I'm not a professional animal trainer. I'm just a dude that's taken his cat (Millie) on a whole lot of adventures and in doing so I've learned a thing or two about the cat harness. I'll share how I tried to get Millie use to being in the harness, and what I've done to increase the safety features vs a standard over the counter cat harness.
When Millie was a tiny kitty I would put the harness on her at home. She was too tiny to even fit into it at its smallest settings. Sadly I don't have a picture of it, but I would crimp the harness straps together to make them smaller and tape them with climbing tape. This effectively shrunk the harness size and made it small enough for kitty Millie to not just slip right out of.
I would put it on her in the house with no rope attached and let her wear it for a few hours. I did this regularly, a lot. Sometimes I'd tie a rope on and let her just drag it around.
Did this work? I don't know, but it seems to have gotten her used to it and it's never been a scary thing for her to put on since. To this day she sits very still and leans into it a bit as I fasten the two straps around her, she knows the drill, so I can only speculate the time given to getting her used to it was time well spent.
The standard store-bought cat harness is likely good enough for walking your cat around the neighborhood, but I do not trust it when Millie's life could literally be on the line. When climbing tall routes there is a chance she can slip and fall and have to be caught by the rope, which is attached to her harness. Also, in slot canyons, you sometimes have to lower the kitty to your buddy, or stem across deep dark slots that you have no idea how deep they are and certainly are too narrow to shimmy down into. If kitty were to fall off your lap in such instance, you want to have faith the rope and harness will keep her dangling safely until you can reel her back in.
Goal #1, keep kitty safe. Since I know I will be in potentially dangerous situations, and there is potential to have to rely on the harness to keep kitty safe, I take extra precautions with the standard store-bought harness.
The picture above is of Millie's fully backed up harness ready for adventure. I've removed some pieces from the original harness, and added quite a few. I'll explain....
Shown above is the exact harness I purchased for Millie when she was a kitty.There is a central metal ring with three points of attachment to it:
- A strap that goes around the body,
- A strap that goes up the back and loops around the neck
- A strap with another metal ring attached to it for attaching the leash to
Here is Millie's harness today. The first thing I did was remove the metal ring the leash attaches to. It's pretty cheap metal and will not support the same amount of weight or take the same shock that cordage will. And the cordage is more pliable, bendy. So I cut that ring off and put two loops of 3mm-4mm cordage in its place. These two loops are what I attach the leash to.
Also, I backed up the central metal ring with extra cordage. I ran the cordage through the same three points of attachment the ring runs through and tied it off with a knot and back-up not. Redundancy is the name of the game, anything that can be backed up, is backed up.
The final pieces to back up are the two plastic clasps. If I'm taking Millie somewhere low-risk I do not take this extra precaution. But if there's any chance I may have to depend on the harness to take Millie's full weight, I back up the clasps. I've found it easiest to push the small cordage through the point of the harness that holds the clasp on once side before putting the harness on Millie.
With the cordage through one side of the harness, then I attach the harness to Millie. After the plastic clasps are holding it in place, then I push the cordage through the other side of the harness holding the opposite portion of the plastic clasp.
And then tie the cordage together to completely back up the plastic clasp. Then repeat on the other clasp. And you're done. Harness is in place and both clasps are backed up, your'e good to go.
WARNING: do not think that since you made your harness as strong as possible you can put your cat in any dangerous situation and be completely safe. I do not hand Millie from her harness, it is just a safety precaution. If rappelling she is on my shoulders. if climbing her harness is attached to mine just to catch her if she falls. I do not lower her by herself. As snug as it is, as safe as it's been made, I have no doubt of kitty ninja skills. I would NEVER lower her by herself more than a few feet quickly. I would not summit something then lower her fully on her own. I have no doubt she would somehow figure a way out of the straight jacket given enough time. So yes I've made it as safe as I can, yes it's worked and supports her weight and has caught her, but it's just extra safety, bad things can still happen so use sense and mitigate risk.
I attache Millie's rope (leash) to the harness with a locking carabiner. This is safer than a non locking biner, but can still be attached and detached quickly.
Once harness is strengthened, backed up, and locked to the leash ... you're ready for adventure in a safer than standard way.
So long story short:
- Replace weak metal pieces with cordage if you can
- Don't rely on the plastic clasps if this harness is really going to have to support your cat's weight
- Create as redundant a system as possible, back up points of attachment with extra cordage so if A fails, B is still in place, where you can