Photo: Suki The Cat/Facebook

Adventure Cats Are Taking Over Instagram and Coming for Travel Dogs’ Reign

Pets Hiking
by Zoe Baillargeon May 8, 2019

For outdoorsy people the world over, it’s common — expected, even — that, while out on hikes, you’ll run into fellow hikers bringing their dogs along to enjoy the fresh air and exercise. But increasingly, we are starting to stop people walking with their cats. And pics of these hecking cute “cattos” are taking over social media, as well as hiking trails, urban bike paths, and outdoor spaces everywhere. The furr-enzy is here, and they’re called adventure cats.

These photogenic felines are here for your likes, and they know how to get them. Photos show them posing against incredible natural backdrops — evergreen forests, aquamarine lakes, alpine meadows, snowy mountains — for envy-inducing snaps, edited to professional perfection. Sometimes they’re outfitted in cat-sized raincoats or patterned sweaters. Sometimes they peek out from bulky backpacks or those Space Age carriers with the giant bubble windows. One thing’s for sure, though: Adventure cats are here to take over your feed and your heart.

But what looks simple and straightforward on a carefully curated Instagram account almost never is in real life. And anyone who’s ever tried to train a cat to do something it doesn’t want to do knows that all too well. On the other hand, try stopping a cat from doing something it does want to do.

Curiosity called the cat.

Adventure cats come in all different shapes and sizes. There’s Tuna, an Abyssinian-Siamese mix; Leon the orange tabby; and Cash, an emerald-eyed mini black panther with the absolutely perfect Instagram handle of “cashmeowtside.” There’s even Nathan and Winnie, two cats who love to swim and are constantly hitting the beach with their owners. Full breed, mixed, bought from breeders, rescued from shelters: The range of adventure cats runs the gamut of breeds, ages, and temperaments, from precocious kittens to laidback oldies.

And just as there’s an adventure cat of every shade, the process of creating one varies too. In the case of Internet darling Suki, she was fated to explore the great outdoors from the very beginning.

Martina Gutfreund and her partner are definite cat people. But with a career requiring a lot of travel around their native Alberta, Canada, when the time came to choose a new member of their tribe who could join them on the road, they wanted a cat with a predisposition for adventure — a high-energy breed. After doing some research, they brought home a fluffy kitten from a local breeder and named her Suki.

Suki the kitten grew into Suki the Adventure Cat, a sleek Bengal with piercing blue eyes who has racked up 1.4 million followers on Instagram with snaps of her adventures, traversing the mountains and lakes of Canada and even journeying as far afield as Europe. Commenters gush and coo over her immaculate pics. She’s gotten so popular that she even has her own merchandise line, with shirts, mugs, phone cases, and temporary tattoos.

“She loves going outside,” Gutfreund says. “She paws at the door whenever she’s ready to go for a hike!”

With her own personal Instagram following of more than 500,000, Gutfreund was already a savvy photographer and Instagrammer, making it easy to parlay those skills into making Suki a star. Suki’s playful attitude and striking stare are the perfect complements to Gutfreund’s landscape photography, and the two together are a match made in heaven.

Living just a short drive from “absolutely incredible trails” in the nearby Rocky mountains, Gutfreund says that Suki isn’t the only leashed feline hitting the trails. “There’s a huge hiking culture here… and it’s easy to drive to the mountains with your pet.” She also says that, compared to the US, Canada has more lenient rules for permitting cats and other pets into national parks, which could partly explain its regional popularity.

But even in choosing a more high-energy breed, Gutfreund and her partner still have to be patient taking Suki on her hikes.

“We take it pretty slow. We choose short hikes… but it takes four to fives times longer than a normal hike would,” she laughs, saying that they need to go slow in order for Suki to literally stop and smell the roses. “And if it’s not a harder hike, she won’t want to do it.”

Suki is one of the most recognizable and famous examples of the adventure cat trend, and Gutfreund thinks that the proliferation of information about outdoorsy cats on the Internet is part of why the trend has taken off so much.

“It’s so easy [to find information] and I think the more people see these images [of adventure cats], the more they’ll want to try it with their cats.”

The original Adventure Cat

But when and where did the adventure cat craze begin? To answer that question, we go back to 2013, outside a grocery store in Oregon.

Stephen Simmons wasn’t looking for a cat. Living out of a Jeep with his service dog Puppi and spending the majority of his time decamping into the Oregon wilderness, he thought the idea of adding a cat to that equation seemed too much. But when he first held a tiny brown-and-white-bibbed kitten being given away by a homeless woman, there was an instant connection.

“I immediately recognized a wild spirit in him, and knew I was keeping him; he belonged with us,” Simmons says of that fateful encounter. “He belonged in the outdoors.”

Now, alongside Simmons and Puppi, Burma has conquered mountains, forests, deserts, and the Internet on his “Burma AdventureCat” Instagram account, started shortly after Burma came into Simmons’ life and which currently has more than 73,000 followers keeping track of his every furry step.

“I started calling him adventure cat. That’s one of his nicknames. So when I hashtagged #adventurecat I was actually just tagging his name and our account,” Simmons explains. “A year or so later it had started catching on as a regular hashtag… and it’s done well and branched out since.”

Ain’t no scaredy-cat

But like anything that goes viral, adventure cats and their owners have their fair share of naysayers, with Internet commenters expressing concern about whether the cats actually enjoy their outdoor activities, if the owners just doing it for the ‘gram, and if the cats are truly safe.

“Without a doubt, there are probably some people who take their cats places for the not so right reasons, but that’s a minority,” Simmons says.

Gutfreund, Simmons, and other adventure cat owners are adamant that the cats enjoy themselves and that they as owners do everything in their power to support and protect the cat. And seeing pictures of Burma trekking through the snow to the top of mountains and then glancing back at the camera as if to say “I’m bored, what else you got?” or Suki blissfully closing her eyes while canoeing with Gutfreund, it’s not hard to imagine that the cats are genuinely having the time of their lives.

“I think it’s totally unfair to say that cats are too scared to go on adventures or go outside,” says Gutfreund. “It’s all about acclimation.”

Even many veterinary professionals are in support of cats getting outdoors more (albeit in a safe, controlled manner).

“Truthfully, I love it, but with certain caveats,” says Dr. Christopher Pachel. A veterinarian, feline behaviorist, and owner of the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Pachel is enthusiastic about the growth of adventure cat culture but urges owners to do proper research and take their time during training so that the “enjoyment and comfort of the cat” is always prioritized.

He also raises the important issue that allowing cats to be outdoors under controlled circumstances can be better for local wildlife. A 2013 study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the US Fish and Wildlife Service showed that domestic cats kill billions of birds and mammals a year. Keep a cat on a leash, and they can still explore and get fresh air without harming wildlife.

“Cats contribute to killing a lot of native wildlife in the areas where they’re let out,” Gutfreund agrees. “I think it’s responsible to have your cat on a leash and still have them enjoy the outdoors on a regular basis.”

Could my cat be an adventure cat?

The short answer is maybe. Not every cat will react well to a harness or leash; some cats might be too scared of going outside. But if it’s something an owner is curious to explore, going at the cat’s pace is paramount.

“You have to read your cat’s body language,” explains Gutfreund, who started training Suki within the first few months. “I’d definitely recommend start training them young. But I do think… any cat could be an adventure cat, it’s just how you raise them.”

“Know and understand cats, as the creatures they are,” adds Simmons, who didn’t do any specific training with Burma and instead says that most of the learning and adjustment process was more on his end. “Know your cat, as the individual they are, and always put their safety and their enjoyment first, and have realistic expectations.”

And Dr. Pachel is right there with them, saying, “Slow and steady. Don’t set a strict timeline, it should be based on what your cat needs.”

“It takes the whole point out of it if your cat isn’t actually enjoying themselves,” Gutfreund agrees.

Although the training process depends on the cat, some patterns emerge that appear to work best: First, introduce the cat to the gear by association before trying to put it on them. Take everything one step at a time and don’t set rigid expectations. When first going outside, only do so for a few minutes at a time. Make sure they’re always leashed. Constantly be aware of the surroundings and keep an eye out for potential threats that could spook or harm the cat. Make sure the cat is up to date on its shots. And, of course, use lots of treats for positive reinforcement.

But also, be prepared to accept it and let the idea go if the cat doesn’t adjust or isn’t happy.

The future is feline.

Most Internet and Instagram trends have a shelf-life. So what’s next for adventure cats?

“Personally, I believe the adventure cat trend will only increase,” says Simmons, adding that he feels “humbled” that he and Burma helped create this movement. “I believe it’s in all cats’ nature to enjoy the outdoors… and [owners] are enjoying the realization… that their more active lifestyle can actually accommodate a cat.”

Dr. Pachel is also optimistic about where adventure cats and their owners are headed next. “It’s helping pet owners get a glimpse of what’s possible and think outside the box. It allows cats to experience the world around them.”

Looks like the cat is out of the bag — and hitting the trails, for good.

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