NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Laura Partain packs for a hike, the No. 1 essential is her cat.
"It took probably four or five months of really working with her, but I really saw her transform from this timid cat that didn't want to go outside and was really nervous to a cat that's amazing on the trail. She walks like a dog now," Partain said about one of two cats she owns and actively hikes with.
The pair attract a lot of attention on the trail, and some of the comments they receive sparked an idea for the Nashville-based photographer who was looking for a new hobby during the pandemic.
"I really want to help people see their cats in a different way and to get out of the mindset of 'Oh, my cat would never do that.' To look at their cat and say, 'How can I help this cat to have a better life. How can I help enrich this cat's life and train them?' They're actually really fun to train," said Partain, who grew up training show goats.
She created the Tennessee Cat Adventure Club, and since the start of the pandemic, she's trained 14 cats and counting.
"I encourage people to train the cats themselves, but I also offer training services. So when people are like, 'I'm stumped. I don't know what to do with my cat.' That's when I'll say, 'give me a call,' Partain said.
The cats learn to walk on a leash just like a dog, but training them requires some different tactics.
"A lot of dogs really want to do anything to please their people. Whereas a cat and a goat are a little bit more transactional. They're like, 'What do you have for me? I don't want just a pat on the head. What do you have for me?'" Partain said.
She uses treats and food as motivators and says the easiest step you can take in training your cat is buying a harness that fits since many of the ones in the store are geared towards dogs.
Partain recently started partnering with Tennessee State Parks to encourage pet owners to use a leash on the trail. She said leashes allow all animals, including cats, to get out and enjoy the beauty of Tennessee.