Cat sitting on a chair

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How Kona Became A Camping Kitty

Kona is my female domestic shorthair that I adopted at the age of 12 weeks in December 2004. I immediately switched her to a raw diet and have insisted on keeping her chemical- and toxin-free. She is an indoor cat who has all her claws and who so wonderfully refrains from using them on the furniture (although she will swat the glass in an attempt to 'get' my lizards as they sun themselves).

From the first day I brought her home I began acclimating her to a harness, leash, and kennel. To me, these were important things to which I wanted my cat to be accustomed. I also began clicker training her, and while it has not been very intensive training she does come when I call and can sit fairly well, give me a high five, and target my finger.

Sunset over the lake

Every summer my family and I go camping for six weeks at a lake in Northern California. I knew this would be a problem for me when I had my cat, so I began looking for ways to get around this 'problem'.  I first thought of hiring a pet sitter, but since I had recently moved and did not feel comfortable with a stranger coming to my home for six weeks, I decided against it. Then I thought of having one of my friends help out, but they would not be around for the summer either. My thoughts turned to boarding.

I found a wonderful cattery that had absolutely gorgeous facilities for the cats: floor-to-ceiling 'open air' cat condos (wire sides, not glass) with multiple levels and perches, a quiet atmosphere with low-level classical music in the background, windows that looked out to bird feeders, TVs showing 'bird TV', and a caring staff that loved cats. It was rather expensive for six weeks, but what bothered me more was their hesitancy to feed a raw diet and their insistence on lots of harmful shots that were unnecessary for my indoor cat (to read more about the harm of vaccines, please visit the Vaccines page on this server).

As I drove back to my place I stopped at PetCo to pick up some kitty litter and some new cat toys for Kona. As I was wandering around I thought: "Maybe I could bring her camping! Hmmm....Why not try it for a weekend?" Having worked in the boarding section of a veterinary clinic, I knew how small most traditional cat boarding areas were--small glass or wire cages that allowed just enough room for the cat, a litter box, and a little house/bedding area. Surely I could do better than that! So I purchased an Extra-extra-large wire kennel, a double-door medium wire kennel (both with divider panels), cat litter, and a cat tie-out for less than half of what it would cost to board her for six weeks. This could work! I already had an X-pen (which proved indispensible in introducing the dog and the cat), so I could bring that for her also. I set the crates up at home and she explored them willingly, which increased my hopefulness.

The Camping Setup

Then came the final test: I brought her to the lake for the 4th of July weekend (no fireworks due to fire hazards) and she did WONDERFULLY! Thus, Kona became a camping kitty! Here are pictures of her set-up at the campsite:

A view of Kona's camping cage
I pulled the bottom pan out of the XXL kennel, and then used the XXL divider panel to create a second level for the cat to give her a higher perch and more surface area. I covered the panel with cardboard to give it some substance and placed a towel over it. I originally placed her kennel on top of this level but later moved it to underneath the divider (maroon kennel not pictured here). Her litter box was placed underneath the second level in the corner. The scratchpost not only provided entertainment but also helped support the second level since it was hinged in the middle.

I faced the medium kennel to the opening of the big one and attached the two using two bolt snaps. I used the second divider from the medium cage to cover the open top portion of the XXL door (the part of the opening that extended above the medium kennel) so the cat could not escape out that way. In this medium kennel I placed a carpet section; this would be her eating area. I also suspended a cat toy from the top of the big kennel and brought a supply of little toy mice; eventually I tied a driftwood scratching post to one corner of the large kennel as well. I hung a sheet over the corner of the pen to create shelter and shade, and I later strung a tarp high above the kennel to protect her from rain, falling pine needles, and any projectiles thrown by squirrels.

Another view of Kona's setup

 Kona's setup         

The exercise pen served as a 'predator-guard'. I used it to partially encircle the cages so that she had a double layer of wire behind which to hide if necessary. This also helped protect her from any unwanted visitors like wandering dogs and unfriendly wildlife (which rarely made their way into the campground except at night, during which Kona would sleep in the tent with me). I later re-arranged this X-pen so it encircled the entire back part of the large kennel plus the sides, and ended at the very front of the medium kennel. This added layer came in handy when one of my friend's dogs tried to bite through the wire at the kitty. She could only get to the first layer of wire on the X-pen, and the cat remained safe from harm. An additional protection was the presence of my family's dog, who happens to be a superb guard dog and keeps wildlife and wandering dogs out of our camp. He often stayed in camp while we were out playing on the lake for the day (sometimes there is just no room for an 85-lb dog on the boat).

The Camping Experience

The first day camping Kona just sat quietly and took everything in. She did not meow and ate sparingly (both signs of stress in my cat), but she did eat some food and that was important to me. Since it was hotter and drier at the camp I provided her with a water dish, out of which she drank daily. At night I put the cat in her small kennel and brought her into the tent with me--it was rather cramped with me, the dog, and the cat in one small three person tent. When we moved to our regular campsite this changed when we set up the big 8-person tent. Kona then had her medium wire kennel to sleep in; I placed her small kennel inside this so she could sleep in a secure place but could come out and stretch in the morning without wandering around the tent.

Kona quickly settled in, and I soon set up a zipline from one tree to another (this can be seen in the picture at the left; the zipline is right above the cat on the left--a clothespin is attached to it and her tie out hangs down from just to the left of the branch). I attached her kitty tie-out to this line, which allowed her to run around, climb trees, explore and experience the outdoors in a controlled manner. We both stayed attuned for the sounds of loose dogs, and when she heard any sort of tags jingling she would freeze and then run straight to her wire kennel complex. Kona in a tree on her zipline

By the end of the trip she was on fairly good terms with my family's dog; over a span of 9 months (seeing each other off and on) they finally came to a point where they would both tolerate each other fairly well. Initially I could not let the dog off his leash while she was on the zipline, but after spending a week together in close proximity I was able to coax the dog to lay near the cat for the photo (notice how he is trying not to look at her; he doesn't want to get swatted).

Dog and cat facing each other

Occasionally they would even try to play together; the dog would get up to check on the cat, then stand there wagging his tail and cocking his head to the side. Or he would trot after her as she sprinted past him, and when she stopped he would stop and eventually turn away. As he would walk away the cat would chase after him to bat his tail or hind legs with her paw (claws in). Here he is checking on Kona as he passes by:

Cat sitting on ladder looking at dog

During this time my cat's personality really blossomed. She was exposed to a wide variety of things--lots of other people (which is great because she initially was very skittish when I got her but is now a people lover), quads, dirt bikes, bicycles, lots of dogs (I think at one time we had 8 large dogs in our camp at once. She just sat back in her kennel very quietly as if to hope the dogs would not see her, which most of them did not), etc. She also grew physically during this period--the fresh air and exercise were very healthy for her.

More camping photos and a discussion of my raw-feeding experience while camping on Page Two!
To PAGE TWO of Kona's camping experience On to Page Two

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