From hitting the slopes to napping on boats in the Rocky “Meowtains,” Canmore’s “Gary the Cat” does everything his owner does.
“He is normally a fairly relaxed cat, which definitely helped, but there was for sure a lot of training to get him to where he is now,” Gary’s owner James Eastham told Global News.
“Now he hikes and he paddles and he skis. He’s a great little adventure buddy.”
You don’t need a fancy animal to have a great companion, Eastham said.
Eastham’s partner adopted the fluffy white and grey feline as a kitten with a broken hip from the Calgary Humane Society six years ago.
Adventuring started with Gary sitting with Eastham on the front porch, and the pair “slowly worked our way up,” branching out to a nearby park.
‘Let’s see how it goes’
Eastham said he stumbled into skiing with his pet by accident. Two years ago, he was snowed in, and the only way to get around was by skiing.
“On our way home, there’s a small hill just before our house, and so I thought, ‘Well, when are you going to ski with your cat?’ That’s just not really something that you do,” he said.
“I decided let’s see how it goes, and we’d been adventuring together at that point for about a year and a half. He was super comfortable. He just rides on my shoulders, and we did a couple of short little ski runs, maybe 25, 30 metres long, and that went pretty well.”
Gary is accomplished at riding on Eastham’s shoulders.
“That’s his favourite way to be carried when we hike,” he said.
“We only tried skiing after I was very confident in his ability to balance up there.”
‘Semi-famous Instagram cat’
Gary is a big hit on social media with more than 330,000 followers on Instagram, and 238,000 on TikTok. In the posts and videos, the cat is the focal point in a variety of picturesque natural settings.
Eastham started the Instagram account to have fun and get people to smile — even more important “when things are a little bit depressing everywhere” as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
“I didn’t expect at all that it would turn into what it has,” he said.
“It’s a little bit wild having a semi-famous Instagram cat. Lots of people, when we meet them out on the trails, get really excited to see him.”
How to train your kitty
If you’re hoping to prime your feline for athletic endeavours, Eastham advises taking it easy in training.
“I would say don’t just rush out, stuff Fluffy in a bag and hit the slopes,” he said.
“It took us a long time to work up to a point where I was comfortable skiing and Gary was comfortable skiing with me. We’ve been out hiking now for about three years together, so there’s a lot of trust between us.”
Eastham’s advice is to “go slow and really let your cat adjust.” The key is patience.
“It’s not the same as training a dog. Cats are different. They’re absolutely able to adapt. They just need a bit of time and to go at their own pace,” he said.
“While there are not a lot of skiing cats, lots of people take their cats out hiking. I think it’s becoming more common as people see what’s possible. They have cats and want to bring them travelling with them.”
Eastham reminded people to keep their pets on leashes in parks.
“It’s better for wildlife and better for pets. If I can have my cat on a leash, your dog can wear one too,” he said.