Ireland is known for its lush landscapes and magical mountains. And a fearless feline named Mila is known for exploring this gorgeous country from coast to coast.
The long-haired black kitty with a tuft of white fur on her chest was born in a barn full of cows, and when Rachel Herron heard that a litter of kittens needed homes, she saw an opportunity.
“My partner and I had been talking about getting a cat for a while but just hadn’t found the right time,” she said. “I managed to talk Sam into going to see them, already knowing full well I was probably going to be able to convince him into letting me bring one home. I mean, who can resist a cute kitten, eh? When we arrived there were only two black kittens left. I instantly fell in love with the smallest of the two. As I’d predicted, Sam agreed to giving the kitten a home.”
Heron was told their kitten was a boy, so she bestowed her feline friend with the name Milo, which would soon be changed to Mila when they learned she was, in fact, female.
Let the training begin
Mila’s adventure cat training began on the day of her adoption.
She settled into the front seat of the car and watched the world go by as she traveled to her new home, and Herron made sure that Mila stayed used to rides.
“My childhood cat hated the car, but that’s because she associated it with the vet as that was the only time she went in it,” she said. “I didn’t want this to be the case with Mila.”
Herron and her partner took Mila on car rides often, starting with small trips and rewarding her often. They brought her along on trips when they visited family and friends, they introduced her to riding inside a backpack, and they got Mila comfortable in a harness when she was still a kitten.
They began with clicker training and leash training indoors and quickly advanced to working with Mila on other skills, such as teaching her to jump on Herron’s shoulders or backpack.
“I use a little gentle pressure on the leash and verbal cues [like saying] ‘this way” when I want her to go a certain direction on our walks, and she responds really well to that,” Herron said. “I’ve also learnt phrases she does well with like ‘Let’s go.’ I reinforced this action at home whenever she would follow me from room to room like a shadow. so she knew ‘let’s go’ meant she was walking beside me.”
Once Mila was vaccinated, she went on her first hike, and she instantly took to traversing the wooded trail with her tail held high.
“It honestly couldn’t have gone better,” Herron said. “She was a natural. She was born to explore.”
Mila followed Sam during her first few hikes, but as her confidence grew, she began the leading the way. And now she even greets people on the trail.
“She loves meeting new people,” Herron said. “Often, when we are out on our adventures, she will insist on walking up to people to say hello. She gets a little bummed if people don’t want to pet her.”
Gearing up for adventure
Like many adventure cats, Mila has accrued some must-have adventure accessories. What does she not leave home without?
Her cat backpack, a first-aid kit, a coat for rainy days, and her Supakit harness.
“Mila is very tolerant of me putting things on her, but she prefers if stuff doesn’t go over her head,” Herron explains. For that reason, I love that Supakit’s design is a step-in style, which makes it really easy to put on, and even easier to take off.
“The fact the straps are adjustable mean Mila will never outgrow her harness, and also allows extra room for layers if it’s cold. I think besides practicality, [the harness] also has a very stylish and sleek design. Mila has a leather and a cork harness and both materials feel really good as they are light, flexible and waterproof. I’ve had Mila’s first harness for over a year and a half and it still looks great, so I would say they are very durable, too.”
So much more than a hiking partner
Mila’s adventures often take place close to home, where she explores the neighborhood, the town, and the nearby woods. But her explorations take her all over the Emerald Isle.
“We love nothing more than to jump in the car and go discover new amazing locations all over Ireland — from the magnificent mountains to the rugged Irish coastlines to moss-filled forests, and so much more,” Herron says. “Our preferred adventures are usually off the beaten track. We love getting out in to the wild, more secluded areas and making our own path.”
During her ventures, Mila alternates between traversing tails and enjoying the views from atop her humans’ shoulders.
And when she’s on the ground, she takes in everything around her.
“She wants to explore every nook and cranny in sight, climbing trees and jumping over rocks,” says Herron. “Mila also has a fascination with water, so when she hears a stream or waterfall, she wants to check it out. I love to watch her embrace seeing new sights, smells and locations.”
These frequent adventures have a “pawsitive” effect on Mila, according to Herron.
“Going out exploring with us gives her mental stimulation and helps give her a fulfilled life seeing the world safely,” she says. “She’s definitely more relaxed at home after she’s been outside on an adventure.”
These trips have also benefitted Mila’s humans, who credit their feline friend with helping them cope with the pandemic and appreciate the beauty of the natural world.
“This past year especially would have been so much worse if we didn’t have Mila to distract us,” Herron said. “Taking her out on walks, getting out in nature together is where we have felt most at peace. Mila has made us appreciate so much more and made us feel more connected with nature. I’ve noticed more wildflowers and little details I’ve never seen outside before because we’ve had to slow down and adventure at her pace. I’m really thankful for that.”
Plus, this adventure cat even helped Herron tap into her creativity, as you’ve no doubt seen from Herron’s breathtaking photos.
“Mila became my muse and piqued my interest in photography,” she says. “I’ve taught myself how to edit photos, which can be especially challenging with a black cat. I love being creative, and Mila helped to inspire me to be artistic.
Getting Mila was one of the best decisions we ever made. She brings so much joy in to our lives, we honestly couldn’t imagine life without her now.”
Herron’s top tips for ‘pawsome’ adventures
Be patient and take it slow.
“I sometimes see people online saying they’ve tried walking their cat and it didn’t work. The cat flops on the ground and won’t get up. What they usually mean is they have put a harness and lead on their cat and immediately expected the cat to go out walking like a dog. It takes time and patience, with daily training in small doses. Walking a cat and a dog are two completely different things.
“Each cat is different, so some may take longer to train than others. The most important thing at the end of the day is that your cat is happy. Don’t rush training and don’t stress your cat out. If you are pushing the boundaries of your cat’s comfort zone, do it in a supportive and reassuring way that they still feel safe with you. Slow exposure can be good, rushing things can have a really negative effect.
Watch out for off-leash dogs.
“No matter what leash laws are in your area, there are still going to be those that don’t respect them. It’s just become second nature for us to be on guard in more public places. Whenever we spot a dog in the distance, I always pick Mila up and place her on my shoulders just to be on the safe side.”
Consistency is key.
“If you don’t adventure often you might notice your cat’s confidence regressing and you may have to take a step back and do some retraining.”
Enjoy the journey.
“Be prepared for slower-paced walks and adventures. There can be a lot of stopping and starting involved. Some days are slower than others, where your cat may want to sniff every branch and nibble every piece of grass in sight. Other days, your cat might love to speed ahead. Each adventure is different.”
This article was sponsored by Supakit.
To learn more about harness training with the Supakit harness, visit the Supakit Academy.