Today Charlie and George are exactly one year old. They came to us as tiny rescue kitties, the only survivors of a litter of six, who only made it through by the grace of Seattle Area Feline Rescue and its network of kitty foster parents (especial gratitude to Cody). Even after they came to us things were a bit dicey for a while—Charlie in particular has had a hard time—but today they are lords of their domain. And as they’ve grown, it’s become harder and harder to keep them inside. Charlie in particular is determined to get outside. And as I move a lot slower than he does, the only thing that’s kept him indoors so far is moral force. But moral force began to wear a little thin.

Six weeks ago, Charlie began rehearsing the Great Escape; he believes there must be a way out through the ceiling.

I don’t have video but once he’d learnt to climb down he moved to the screen out to the other deck and learnt to run all the way to the top them simply leap in a huge arc the seven feet to the floor: scrat-scrat-thud, scrat-scrat-thud. Over and over. Kelley and I saw the writing on the wall and started kittie-proofing the back garden, essentially turning it into a giant catio. Our fence is eight feet tall, ten feet in places, and the neighbour’s fence beyond that twelve feet or more, so we just had to seal the gaps (oh ha, ha-ha-ha). It took three days work and $300 dollars to cover the underneath of the deck in chicken wire so they couldn’t escape under the house and out that way; add huge cinder blocks to gaps at the bottom of our fences and gates; and tack plywood to dodgy bits further up the fence. We thought: Hey, that should be good enough for at least one day; we could let them out in a one-time controlled, supervised session to learn how the outdoors smells, where the back door is in relation to the rest of the world, and so how to find their way back on the inevitable day when Charlie makes a real escape. And, you know, it’s almost their birthday; they should have a treat. So this weekend we decided to let them out. What could possibly go wrong?

I went out on the back deck, got out my phone to take pictures, and sat down. Then Kelley came out and left the door open for the cats. George sat suspiciously on the table (you can see him in the upper right at the beginning of the clip) and let Charlie go first, as usual. Charlie obliges. He goes straight out, straight across the deck, and right off the deck onto the grass. No hesitation. When there was no screaming and no gouts of blood, George decides to give it a go. But he’s George. He needs to survey the territory, assess the risk, ensure his lines of retreat. And he’s in no hurry. In fact he takes so long the video actually runs about another minute with him just standing there running his risk assessment, checking and rechecking his line of retreat. But eventually he steps off the mat.

It probably took him six minutes to venture out properly onto the deck and encounter his first real live plant (salvia, only just leafing out; when it flowers it will be a hummingbird magnet; I imagine George will spend a lot of time here).

Alarge tabby cat encounters his first plant in the great outdoors.

George’s first outdoor greenery: a Salvia cultivar, “Flaming Lips,” that is only just leafing out never mind flowering.

By the time George was getting to the edge of the deck, Charlie had made two circuits of the entire garden and was planning his next escape. Which was to find a gap between the gate and the wall we didn’t know existed and squeeze through. Oh god. My heart squeezed because on that side of the fence is the side deck, and beyond that the ravine, domain of coyotes who would munch up Charlie like a pop-tart, not to mention cat-mauling raccoons and barred owls big enough to take dogs. (That actually happened: an owl snatched a neighbour’s sheltie as she was walking him, and hauled it up into the air, screaming and bleeding. Fortunately it dropped him but those talons gave him some bad gashes.) But before our hearts had time to explode, boof, Charlie was back, looking exceedingly pleased with himself and chirruping away about his discoveries.

By this time George had managed to brave the grass, and he and Charlie spent the next fifteen minutes pretending to be tigers in the jungle. George chased a butterfly—it did my heart good to see him being able to run fifty feet without stopping. I thought: This stress is worth it.

This they were off again on their separate explorations. George was intrigued by the hedge and followed it every single inch around the perimeter. He ate a couple of cherry blossoms. I was fascinated by his methodical exploration and temporarily lost sight of Charlie.

As I’ve said, our fence is tall, and our neighbour’s fence taller, a good, reliable barrier (oh ha, ha-ha-ha). While we were entranced by George, Charlie had somehow got on top of our gate—only six feet tall—then the eight foot fence. As we watched he did a death-defying leap to our neighbour’s fence. And then—Oh god—onto the roof. So now he’s running around a zillion feet in the air, investigating the chimney—visions of calling the fire department and having to dismantle the chimney—sticking his head in a gap in the gutter cover—ditto with the roofers—then running to the edge and realising: Oh, hey, the ground’s a looong way… At which point he ran back the way he came, only to realise that though it’s easy to jump up from a narrow fence to a big broad roof, it’s entirely another matter to try jump down onto a half-inch wide platform. And then the birds discovered he was there and started shrieking at him and dive-bombing him. (One American robin—I hate those things—was particularly obnoxious.)

At which point he completely freaks out. So now he’s running up and down, completely panicked, harassed by birds, creaking and chirruping (he still can’t meow; we think his vocal cords were damaged during the operation that left him with a brain injury) and he can’t seem to hear Kelley standing below speaking in soothing tones. Or George pacing back and forth on the lawn and yowling encouragement. It was his first day out in the wide world; I think his brain got overwhelmed by the input and shut down.

He jumped.

Straight out in to the air and down, twenty feet if it’s an inch. His first day in the great outdoors and he jumps off the fucking roof.

And he was fine.

He limped over to the border and hid under the hedge; George followed. And three minutes later both emerged looking for all the world as though nothing had happened. Charlie came trotting up, purring, and we felt his limbs and body etc but no flinching, no swelling. He was fine. His adventure probably took four years off my life, and Kelley’s, but Charlie leapt off a fucking roof and was just fine, thank you.

Half an hour later he and George were tearing around inside the house like champions. Yes, inside the house. Because after they emerged from under the hedge we scooped them up so fucking fast it made their heads spin. That’s enough adventure for their first year. So while they raced around, trilling, creaking, chirring and yowling their triumph, Kelley and I gulped down wine and smiled weakly at each other: Hey, no one died!

So that’s my report: one more milestone passed and no one died. Many more milestones to go, of course, though hopefully always with the same result. Fortunately we have a lot of wine. And fortunately you have access to previous kitten reports to keep you amused until next time.