Meet Mercury! Mercury is an indoor cat who finds adventure in the Indiana Dunes and beyond with his canine brother Captain. Since graduating from leash school and hitting the trails in early 2017, he has hiked over 25 miles and surprised many incredulous hikers along the way. He and his owners hope to inspire others to discover the dunes in their own way, even if it’s a bit unconventional.
What brought you to the dunes? I was brought to the Porter County Animal Shelter when I was 5 weeks old. It’s pretty competitive for cats to find a home, and the older you get, the harder it is because everyone wants a tiny kitten (spay and neuter your pets, everyone!). I waited more than three months for my now-owners to show up one evening, looking for a tiny kitten. I knew I would have to work really hard. They wandered around the entire room so slowly, I thought they’d never get to me, but once they did I was ready. I showed them that I would get along great with other pets by attacking my cage mate and biting his ears while gazing curiously at the strangers outside my cage. That convinced them to get some one-on-one time with me. As soon as they picked me up, I showed them my best purr and they decided to adopt me and bring me home to Portage.
How long have you lived here? I’ve lived in Portage since 2015, but I didn’t realize how magical the dunes were until January 2017 when I started exploring the parks and nature preserves here.
What is your favorite thing to do in the dunes? I love to find a sunny spot on the trail to take a break – what cat doesn’t love a ray of sun? I also love to stop to listen to the frogs, especially in the early spring when they sing a lot during the day. I recently discovered the joy of finding a log down across the trail – what an adventure to balance on it all the way to the end, dragging whoever is behind my leash through the brush to retrieve me! Beyond the discoveries I make in nature, I love how surprised people are when they notice that I’m a cat – they can never believe that I’m out for a hike! I think it’s important to show people that the dunes are for all of us, and there are all sorts of ways to enjoy them.
Tell us a secret about the dunes. They’re very cat friendly! There are so many different trails to explore in the dunes, and a lot of the time you won’t see anyone else out there. I get a little spooked when there are too many other people and dogs out, so it’s nice to have so many options to enjoy nature in peace. Shirley Heinze Land Trust has nature preserves and trails all over that are very quiet, and even the Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s trails are usually pretty deserted, except on freakishly warm days in February when it’s still too cold for the beach. (That’s great for the humans and canines, not so much for shy felines.)
What is your favorite trail to hike? Tolleston Dunes is my go-to. It goes through forested dunes and wetlands (which are the best when the frogs are singing), and both loops provide a great hike, with beautiful views of the dunes and spectacular displays of lupine in the spring. If I want a shorter hike, we head around the corner to John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve, which is protected by Shirley Heinze Land Trust. It’s a great place to see birds including migrating ducks and warblers.
Anything else you would like to add? My owners decided that I would be an indoor cat partly because it’s safer for me, but mostly because domestic cats are the number one human-caused threat to wild birds in the United States and Canada, killing over 2 billion birds a year, even if we are well fed! We have a very high drive to hunt and we’re very good at it, especially when birds are nesting. My owners wanted me to have an active lifestyle and experience the great outdoors to get back to my wild roots once in awhile, so they decided to help me become an adventure cat.
Just like for humans, hiking isn’t for everyone, and it took us some patience and practice. We spent a year getting used to wearing a harness and leash, trying out different harnesses to get the right fit, doing a lot of reading (adventurecats.org is a great resource), considering whether my personality was right, and practicing in the house and the yard. We also had to make sure that I had all the right vaccinations and parasite preventatives that I didn’t have to worry about as an indoor cat.
We always hike with my canine brother, Captain. It’s good for both of us to get outside to stay happy and healthy, and use our natural instincts in a safe way. There are lots of ways a cat can have fun in the dunes! During our hikes, I get lots of time to play, stalk, balance on logs, chase bugs, dig in the sand, listen to frogs and birds, and chase Captain. It’s a great way to get exercise and stimulate my mind, and it also gives me confidence and strengthens my relationship with my owners.
See more adventures of Mercury, the Dunes Kitten — or get inspired to take your own cat on the trails — by following him on instagram @duneskitten.
Don’t miss out on fun articles like this! Sign up for the Dig the Dunes weekly e-newsletter today!