DIY Skyline Trolley for Cats and Dogs

My DIY skyline trolley, which allows Oden to roam the length of our backyard

My DIY skyline trolley, which allows Oden to roam the length of our backyard

Last week I partnered with Petco to share tips with pet parents about being outdoors with dogs this summer. While dogs are certainly the customary four-legged friend when hiking and camping, there are safe ways in which cats can enjoy the beautiful summer months, too. Here’s one idea:

Our beloved domestic orange shorthair cat, Oden, is an indoor cat who occasionally enjoys being outside, too. But we don’t let him loose: his outdoor skills are too undeveloped, our home is too close to a state highway, and near and within the city limits of Boulder, Colo. there are too many wildlife sightings (e.g. coyotes, mountain lions, and bears) to let us be comfortable.

So we have three solutions to satisfy his outdoor interests:

  • My wife, Amanda, will “walk” him around the neighborhood,
  • A center-pivot 10-foot tie-out in our front courtyard, and
  • A homemade 50-foot skyline trolley in the backyard.

I want to focus on this last solution, as others may wish to replicate it for their own pet.

Since our backyard is about 12 feet x 60 feet, a skyline trolley gives Oden much more room to roam versus a center-pivot tie-out. I looked into commercial trolley sets, but I wanted something more customized for our backyard. Plus, I felt that a kit rated for an 85-lb animal was overkill since Oden weighs 10 pounds when soaking wet.


I installed 4-inch screw eye bolts on two solid anchors: a wood divider fence and the corner of the house. Using a figure eight knot, I then secured one end of the trolley cord to the house corner. At the divider fence, I used a Nite Ize Figure 9 Small Carabiner Rope Tightener, which allows me to easily tighten the cord and to quickly take down the entire system prior to backyard social events.

There were a few valid alternatives to my anchor setup. If I had used a nearby tree instead of the house corner, I could have done away with one of the eye bolts, but I would have had to somehow protect the tree’s bark. A bowline knot is good substitute for the figure eight, but the latter distributes pressure better and is therefore easier to untie. And, finally, I could have used a trucker’s hitch instead of the Nite Ize, but the latter is more intuitive for Amanda when I’m not around.

Fixed anchor point using a 4-inch eye bolt and a bowline knot

Fixed anchor point using a 4-inch eye bolt and a figure eight knot

By installing a Figure 9 on the other anchor, the system can be easily tightened and easily taken down.

With a Nite Ize Figure 9 on the other anchor, the system can be easily tightened or taken down. The Nite Ize is reliably secure, but I still backed it up with some half-hitches to prevent it from loosening or untying.

Trolley Cord

At just 10 lbs, Oden can’t pressure the system much so I was able to get away with light and inexpensive cord. Due to intense UV exposure, it needs to be replaced once every year. For a larger cat or a small dog, I would get 3mm utility cord in bulk from a local outdoor retailer. And for larger dogs, it’s probably best to use the vinyl-coated cable sold in the aforementioned trolley kits, as nylon cord of similar strength would droop excessively.

Leash and harness

To attach the leash to the trolley cord, I used a double-clip carabiner, specifically the Nite Ize Plastic S-Biner, which prevents the trolley cord and leash cord from tangling. The carabiner slides very nicely on the trolley cord, and makes the leash easily removeable if we wish to take Oden for a walk or tie him off somewhere else temporarily.

Recently we upgraded from a classic webbing harness to a webbing/mesh version. The latter fits him better, shifts around less, and presumably is more comfortable because it distributes pressure over a larger area.

Double-clip carabiner to connect the trolley cord with the leash

Double-clip carabiner connecting the trolley cord with the leash. Use a bowline or figure eight knot to create a loop on the leash.

Mesh harness and leash, attached via a small carabiner

Mesh harness and leash, attached via a small carabiner and figure eight loop. And a happy cat!

Posted in on May 18, 2014


  1. Russell Johnson on May 18, 2014 at 6:38 am

    His outdoor skills are too undeveloped? Clearly, he needs to sign up for one of your guided treks.

  2. Eric M on May 19, 2014 at 11:47 am

    We had a similar set-up using steel line for the trolley for my old pitbull, who loved to sit in the sun outside and roam the backyard but who could easily clear our 8ft fence from a standstill and therefore needed to be on a lead. It worked much better than a standard center-pivot chain because at any position the dog wouldn’t be dragging any lead/rope around. Never seen one for a cat, but this looks awesome.

  3. Eric Ball on May 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    In my back yard we have a couple of retractable clothes lines. I wonder how my cats would enjoy being connected to them…

  4. filipe on June 16, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    This is awesome! I would love to see some video of this in action. Whenever I try to walk my cat he just fights it but this seems like a much more reasonable solution to the outdoor cat issue. I bet my mom wishes these were around when I was a kid.

  5. Miracle Pie on August 25, 2014 at 6:58 pm


    I built an 10′ x 12′ enclosure with a ramp leading from a window.

    • BC on August 6, 2018 at 9:41 pm

      Miracle Pie, can I msg you about the enclosure you built?

  6. Kymber on September 7, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Be careful with this. If you don’t have a spinner on both ends of the tie out your dog can get twisted up & strangle.

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