"Cats are curious by nature and love to explore and climb,” Stephen says. He believes that helping a cat become an “adventure cat” starts with a cat’s upbringing, when you can help him start to develop an adventure-friendly pack mentality and comfort with the outdoors.
Stephen Simmons, an army veteran who practices adventure therapy with his dog Puppi, and his “adventure cat,” Burma, believes pets are the perfect companions for outdoor exploration.
"Pets are instinctively adventurous,” he says. "They all have a part of them that resonates with the wilderness and outdoors, and they benefit emotionally and physically from clean, cool outdoor air, and the sights and sounds and smells of the outdoors just as people do.”
Stephen has practiced adventure therapy with the Outward Bound program, and has gone on to develop his own unique spin on the experience: incorporating pets. He’s here to provide expertise for pet owners who want to try it in their own lives.
Why Explore with Pets?
“Some of the benefits I’ve experienced from adventure therapy are positive experiences, goals met, mountains climbed, views seen, photos taken and friends made, not to mention better fitness,” Stephen says.
But when he incorporated pets into the experience, these outdoor explorations became even more meaningful.
"One of the biggest rewards is sharing the experience with a family member who loves you unconditionally,” Stephen says. "Life is better with pets, and happiness, success and goals are better met with someone by your side.”
Beyond that, pets can keep you calm, help you reach out to other people on outdoor trails and force you to take on additional responsibilities out in the outdoors.
But most importantly - they give you an added incentive to get out and hit the trail. If you don’t go on adventures for yourself - do it for them!
“Inside every dog, even the most pampered, is a spirit that is wild at heart and willing to enjoy the outdoors,” Stephen says. He recommends looking into what your dog was bred for and finding out how that might influence his behavior in the outdoors.
Before You Start
"A key tip for keeping your pet safe during adventure therapy is making certain your pet is healthy and up to the physical challenge of your activity,” Stephen says. "Be mindful of their level of endurance from start to finish, and make certain not to push them too hard. It's wise to consider they can't speak out and tell you if they're hurting or cramped, if they need energy or water. Monitor how they feel.”
Also, remember to check with your veterinarian before starting any kind of strenuous physical activity with your pet.
Comfort and Safety 101
Stephen always makes sure his pets have plenty of water, as well as healthy snacks available during the activity. Too much food before a hike could lead to issues, so it’s best to give pets some time to digest a meal before hitting the trail. Beyond that, keep your pets away from plants they might graze on, and don’t let them lap up water from puddles and ponds. Finally, avoid placing your pet in extreme temperatures, or in the path of possible predators.
Remember, all pets should be kept on a leash at all times. You don’t want them wandering where you can’t find them.
Does Your Pet Prefer to Stay at Home?
If your pet isn’t into the experience, and appears stressed out or afraid, they might not be the right type of companion for adventure therapy.