“Hold on loosely, but don’t let go,
If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control”
The lyrics to this 1981 song came to mind recently as we made a family decision to train our indoor-only cat Peppermint to be an indoor/outdoor cat. We grew frustrated and disgusted that all attempts to solve his indoor spraying problem ceased to halt his behavior. We followed cat whisperer Jackson Galaxy’s suggestions to put litter boxes where he was spraying, and it worked until it didn’t. Peppermint showed his continued displeasure with us by choosing new locations to pee on, such as my husband’s guitar amp. We knew we needed to do something, but what??
We thought a cat leash and daily outings would make him happy, but all it did was leave him more determined than ever to escape. And escape he would–if one of us didn’t slam the back door hard enough and the wind caught it, he’d bolt and be gone for days. He didn’t seem to have the usual cat-smarts in marking his territory, so we realized we needed to keep him indoors permanently. Even though eventually he’d return, unharmed and frisky from his adventures, we always wondered where he’d gone and what he’d been up to, feeling so betrayed by him. He’s so loved and spoiled! Why would he want to leave us? These infrequent escapes gave him a taste of the very freedom he craved, and he continued to punish us by spraying.
So we made a plan, and early this spring, we began to execute it. My husband would let him out for about 15 minutes a day, following close behind like watching a toddler learning to walk. I would do the same, and we’d take turns. We’d open the screen door he so desperately clawed to escape from, and Peppermint surprised us by not bolting out but rather sniffing the corners, rubbing his chin on them (marking his territory) and trepidatiously tiptoeing out into the big outdoors. He would step slowly like the prissy boy he is, unfamiliar with the feeling of cold, wet grass on his paws. Everything was so exciting and new, like a blind man seeing for the first time.
As he became accustomed to his new-found freedom, we’d extend the time he’d get to spend outdoors to a half-hour. Being summer, we’d just porch sit and watch him, giving him more and more space and less hovering every day. But we knew we wanted a GPS tracker “just in case” he disappeared again.
During a trip to Petco, we asked the clerk if they sold some sort of GPS tracker for pets. She explained they didn’t, but there was one called “Tile” that’s supposed to be used for helping you find lost keys and such, but she’d recommended it to many pet owners. We ran and bought it at Best Buy and it works by syncing the little while Tile he wars on his collar to the Tile app on our cell phones.
All four of us in our family are always logged in, so we are all notified of his location. The map on it shows us where he is if he is within a 200 square-foot radius. Therein lies its limitations, because Peppermint often exceeds the radius and is unlocatable. The app alerts us to his whereabouts if he’s within that radius and you simply click “find” and a chime rings on the tile on his collar, which can be heard once you get close enough to him. So far, he’s content to just lay on the back lawn, watching the birds and the chipmunks, and often naps on the bricks in the shade under a tree.
It’s now the end of August, and the longest Peppermint has been gone has been 10 hours. We now have no choice but to leave the house if we can’t find him, but he’s proven he always comes back. It is miraculous to see him voluntarily walking up our porch and coming into the house; it was always a trick-him-and-grab-him to get him to relinquish his freedom. In fact, yesterday, I knew it was going to rain, and my Tile app let me know he was out of range. I walked the perimeter of our yard calling his name, and sure enough he was playing hide-and-seek with me. I could see him in the bushes. He refused to come to me, so I told him I loved him and “it’s going to rain honey!” and walked away.
Sure enough, ten minutes later, there was a cloudburst and guess who was completely drenched, meowing for his very life, on the other side of the screen door. He knows where home is.
Peppermint is now the most affectionate he’s ever been. He sleeps with us now all night long; he used to sleep alone downstairs in his cat bed. He hasn’t ever responded to his name the way a cat should, but now he does. We all feel he’s so much happier now. He’s indoors when he WANTS to be, not because he’s been imprisioned. When we hold him now, he doesn’t try to get away. He closes his eyes and purrs. And for now at least, the spraying has actually stopped.
I am fully aware that there are coyotes and owls and all sorts of dangers lurking in the shadows just waiting to harm my beloved kitty, but he was miserable, and he let us know it. Likewise, if we keep try to keep away temptations from our significant others by the noose of emotional blackmail, we actually increase the likelihood of them becoming unhappier, not the opposite.
What truly keeps someone coming back is the freedom to choose, every day, that they WANT to come back. The tighter the leash, the more my cat, and our significant others, want to escape. Have the courage and trust to take it off completely, and feel the peace that comes with relinquishing control.
“Your baby needs someone to believe in,
and a whole lot of space to breathe in”
–“Hold on Loosely”, 38 Special