Maine Coon Helps His Deaf Dad Sail Around The World
“Skatty is my ears.”
It didn’t take long for Skatty to find his sea legs. When the Maine Coon cat was just 4 months old, his owner, Paul Thompson, an avid sailor, took Skatty on his first expedition off the coast of New Zealand.
“He chose to join me in the cockpit, which he does to this day,” Thompson told The Dodo. “It was a bit awkward to try to sail a boat with a young kitten that is determined to sit on your lap, but we managed. Once the sails were up, he relaxed somewhat but still wanted to be with me.”
Skatty did have a couple accidents — one time, he peered too far over the edge of the boat and fell into the water. Luckily, Thompson had been watching, and he fished Skatty out of the water and dried him off in a warm towel. But Skatty quickly adjusted to sailing, and he got into a routine.
“He’d be up on the deck first thing every morning as soon as the birds awoke,” Thompson said. “He'd play on the deck and watch the birds for about two hours then would come down for his breakfast, after which he'd go sleep for a few hours. In between naps he'd involve himself with whatever I may be doing.”
“In the evenings, he would become very active and race around the boat like a mad thing jumping up onto things and then suddenly stopping and looking as if he'd just seen the devil himself,” Thompson added.
Skatty, whose full name is Strauss von Skattebol of Rebelpaws, became a good sailing companion for Thompson — but for more than one reason. Thompson is actually deaf, and Skatty helps him navigate his way around.
“Skatty is my ears,” Thompson said. “Without any training, he has [understood] that I don't hear, and of his own accord, he lets me know if a boat comes alongside, people are at my door (ashore) and when my phone receives text messages,” Thompson said.
For instance, Skatty moseys up to the door to show Thompson when someone is knocking. And when Thompson gets a text message, Skatty will sit on top of his phone or put a paw on the screen.
“Basically, I'm watching his body language and that tells me all I need to know,” Thompson said. “I suspect that every cat guardian would benefit from watching their cat more closely.”
Now Thompson can’t imagine sailing without Skatty. ”I love the company and learning to see the world through his eyes,” Thompson said. “Having a cat on board forces you to slow down and take life at your cat’s pace. Invariably, that is a good thing as we are all far too busy rushing around.”
And Thompson is pretty sure Skatty feels a similar way. “He has just accepted that [sailing is] a normal part of life,” Thompson said. “He'd probably be astonished to learn that there are cats who do not sail.”
Skatty might find sailing particularly easy since he’s a polydactyl cat — instead of having five toes on each paw, Skatty has six, and these extra toes might help him stay balanced, according to Thompson.
But Thompson still goes to great lengths to keep Skatty safe. For one, Thompson always keeps a close eye on him. He also has a towel permanently dangling off the edge so Skatty can climb back onto the boat himself if he falls in the water. And at night, Thompson locks Skatty inside the cabin.
“I keep him in after dark, but I am becoming increasingly confident that he has learned to handle himself on a boat,” Thompson said.
More than anything else, Thompson hopes that Skatty’s story will encourage others to take their cats on adventures.
“I would strongly encourage all cat guardians to take their cat companions with them,” Thompson said. “Your cat does not want to sit at home while you are away, and they most definitely do not want to go to a cattery.”
That said, Thompson stresses the importance of slowly easing cats into activities like sailing, and never forcing them to do something they’re not comfortable doing.
“It is absolutely vital that you do things at your cat’s pace,” Thompson said. “It can be very slow, but it's the only way. So do it in small easy steps.”