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These Oregon adventure cats hike, camp, explore the outdoors

Lewis, of the adventure cat duo Lewis and Clark of Portland, hunts for fish while riding in a canoe. [Photo by Jory Olson]
Siberian Forest cats Lewis and Clark explore the Pacific Northwest. [Courtesy photo]

Cats Lewis and Clark ride in a canoe in Central Oregon’s Crescent Lake. A feline name Frank hikes trails in Sunriver while sister Betty, who is a touch skittish, stays behind in the backyard screened play area. And Olivia camps in a MeerKat Trailer on the Oregon coast with her two-legged companions.

Welcome to the world of adventure cats that safely patrol beyond their property and into the outdoors accompanied by humans, sometimes called Pawpa and Pawma.

Wearing a padded harness and leash during a walk around the neighborhood, or bobbing along inside a backpack on a trail can be a safe al fresco cat excursion, says Karen Kraus of the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon.

“It’s a way to engage with your cat and enrich their life without letting them free roam,” she says.

Free-roaming felines can get into trouble and housebound cats can get bored, says Kraus.

For 10 years, her organization has teamed up with the Portland Audubon to encourage cat owners to create a safe outdoor space. Here, in a cat patio — a catio — felines can run, snooze in the sun and play out hunting instincts with toys, rather than chasing birds and other wildlife.

Jory Olson, Pawpa to venturesome Siberian Forest cats Lewis and Clark, recognizes the need for a catio at his Southeast Portland home.

“People say cats are kind of neurotic,” says Olson. “I’d be neurotic too if all I did was sit around the house all day.”

Cats are mentally and physically stimulated by the sights, sounds and scents of nature. And exercise can prevent feline obesity, according to the experts at Tractive, which makes GPS-tracking cat and dog collars.

Some cats, depending on their personality, want to explore beyond their home, and a walkabout is the next step. People attending the 10th Annual Catio Tour on Sept. 10 saw a variety of portable catios, including a “pup” tent to shield cats outside, whether that’s in the yard or while they’re traveling.

Astute owners can tell when a hiking cat is tired — “Frank will just stop walking and look up,” says Amanda Thompson of Portland and Sunriver — or scared. Sunny Anderson, who lives in Ashland with Olivia, sees a bristled tail if her cat doesn’t want to cooperate.

Felines on the go need to have up-to-date vaccines and a microchip cat ID in case they get lost, says Kraus. It they slip out of their collar and run off, they need to trust that a human will protect them. And they need a guardian who understands that not all cats care to bust through their comfort zone.

Here’s a look at three sets of adventure cats, where they go, how they react and advice offered by their guardians.

Backpacking with Lewis and Clark

Jory Olson and his Siberian Forest cats, Lewis and Clark, explore the Pacific Northwest, including their Westmoreland neighborhood on the bluff overlooking Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.

Olson takes the cats he named to the ocean, to trek the Lewis and Clark Trail and Tryon Creek, then posts photos and videos, often with music, on their Instagram page, lewis.clark.explorer.cats.

“Cats are way more adaptable than we give them credit for,” says Olson. “They just need more experiences to gain the confidence that dogs seem to have naturally.”

Olson introduced Lewis and Clark to a cat backpack the day they arrived as kittens at his home during the pandemic, and they have been comfortably sleeping and playing in it ever since.

The harnesses, however, caused “lots of drama, particularly with Clark because he’s kind of a drama queen,” says Olson.

Both cats flopped onto the floor, doing the dead cockroach and biting at the harness, he says. Olson thought: Maybe they’re not adventure cats, and that’s OK.

“It’s their choice to be adventure cats,” he says.

The first two times the cats were escorted out to the backyard on a leash, the sky freaked them out, he says. There were also insects, birds and the sound of the wind blowing, followed by car noises, and bikes and people going by.

The adventure sessions lasted about 15 minutes. Within a week, the cats were calmly spending an hour twice a day underneath bamboo on a quieter side of the house. They were hidden, elevated from the street, but they could see out.

After 10 weeks, Lewis headed down the street with Clark and Olson trotting along. They made it around the block, and the range kept extending.

“As far as they’re concerned, they own this place and we’re all just living here,” Olson says.

A trust bond is key. They have to know if an unleashed dog approaches or they fall off a canoe in the river, both of which have happened, Olson will have their back.

After the trust bond, the second most important element is socialization, says Olson.

Cats can’t be afraid of people when they need help. Lewis and Clark are about as social as cats can get, Olson says.

They will come up to strangers, allow themselves to be picked up and then offer a head butt.

While visiting Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Village in British Columbia, the cats were swarmed by people taking selfies, wanting to hold the cats and asking questions.

“We were trying to get to an ice cream shop and the shop closed because we didn’t have forward momentum,” says Olson.

The cats are “dog like,” says Olson, an electrical engineer who is designing a cat backpack to better distribute his cats’ collective 30 pounds of weight.

He thinks Lewis and Clark are righting a long imbalance of the preferential treatment of canines over cats.

“When Airbnb hosts say they are ‘pet friendly,” they really only mean dogs,” says Olson.

On their first overnight adventure, they checked into a cabin they discovered had a longtime mouse problem. The traveling cats cleared out the mice population and left the proof in Olson’s slippers. The Airbnb owner was grateful.

The Friends of Tryon Creek had a Dog Days of Summer dog photo contest on Instagram. Olson entered Clark to “strike a blow for feline equality.” Clark took second place.

“That made my day,” says Olson.

Hiking with Frank

Amanda Thompson, a dentist who lives along the Willamette River in Southwest Portland, walks around the city with Frank, a British Shorthair cat. When Frank gets tired or spooked by something, he rides inside the hood of her hoodie with his paws over her shoulder.

Frank wears a harness with a leash when he’s walking. On hiking trails, he crawls over logs — “it’s like an obstacle course,” says Thompson — and seems to prefer rough terrain to the path.

Frank’s success is based on the most frequently offered advice: Acclimate a cat when it’s a kitten.

Since Frank was nine weeks old, Thompson took him on car rides to shop, even wine tasting in Newberg. “This helps get cats accustomed to new environments and more likely to adapt to the adventure cat lifestyle,” she says.

Her second cat, Betty, was a year old when she was adopted, and prefers her catio to being indoors, but she rejects the idea of a harness and leash. And if Thompson tries to put Betty in the backpack, she’ll tense up and brace her legs, then the cat will melt into the ground.

Thompson takes Frank to remote trails in Sunriver, with fewer people, dogs, distractions and perceived threats. If Frank sees something new to him, he gets low and makes his body as small as possible until the threat is gone.

Because of one close call, “he does not like bikes; even the clicking sound they make scares him,” says Thompson.

She brings along water but Frank rarely drinks while on a walk, and although he might have a forest to himself, he’ll wait until he’s home again to use his litter box.

The pace: Frank takes 10 steps then stops to focus on a bug. Or he will look around and assess his surroundings. “It’s not aerobic,” says Thompson, “but it’s fun.”

Camping with Olivia

Ashland residents Sunny Anderson and Mike Le Tourneau and their tabby cat Olivia have enjoyed the scenery from the Oregon coast to Palm Springs and Tucson from a 13-foot-long MeerKat Trailer.

Their longest camping trip: Three weeks.

Anderson, a longtime volunteer with Friends of the Animal Shelter, first met Olivia four years ago when the 6-month-old stray gave birth to six kittens. Anderson and Le Tourneau fostered and socialized the kittens until they were old enough to be adopted.

Olivia was so timid, however, Anderson was afraid no one would adopt her. So they did.

At their home, cat towers front four screened windows where Olivia spends her day, getting fresh air, moving from tower to tower, and watching squirrels and birds in a giant walnut tree.

Olivia didn’t like to be in a screened enclosure in the yard and she would lie down on her belly when Anderson or Le Tourneau tried to put a harness around her. She also balked at riding in a backpack. The former stray made it clear she was happier safe in the house, looking out.

“I respect that,” says Anderson. “When she is stressed, her eyes are wild, her tail twitches, and she’s hunched and restless. Olivia is a talker, she lets us know.”

Anderson and Le Tourneau found a way to make Olivia feel comfortable on road trips and while camping. She travels in the back of a Subaru CrossTrek inside a wire kennel where she can see out and move around, and there is room for her food, water and litter box.

Once at a campsite, Olivia goes inside the MeerKat Trailer, with screened openings drawing in fresh air, natural light and the ever-changing sights and scents.

“During the day, she can run around safely in the trailer while we’re hiking,” says Anderson.

Olivia became accustomed to the camper at home during 15-minute practice sessions. Routines are comforting to cats, says Anderson. Now, the trio takes two- to three-day trips exploring nature.

“We’re very careful and she’s very secure. No wildlife can reach her,” says Anderson. “She wanders around inside and plays. And at night, she sleeps with us.”

Traveling cat safety tips

Experts offer this advice to keep you cat healthy while trekking:

Talk to a vet about vaccines. Has your cat been vaccinated for rabies and feline leukemia? Ask about heartworm preventatives, and flea and tick medications.

Watch for predators. Avoid places known to have unleashed dogs, dangerous wildlife like coyotes and hawks, or distracted drivers.

Check the weather forecast. “Even though Frank has a fluffy coat, he doesn’t like cold,” says Thompson, who adds that her other cat, Betty, likes to roll in the snow.

Bring water. Watch for signs of dehydration and carry your cat or have a backpack for the cat to rest.

Look for ticks. After the walk, have a brush to remove burrs and seeds from the cat’s fur.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 503-294-4072, jeastman@oregonian.com or @janeteastman