Bolt and Keel, brothers and budding Instagram cat superstars, love nothing more than exploring the beautiful wilderness of Western Canada with their owners, Kayleen VanderRee and Danielle Gumbley. But their ability to take such adventures—to hike the Sunshine Coast Trail, to canoe the Powell Lakes, and to snowshoe (snowpaw?) around British Columbia’s snow-capped mountain peaks—stems from a few fortunate twists of fate.
VanderRee, who started the Bolt and Keel Instagram account and blog, was working at a day camp for children outside her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in the summer of 2015. One Friday, she was walking past a pair of trash cans when she heard a faint “Meow.”
There they were—two kittens sitting behind the trash cans. “They were so tiny,” she says. “I couldn’t just leave them there.”
After finishing her shift, VanderRee planned to take the two kittens to a local shelter, but she just missed getting there before it closed, leaving her with two furry little friends for at least a couple more days.
She says she and Gumbley had plans to go hiking out of town that weekend, which ended up being the first outdoor adventure for the cats they’d soon start calling Bolt and Keel—after the climbing tool and the structural element that keeps a sailboat afloat, respectively. “After that weekend together,” she remembers, “there was no way we were giving them up.”
The quickly formed bond was fortuitous in other ways. VanderRee, at the time a rising senior at the University of Victoria, would soon be responsible for a project in her Communications for Social Media class. She had never used Instagram before Bolt and Keel, but thought their adorable adventures would be proverbial catnip for thousands online.
She was right. Bolt and Keel’s Instagram account has gained more than 25,000 followers who uniformly love regular updates on the world’s most fearless felines.
This online success hasn’t yet translated into in-person fame; VanderRee says she doesn’t often travel with Bolt and Keel except to remote areas of the Canadian wilderness for what she calls adventuring. “I did overhear people talking about them on a bus one time, though,” she recalls. “That was kind of cool.”
The question she most often gets asked about her cats and their account relates to how others can get their cats to enjoy the great outdoors. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all playbook that will make your cat fall in love with nature and adventure like Bolt and Keel, VanderRee says.
“It’s important to take baby steps,” she says. “The fact is some cats won’t ever come around to it, but some will without any trouble, while others might fuss a bit at first before settling down. You just have to try.”
That was actually the case with one of her cats. “Bolt is really easy-going. You can pick him up and put him wherever,” she says. A quick peek at their Instagram feed actually shows a number of photos with Bolt lying across her neck like a scarf.
Keel, on the other hand, doesn’t like that as much. “He seeks out attention more than Bolt, but he’s also quicker to tell you if he doesn’t like something.” Aside from these small differences, as well as those in appearance – Bolt is the one with more fur around his head and neck – it’s tough to tell the two apart, and even tougher to separate them. “We always find them curled up together at home. They love playing together and get along so well,” VanderRee says.
When they’re outside, though, safety is the highest priority. VanderRee strongly suggests you start out with your animals harnessed. You can even find a cat harness for your kitty to wear. If you’re working with cats, she stops and picks them up whenever a dog or other animal approaches. She also has life jackets, which she bought online, for whenever they go near water.
If Bolt or Keel ever seem nervous while out in the wilderness, VanderRee typically wraps them up in a blanket. “They like being swaddled like babies.”
“The fact is some cats won’t ever come around to it, but some will without any trouble, while others might fuss a bit at first before settling down. You just have to try.”
As her last bit of wisdom, the adventure-loving pet parent adds, “Just treat them with love and be attuned to their needs. You can’t go wrong.”
It’s good advice for any pet owner, regardless of whether you’re trekking through the wilderness or Instagramming adorable pictures from home.
Images: Courtesy Bolt and Keel via Instagram
John Gilpatrick is a freelance writer who thinks bunnies make the best pets.