Cat Club Series: Double Trouble – Nikki & Sawyer

I had the pleasure of connecting with Marley, the proud owner of two fluffy adventure cats, Nikki and Sawyer through their instagram @nikki_forest_cat. I couldn’t wait to find out all about another Canadian adventure cat duo just like us – except with a lot more fur! I reached out and Marley was kind enough to share their story and supply me with a ton of awesome photos. Read on to find out more and don’t forget to follow them on the ‘gram.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, your family and of course your cats!

John and I are both from Edmonton, Alberta, although I grew up in a rural town north of here on a farm with cats, dogs and horses; which helped cultivate my love for anything with four legs. I am severely allergic to cats (which is probably for the best as I would’ve adopted the entire feline population of the local SPCA by now otherwise) but decided to look into hypoallergenic breeds when I moved to the city to attend university.
When I began my search, I figured I would end up with a Sphynx cat as that was the only “hypoallergenic” breed I was aware of at the time. Then I came across an article that described Siberian Forest Cats; the national cat of Russia. According to the article, they were one of the best hypoallergenic breeds as they produce less FEL-D1 (the allergen that causes symptoms in humans) than any other cat breed, despite having a dense, three-layered fur coat. They are also one of the most “dog-like,” as they are very friendly, loyal, intelligent, active and sometimes have an affinity for water. Siberians are also very large; averaging 15lbs-25lbs, and have a 3-tiered purr distinct to the breed; a high pitched trill overlaps two other tones… in other words they purr VERY loudly. Most importantly, for me, they have no breed specific health issues. The more I researched, the more I fell in love with them.
Fortunately, I found a Siberian cattery just south of Edmonton and signed up for the next open house. The night of the open house was the first time in 15 years that I was able to hold a cat without triggering an asthma attack, so I immediately put down a deposit for two kittens from the next spring’s litter.
I was working part time at a holistic pet store, so I had access to all sorts of cat toys/food/furniture and was trained and certified as a feline nutritionist. I spent the 8 months between putting down the deposit and picking up Nikki and Sawyer researching everything there was to know about cat behaviour. Adventurecats.org didn’t exist yet, but I kept coming across cat-walking articles (usually framed as humour). I was trying to figure out how I would manage two giant high-energy cats in my relatively small rental home; and that seemed like the best option, so I bought harnesses and leashes for them before they had even been born.

Nikki

I started training them the day after I brought them home, and they picked it up very quickly. Nikki is a born adventurer; he was not daunted by the weight of the harness or sudden noises outside. From day one he wanted to explore everything in sight. Sawyer was much more timid at first; I vividly remember him taking his first few cautious steps on my lawn and then shrinking into the ground and crying when a strong breeze picked up. He watched Nikki, and over time he grew more confident by seeing how fearless his older brother was outside.

Sawyer

When I met John two years later, I was initially sad that he had a cat of his own (Schecter; he makes guest appearances on our Instagram account), as I worried about having allergic reactions to him and how that might limit our relationship. But John reassured me that he had plenty of people in his life who suffered cat allergies and miraculously, none of them ever reacted to Schecter. I didn’t really believe him, but I agreed to meet Schecter anyway, and lo and behold, I didn’t have any kind of allergic reaction! Which is pretty incredible; Schecter is a black, male, domestic shorthair and according to the internet, male cats produce more FEL-D1, darker colourations typically correlate to more FEL-D1, and domestic shorthairs are of course huge allergen producers; making 8-9x more than Siberian Forest Cats. I counted it as a miracle, and Nikki, Sawyer and I moved in with John and Schecter the following summer.
I should tell you that was the third… “sign” that I knew John was the one… hahaha! The first was on our second date, when he asked me if I wanted to see pictures of his cat “wearing” purses; then proceeded to pull out his phone and open an album of 100+ pictures of his cat “wearing” his sister’s and mom’s purses (Schecter likes to put a front leg through purse straps and lie down inside/on them so that it looks like he’s wearing them on his shoulder). The second sign was when John, a grown, bearded man approaching 30, told me that he too walked his cat (and did not care about the snickering from peers).
He had harness and leash trained Schecter as a kitten, 7 years earlier, after adopting him from the Edmonton Humane Society – just to increase his quality of life since back then he had often rented small apartments and wanted Schecter to experience the outdoors, and not be cooped up inside all the time. Schecter was so malnourished when he was brought to the SPCA that he had kwashiorkor – bloated belly syndrome. Although he recovered from it, his belly skin has been stretched ever since and so he has a permanent pot belly, no matter how good of shape he is in.
Neither of us had really taken our cats on big “adventures” before we met; we usually just walked them around the block or to nearby parks. But a friend of mine shared the Adventurecats.org page with me, and I had watched a documentary on Burma the Adventure Cat at some point so I thought, why not? Especially with two people, it seemed much more feasible. It wasn’t a big leap for Nikki and Sawyer, they are always up for anything (especially Nikki), but Schecter is older and stubborn, so we are working on training him up to the point of being able to adventure with his younger stepbrothers. For now, he still just walks to a park three blocks away and sometimes we take him to a nearby lake.
Nikki and Sawyer are littermates, they are both 4 years old. Schecter is 8 years old.
I like to call Schecter, Schecter the Wrecktor as he is a typical mischievous cat when he gets in a mood; pushing things off of counter tops (which he is not allowed to be on in the first place), knocking over garbage cans, shredding papers, blinds, chewing through cables, ect.
Sawyer loves trying to steal and eat soybean shells, so a lot of nicknames come from that: Soysauce, Soybeans, Soybum, and Nick calls him Soyboy.
Nikki’s are: Nikki Roo (because he makes a deep “roo” sound instead of a meow half the time), Nickaroni, Knickers, Nikki Chan (we watch a lot of anime).

As someone who also adventures with two cats, I’m interested to hear what you find to be the advantages or disadvantages of having two?

I think it would’ve been much harder to train Sawyer if Nikki wasn’t around; he was a scaredy cat as a kitten (and still can be sometimes), but he sort of idolized Nikki when they were younger and he would try to copy him, that led to Sawyer being a great leash-walker! They always have each other’s backs, so if they are startled by something out on the trails, one of the first things they do is seek each other out and touch/sniff noses if they are near enough. They also tend to “gang up” on passing dogs whom they decide they dislike, standing side by side with their back’s arched, tails fluffed, and staring them down.

A disadvantage is that they both walk at different paces and enjoy different aspects of adventuring. Sawyer is very much a “stop and smell the roses” kind of cat. He walks at cat-pace, he does not trot, and he likes to stop and investigate bushes, or have a sit to watch a bird in a tree above him. Nikki, on the other hand, is more concerned with putting miles behind him. I sometimes wonder if he even is a cat. You might have seen some clips on our Instagram of John jogging with him? That’s all Nikki. He gets fed up with trotting, and especially slow walking when we try to go at Sawyer’s pace, and he starts tugging on the leash as hard as he can until we give him the okay, and he breaks out into a full-on run. He will sometimes jog for almost half a mile, until John is out of breath and near tears (I can’t run fast enough to keep up with Nikki, that’s why John is usually the one holding the leash), then he slows back down to a trot and bursts into purrs, satisfied. I don’t have the first clue why he does his, but the result is usually that I or Nick have to pick Sawyer up and run with him to catch up. Nikki rarely stops to smell anything on the trail. His motto should be trot and purr. If he were a person he would be a marathoner.

What kinds of activities do your cats partake in? (hiking, camping, snow or water activities, road trips, etc)

Nikki and Sawyer join us on long road trips to remote destinations; they’ve been on 8 hour drives (we stop and give them a long break to eat and stretch their legs every couple of hours). We go hiking with them a couple of times a month (summer and winter) with frequent walks in between, We just recently started camping with them and they do much better than I expected in a tent; they are curious about all of the sounds outside of the canvas walls and barely sleep, but are not afraid and don’t try to get up to anything. Nikki goes canoeing with us but Sawyer is a little too jumpy for that, and I don’t think he would enjoy it.

I saw your video on The Dodo, can you tell me a little bit about the relationship between Nick and Sawyer?

Nick is John’s best friend from high school, and was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder shortly after they graduated. He hated cats when I first met him two years ago (he hadn’t had much experience interacting with them). Around the time John and I started going on real adventures with the cats, Nick started having more frequent manic episodes and emotional difficulties due to some changes in his living situation. He spends a night at our house once a week, to play board games and catch up with John, and I noticed Nick was starting to warm up to Sawyer (Sawyer would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night while Nick was asleep, and curl up beside or on top of him; so it was hard for him to maintain that he “hated” cats after that). I suggested that he should join us on our cat-walks when he stayed over, since an extra pair of hands would mean I would be free to take more pictures for our Instagram!
He put up a fight initially; he thought we were ridiculous for walking cats in the first place and he didn’t want the extra attention or to be considered a weirdo… but I strong-armed him into it! On our first walk together, I handed Nick Sawyer’s leash and his face went white; he thought it was a big responsibility and was very nervous about accidentally dropping the leash or letting Sawyer get hurt. John and I reassured him and then watched them from a short distance as we walked ahead with Nikki. After about five minutes, a big smile had spread across Nick’s face and five minutes after that, he was petting Sawyer to motivate him to catch up to us and Nikki, and calling him pet names. Afterwards, when we were driving home, I asked him how he liked walking Sawyer and he said something like; “It was fine, I guess,” so I made him join us again the following week. That walk he picked Sawyer up and carried him most of the way. Two or three days later, he called John and asked when we were planning on walking them again and if he could come. He has joined us on all of our walks, and most of our hiking adventures since, and now considers himself a cat person.
I think Sawyer, being a timid, somewhat withdrawn cat, picked up on Nick’s condition early on and chose to be around him whenever he could because he sympathized with him. Whenever Nick comes over, Sawyer dashes to the door to greet him more enthusiastically than he greets John or even me! When they are walking together and Nick speaks to Sawyer, Sawyer will head-butt his leg and meow back (which he doesn’t do with me). All of the fear he had when walking before is gone when Nick is around, and he will actually approach people we pass on the trails to ask for pets/chin scratches. This forces Nick to talk to strangers (and brag about the handsome cat he is walking), which in turn has made Nick a more confident, outgoing person.
I truly believe that Sawyer has helped Nick learn to better manage his episodes, or at the very least has decreased their frequency since cat-walking brightens his mood, and gives him something else to look forward to and get his mind of off any negative thoughts he might be having.
Tell me about your favourite adventure you’ve taken them on.
All five of us (myself, John, Nick, Nikki and Sawyer) went on a three day hike in Banff, Alberta, on May long weekend and to date, that has been my favourite adventure. I can’t pinpoint why; we just had a lot of fun and the cats had a little too much fun; they did nothing but sleep for two days once we got home. Everywhere we hiked the view was gorgeous, and tourists were stopping us every ten feet or so to ask if they could take a picture of the cats, or to pelt us with questions. I feel like we all became closer on that trip, and the cat’s adventuring skill level shot up twenty points (they visited a waterfall for the first time).

We know firsthand that taking your cat out can sometimes be a little frustrating and definitely requires patience, especially at first. Yet we do it anyway because we see both the benefits our cats experience as well as our own. What in your opinion are the benefits to leash training your cats?

The biggest for me, is the peace of mind it brings to know that Nikki and Sawyer are living a full life, and that they’re not missing out on anything by being house cats when they’re not adventuring. I suppose I say that because of the fact that I grew up on a farm with cats who had a lot of freedom. Although Nikki and Sawyer are not out catching mice, birds, squirrels and rabbits and getting into fights/romances with neighbours cats, they are just as, if not more happy than those cats were, and that’s important to me. I never considered allowing them to be outdoor cats; I see far too many cats laying dead on the sides of the roads in our city to be at all comfortable with that, but leash training is a perfect in between.
Otherwise, the exercise it gives them and us is a huge benefit. Nikki eats A LOT of food; if we didn’t walk him and take him on hikes I’m sure he would be obese, but instead he is 20lbs of pure brawn. And I mentioned earlier how Nikki forces John to jog for long distances. I haven’t needed a gym membership in quite awhile!

It makes people laugh in amazement when they come across us while walking, and that alone is worth it; the reactions we get from people who have never seen a cat being walked before. It’s a rewarding feeling to get to enlighten someone to the fact that yes, cats can be leash trained too. As adventure cats grows as a movement, I look forward to perceptions about cats changing alongside it. We are so often asked why we walk our cats by dog owners and I just respond “Why do you walk your dog?” The look people have on their face after I say that is why I keep walking Nikki and Sawyer.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out or interested in taking their cat on adventures?

Have a lot of patience… more than you think you will need. Although cats are, in my opinion, just as eligible and easy to leash train as dogs are, the process is very different and usually longer. Really embrace being a crazy cat person and try to put yourself in your cat’s shoes to predict what is going to scare them, excite them and annoy them so that you are equipped to deal with it before it happens. Also, always always always put their safety first. I think that was the biggest realization I had while training them; cats are much more likely to get spooked while walking than dogs are, and so are more likely to wiggle out of their harness or find a way to put themselves in danger. Be overly prepared for that.
Thanks so much for reading and a huge thank you to Marley!
Outside Cat Club

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