I always think that I should have brought my Kindle and a cup of tea outside with me, but somehow I never seem to pick up either before I open the door. Once that harness is on, Valentine is champing at the bit to get outside and won’t tolerate any delays from me.
The other night I was chatting to a friend’s husband at a party and he told me that he uses one of those extending flexi-leads to walk their huge Maine Coon cat around their garden. This sounded like an excellent idea, so I bought one. Now Valentine and I can enjoy the glorious outdoors with up to five metres of space between us. Bonus: I can also attach it to one of the patio posts and go inside to get my Kindle and tea!
For Galadriel, things are moving forward slowly. Some days I actually manage to get her outside onto the grass where she leopard crawls or huddles down in her harness, mistrustful of the world. She doesn’t stay outside for long before whining and bleating to be taken back inside, but her outdoor excursions are getting longer and less traumatic. She still feels safer sitting inside behind the screen door, watching Valentine enjoying himself.
I know that one day she’ll beat down this phobia in the same way that she has conquered all her other traumas, and be the fearless ginger kitty she was born to be. Until that day, I’ll be patient and let her do things at her own pace.