From half-frozen kitten to adventurer: Josie’s story will warm your heart

Cat relaxes on float in water
'She took to hiking immediately, and from there I’ve just continued to try her in any activity that dogs tend to enjoy,' Dush says. (Photo: Erin Dush)

It was a cold December day in Michigan when a half-frozen, skinny little cat made her way onto Erin Dush’s porch.

“She was probably 5-6 weeks old, every bone sticking out of her body and half frozen, but a few hours on a heating pad and her intense purring made up for her lack of size,” Dush told Adventure Cats. “I slowly nursed her back to health over the next few days, and our bond has only grown since.”

A veterinary student by training, Josie the cat was in good hands with Dush. But if Dush expected a typical cat, Josie defied all expectations.

“From the start, Josie was never interested in behaving like the ‘traditional cat,'” Dush said. “She loves her toy mice, but gets just as much enjoyment from wrestling and/or chasing her best dog friend or exploring the outdoors.”

Perhaps more surprising is Josie’s penchant for sweets, from snacking on melon in the summertime to licking the frosting straight off the Christmas cookies.

Not to mention Josie’s love for the outdoors, which was a happy coincidence when Dush’s studying for school started to dig into their time together.

“One of my main outlets is to do anything outside and active, but I found myself feeling guilty for leaving her again to go hike or camp when I had the occasional free weekend off of studying and school,” Dush said. When her classmates joked that Dush should take Josie with her on these outdoor excursions, she thought, why not? 

“She took to hiking immediately, and from there I’ve just continued to try her in any activity that dogs tend to enjoy,” Dush said.

The two have since conquered a variety of terrains, from backpacking to kayaking and even paddle boarding in Michigan, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Georgia.

MORE: Tips for hiking with your cat

“Most excursions start with a lot of excitement,” Dush said. Their hikes usually start out with Josie energetically donning her harness and chugging along until it’s time for Dush to pick her up and let her ride atop the backpack.

One of Josie’s favorite things to do outdoors is camp. Dush says she loves to explore the camp once it’s set up.

“She loves the tent at night and chases bugs most of the night before curling up in my sleeping bag when it gets too cold,” Dush said.

One such camping adventure has left its mark in Dush’s memory as an all-time favorite.

Cat snuggles with dog for nap

Josie and her best friend, Mazie, conk out after a long day of backpacking. (Photo: Erin Dush)

“We went on an overnight backpacking trip with my mom and Josie’s best friend, a 1-year-old border collie mix named Maizey. We hiked along the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan and set up our tent overlooking the beach for a beautiful sunset over the lake. As the two friends cuddled at the end of the tent, the ‘watch dog’ quickly fell asleep, while my faithful ‘watch cat’ kept an eye out for any bugs or creatures to come our way,” Dush recalled. 

MORE: The ultimate guide to camping with cats

Josie has always loved being outside, which made harness training easy. Dush recommends starting your own adventure cat young and letting him or her get used to one thing at a time.

“Make everything about the harness and outside adventure time be fun and happy,” she said. “If you have a negative experience with your cat, don’t punish them. … Always try to end the adventure — whatever the length and extent it may be — on a positive note.”

Whether the training is easy or a bit of a struggle, all the effort is worth it in the end.

“The best part of adventuring [with a cat] is the added bond that grows between you and your cat,” Dush said. “I think we feed off each other’s excitement and enjoyment of the time spent in nature. It’s also great to bring a smile to the face of other hikers/boaters that we come across. People expect to see dogs adventuring with their human counterparts, but it’s always a shock to see a cat in this role.”

Josie is currently undergoing training to become a therapy cat through the Human Animal Bond Initiative Tennessee, Dush said. Then the pair will visit schools, nursing homes and more in the East Tennessee area to share Josie’s special personality with people who could use a purr-me-up.

Scroll through the gallery at the top to see more photos of Josie, and keep up with her adventures on Instagram.

All photos are courtesy of Erin Dush.