Meet Siberian Forest cats Nikki Roo and Sawyer (aka Soysauce because of his dark coloring and favorite snack being soybeans). These brothers both turned 4 in April – Nikki was the first born, and Sawyer was the runt of the litter. They may have cuteness in name, but adventure seeking is their real game!
Photo: Nikki Roo (left) and Soysauce (right)
We caught up with their adoring owner and cat mom (Marley ) who told us that she started walking them when they were just 2 months old. At first, she had them practice walking in their harnesses around the fenced in backyard of her home. Apparently Sawyer would’ve been happy to never leave the backyard as he is a bit of a scaredy-cat, but courageous Nikki (who is over 20 lbs) is a born adventurer and quickly decided to investigate the sidewalks. Wherever Nikki goes, Sawyer is close behind.
It took several months of twice a week “training sessions” walking up and down his quiet block, before they were ready to walk all the way to the park (a mere 3 blocks away). When they finally made it there, a whole new world opened up for them. For the first time, they encountered wild rabbits frolicking under evergreen trees and angry birds swooping at them to chase them away from the nests, as well as neighborhood children who were overjoyed to see cats at the park. Whereas before they were hesitant and timid to simply be walking down the street; they were now bursting at the seams with excitement for this grand adventure.
Photo: Marley (above) and her human partner John (below)
Marley states: Nearly every day we would go back to the park, and Nikki assumed his “rock star” status; tugging on the leash as hard as he could to run up to children and demand chin scratches. Sawyer was more interested in practicing his stalking techniques on local crows, rabbits, butterflies and suspicious twigs. This continued for several months until the routine seemed to get boring for them and I decided to drive them to a bigger park in our river valley here in Edmonton, Alberta (which has the longest system of connected parks and trails in the world).
Once again their world expanded, but this time they needed to be braver than ever before as the park was frequented by dogs, cyclists and even horseback riders. The river is also a favorite local spot to go motor boating. All of the noise and action was overwhelming for Sawyer at first, but he quickly adjusted – thanks to Nikki’s fearlessness inspiring him, I’m sure.
Now, we go to the “big” parks every weekend, and sometimes walk for hours. They love the attention they get and the critters they can interact with, I love the exercise as Nikki’s appetite is as big as his personality.
I never stop pushing their limits. This winter, my partner and I began taking them on multiday hikes in our nearby mountain range, which I wasn’t sure they would be able to handle at first. But once again, Nikki and Sawyer found the challenge to be “the best thing ever,” as they didn’t stop purring for nearly an hour while trotting up a mountain switchback to a gorgeous viewpoint (they often express their excitement upon visiting a new area by bursting into uncontrollable purrs).
We probed a bit further and here’s what Marley shared with us…
Q: What made you choose Siberian cats?
I am allergic to cats but decided I couldn’t live without them (as I had grown up with felines on a farm, and been around them my entire life). When researching hypoallergenic breeds, Siberian Forest Cats stood out to me because they were purportedly very affectionate, active and had little to no breed-specific health issues. I was very fortunate in that there happened to be a Siberian cattery less than thirty minutes outside of my city. I went to their open house fully expecting to leave sneezing and sniffling, doubting that Siberian’s were actually “hypoallergenic.” But I stayed for over two hours, sitting in a large living room with all of the queens and a few older kittens roaming around. I picked up the friendliest queen – who happened to be the future mother of Nikki and Sawyer, and cuddled her for a few minutes just to be sure. On the drive home, I’m embarrassed to say that I started crying as that was the first time in 15 years that I had been able to hold a cat without immediately developing uncontrollable sneezing, having itchy, puffy eyes and triggering my asthma. Needless to say, my mind was made up and shortly afterwards, I put a deposit down for two kittens on the following year’s litters.
Q: Had you owned other cats before? If so, were they adventure kitties too?
I grew up on a farm in rural Alberta where cats were necessary to keep mice and other rodents out of the equipment (and house)! But our cats were so much more than that; they were a part of the family and very spoiled. Our “farm” cats spent most of a typical afternoon napping on the couches and dining room chairs, and of course drinking cream from saucers, until I developed asthma at 6 years old and was tested for allergies. After that, my parents didn’t allow the cats inside unless I wasn’t home. I would sneakily play with and cuddle them on the lawn anyway, which resulted in me being rushed to the hospital at least once a week after it became difficult to breathe (but it was worth it every time). Those cats were definitely adventure cats! Our burly alpha cat Spots caught a flying squirrel mid-air by intercepting it’s leap! On another occasion I watched him jump into a pond to swim after a family of ducks, unsuccessfully. He also tried to go “horseback riding” once by climbing up a hay bale and then stepping off of it onto our stallion’s back; luckily he and the stallion were friends and the horse simply shook his mane in surprise and Spots jumped down. I would often open the front door to find a rabbit he had caught laying on the step as a “gift”… I wasn’t so pleased about that.
Q: Do these handsome bro’s get along well?
They are best friends! Nikki and Sawyer are litter-mates and the longest they have ever been apart is two days. Nikki is more independent; he definitely appreciates having time to do his own thing, so we take him out on solo adventures once in awhile. Sawyer on the other hand is a cuddle bug and quite clingy towards Nikki. He goes where Nikki goes and if he’s not getting enough attention from his big bro, he will start pestering Nikki (like a typical younger sibling) by gently biting his ears or grabbing his hind legs as he tries to walk away. This usually begins a wrestling match that ends with them cuddling, so I guess Sawyer always “wins.” They cuddle in a heap at the foot of the bed almost every night, and give each other tongue baths after their walks.
Q: Have you ever had a problem/scare when taking them out trekking?
Only once, and it actually occurred on the sidewalk right in front of our house when they were kittens. Someone was walking their dog without a leash on the opposite side of the street as I walked home with Nikki. The dog saw us and dashed across the road, in front of traffic. Nikki climbed up my winter jacket to my shoulder and stood there hissing while the dog jumped all over me to try to get to him. Eventually the dog’s owner made it across the street and wrestled him away from us, but I got the impression they thought it was my fault for walking a cat in the first place. Nikki was a bit traumatized after that and it set his training back several months, but he eventually regained his confidence and now trots towards dogs to sniff noses when we meet them on sidewalks or trails. After that encounter, I made sure to always have an extra person walking with us so that someone has their hands free if a rogue dog needs to be shooed away.
Q: What’s the best thing about taking these two voyageurs out on an adventure?
The best part of adventuring with them is getting to experience the world through their eyes. For example, on a recent trip to the rocky mountains with Nikki, we hiked a short ascent to a mountain lookout peak and Nikki was absolutely in awe. (You’ve seen the photos of grizzly bears admiring the sunrise? It was like that!) The whole hike up, he was ecstatic and trotting with his tail in the air but he clearly wasn’t expecting to wind up on top of a mountain. When we reached the peak, he was overwhelmed by the view. Cats like heights of course, but he seemed to realize how high up we were, and was so happy to be the “king of the hill” that he refused to leave! We had to carry him back down to the trail, until he could no longer see the mountain range, and then he complained the whole way down! They remind us to appreciate things we might have taken for granted.
A close second is the people we meet. Nikki and Sawyer are local superstars and everyone wants to pet them and get a picture. They love the attention and we love meeting other cat fanatics! We’ve met some really cool people and heard hilarious stories that we otherwise wouldn’t have. They’re good at bringing the cat-lover out of even the most stubborn dog-people!
Q: What’s the most challenging/hardest thing about traveling with the boys?
The car ride. Sawyer is prone to motion sickness so we’ve had a couple of incidents! But over all, they are pretty good travelers. We have an extra large carrier we use in the car so that they have plenty of room to stand, stretch and lay down. Even so, on longer trips they reach a point where they start meowing out “are we there yet, are we there yet?” So whenever we stop and take a bathroom break at Timmie’s, we let them out into the parking lot to stretch their legs/ also take a bathroom break. We have gotten a lot of very weird looks from the morning coffee crowd, and often get people shouting out astonishment from their vehicles. My favourite is always “is that a CAT… on a LEASH?”
Safety is always our number one concern when walking them, but especially on more remote trips. We have special cat-specific harnesses that they cannot slip out of if spooked (although to-date they have never tried – they are well trained and simply climb up to my shoulder if they are frightened), we also always make sure that there is one more person than cats on a walk – so that someone has their hands free in case anything should happen. We recently got a cat back pack for added peace of mind during excursions – which Sawyer adores, and they always wear their tags when we are out of the house.
Q: What’s the next big adventure? … you mentioned the Boreal forest?
We have two big adventures coming up this summer. We are going on a multi-day hike in Banff, Alberta with both Sawyer and Nikki to tackle some more mountains, and test their mettle in a canoe. We haven’t done much exploring in that area before, and they haven’t been to the mountains in the summer yet so I’m excited for them. After that, we are heading up North to the Peace River district’s lush boreal forest (and my parents farm). We are a little concerned about bears since that region is very isolated, so we are bringing a small escort of doggos and other safety measures for any hikes or canoeing we do in the area. Nikki and Sawyer are of course, always leash-bound and stay within a few feet of us.
Q: Any tips to share with our readers that would love to do with their cats what what Nikki Roo and Sawyer do?
Yes! Be patient. It’s important to make sure your cat is always comfortable, especially in the beginning, as one bad experience can ruin their perception of “adventuring.” If they’re not having fun, they’re not going to want to do it again. That being said, it’s easy to make sure that they are having fun – even for the most ornery or scaredy-cat feline. Sawyer was afraid of his own shadow when I started his training, but I helped him feel at home outside by bringing all of his favourite toys with us and setting aside weeks worth of “training” sessions just for playtime in the yard. Eventually he grew accustomed to the wind, traffic noises, dogs barking in the distance and even his shadow. To get him to start walking on the sidewalk I would toss a toy a few feet down it, wait for him to run over to it, give him plenty of pats, then I would pick it up and toss it again. It was a very, very long process.
Cats can’t be leash trained in a week, that’s for sure! But they are curious by nature and willing to learn. Find your kitty’s weakness, whether that be toys, treats, a laser pointer, belly rubs or even a blankie (if your cat is into that) – and figure out how to use it to make their training more enjoyable and even something to look forward to.
We asked the boys if they love going on new adventures and here’s how they reacted! >^..^<
A very special thanks to Marley for sharing his story of his two remarkable boys. You can follow the adventures of Nikki Roo and Sawyer on their IG feed at @nikki_forest_cat.
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