Why I keep My Cats Indoors

By Elisa Black-Taylor

As an American woman living in the United States I am able to shed some light on why about half of Americans keep their cats indoors. I realise that the indoor versus outdoor cat debate is a topic where there’s really no clear cut, right or wrong way, to keep a cat. There are pros and cons on both sides of the argument.  I’m going by how things are done in the U.S., which differ quite a lot from other parts of the world. In fact the USA has quite a different attitude with respect to keeping cats indoors. It is almost the standard, whereas in most other countries it is the opposite.

Why I Keep My Cats Indoors

Why I Keep My Cats Indoors. Photos by Elisa Black-Taylor. Collage by Michael.

The Early Days

Since 1982, I’ve cared for outdoor community cats, feral cats, and stray cats, as well as indoor and indoor/outdoor cats. Back in those days I put out food every evening in my back yard, clapped my hands and yelled “Here kitty kitty kitty” as loud as I dared. I even had a few neighbors scold me because their cats preferred my food to their food. One even asked me to stop feeding the cats.

Back in the early days I had mostly indoor/outdoor cats. They would go outside in the early morning and come back in for the night. The cats seemed happy with this arrangement. Right up until the day they were run over by a car or a stray dog wandered in the yard and killed them!

This brings up the debate on whether any cat should be let outside unsupervised. I can tell you it’s sometimes impossible to supervise a cat without having a high fence and no way over it. My cats would take off to the four foot fence, jump on a fence post, and spend the day two houses over catching field rats. To keep cats only in my yard wasn’t an option. Many of these cats I suspect visit several homes in the neighborhood for food. My cat Spot was poisoned after eating a rat. He almost didn’t survive. Spot was our exception in living with indoor/outdoor cats. He lived to at least 15 and died of FeLV over a plate of his favorite food.

Smokey was the first to die. This was in 1985 when she was hit by a car less than ten minutes after being turned out for the day. She was three years old. This is the age many sources believe to be the average life span of an outdoor cat. Should she have died because I was irresponsible and allowed her the freedom to experience life in the outside world? Or would it have been worse to deny her the life a cat wants to lead by keeping her inside and stretching her life span to 15+ years?

That’s where cat lovers begin the argument on whether a cat should live indoors or outdoors or both.

I also lost Fluffy, Sadie, Butch, Tiger, Sissy, Baby and Gypsy to the road. Scrappy, Booger, Whiskers, Tom and Goldie were poisoned. All except Goldie were from one event where a neighbor put moth balls under their home to ward off snakes and it rained. The rain dissolved the mothballs and the outdoor cats drank from the puddle. Four cats died within days. Goldie was actually poisoned by someone pouring a corrosive down his throat. His 80+ year old vet managed to save him. He lived a year after the initial poisoning until his damaged kidneys failed. Cee Cee, Peeper and Little Gray were killed by dogs on our property. Peeper was nine years old at the time and was within just a few feet of a tall tree. She almost made it. There was little left of Cee Cee or Little Gray to bury.

These are just the cats I knew what happened to. Many disappeared and were never seen again. So if I’m a little prejudiced about the issue of keeping the cats I have now indoors, please know that it comes from the experience of scraping up what’s left of a once beautiful animal and burying it.

The Present

Now I go to sleep at night with the knowledge my cats are safely curled up inside.

Gizzy has been the exception. She’s an escape artist and has made it to the great outdoors on several occasions without meeting with foul play. We still don’t want her outside because the neighbors behind us tend to shoot cats for target practice. My neighbor across the street has a cat who was shot in the leg several months ago.

There’s also the legality of keeping cats outdoors where I live. Most areas are under a leash law, meaning an outdoor animal must be confined to a fence or on a leash or the owner could be fined.

It’s also been a requirement to keep a cat indoors when adopting from a shelter or a rescue. This was even going on back in the 1980’s before shelters did the spay/neuter before releasing a cat. It was in the contract the cat must live indoors, or the shelter/rescue has the legal right to seize the cat. I personally don’t know of any organization in my area that will release a cat knowing that cat will live outdoors at least part of the time. I’ve also never known a cat to be seized for breaking the contract.

I can understand people being upset for not allowing a cat to be a cat. My cats have cat trees inside, along with tables set up in front of almost every window in my home where they can look out. They also have a Cat Sitter DVD. They watch it if no one’s around to distract them. There are also several comfortable beds on our cat feeding table. These beds are five feet off the ground so the cats love sleeping on them. Not to mention the regular beds. There’s always a few cats on my bed or on Laura’s bed.

Am I being fair to them when given the choice of allowing them to live a short life outdoors or a long life indoors?

Now for the BIG question. Was it right for me to take in cats from death row knowing I wouldn’t be able to offer them a chance to experience the great outdoors? Some believe a person who can’t allow a cat some outdoor fun doesn’t deserve a cat in the first place. They should get a small dog or other pet. So would euthanasia have been a kinder option that keeping these cats indoors for the rest of their lives? Keep in mind the shelter we rescued from also requires a contract to be signed stating the cats will remain indoors, as do the non-profit rescues who pull from this shelter. The only time I’ve been told I could turn one of the cats loose has been with a TNR. I’d been tempted, but chances of an outdoor cat being shot or killed by wild animals is too great in my neighborhood.

After writing all of the abuse stories for PoC, I’ve become quite paranoid of people, as well as the environment. All of the cats we adopted out after rescue went to homes where they are kept indoors. All except one are still alive. Cupcake died young of an intestinal disorder after he went to his new home. He had major surgery and still couldn’t be saved.

I’m proud of my indoor cats. They’re alive, they’re happy and safe, and I won’t apologize for keeping them inside. I absolutely refuse to scrape up what’s left of one of my cats and be left with a guilty conscience for the rest of my life knowing the risk was out there and I allowed my cat outdoors anyway. Some of the readers may have a safe place for their cats to roam or care for cats where they don’t have the option of keeping them indoors. Turning cats outdoors into dangerous conditions when you have the option of keeping them as housecats, in my opinion, is neglect.

How do the readers here feel on the indoor/outdoor issue?

Elisa

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Comments

Why I keep My Cats Indoors — 12 Comments

  1. The indoor outdoor cat debate is the biggest one after cat overpopulation and declawing in my opinion. I found this post interesting because you mention “leash laws” and shelter “regulations”. So for you and people like you living in certain parts of the USA there is no choice in the debate. You have to keep them indoors or walk them on a leash.

    In America there is more space. Large gardens are more common. Why don’t Americans make their gardens cat enclosures? This seems like laziness to me. It should be obligatory. There are some good fencing manufacturers who make specialist cat proof fencing to go around gardens.

    The answer whether we keep our cats in or let them out is about risk assessment. Sounds boring but it makes sense.

    HIGH RISK

    If the assessed risk of injury is high cats should be kept in or supervised outside or placed on a leash. For example if you live in London or Los Angeles near a four lane highway and your back garden (yard) backs onto the road and there is no real fencing around your garden….that is high risk, is it not? Only a fool would let their cat out under those circumstances.

    LOW RISK

    There are few genuine low risk places left on the planet for the free roaming domestic cat. However..

    You live by the sea. Not on farmland. Outside, the land is public but very few people use it. Your neighbours, you know are decent people. The sea is half a mile away. The risks are relatively low in my opinion.

    Or..

    You have a large back yard (garden) and it has a ten foot wall around it. That is almost zero risk. That is why I like the large enclosures that are high specialist fencing around the garden. I wrote about that.

    • Oh if only I had a 10 ft wall or an ocean! I have woods with coyotes and wolves and deer hunters and crazies with guns. Not safe at all.

      There’s a feral colony living on a vacant lot near lots of traffic. A lady is trying to TNR and rehome them. I worry about cats on busy roads. To me its not worth the risk since my cats are under my guidance. I feel I’m doing what’s best to keep them safe.

      • I understand your argument and actually agree with what you do because you always do right by your cats on your budget. However, lots of Americans can do better in creating a nice environment for their cats as well as a safe environment. They can afford to put high fencing around their yard. Why aren’t they doing it? Or build a nice enclosure? ANS: it is convenient for them to keep their cats indoors. There needs to be more empathy with the cat’s desires and behavioral traits.

        • I think a lot of it may be because there are fewer home owners due to the economy. More people are renting homes or live in apartments and cannot make changes to the property. A landlord may give permission for a fence, but many renters may not want to invest in something that’s not truly theirs.

  2. If a cat can “outsmart” you, are you smart enough to realize what that means? IT MEANS that you’re more stupid than a cat. It MEANS that you are TOO STUPID to have *ANY* life under your care. I bet you’d have children that “accidentally” drowned in that canal or channel behind your house (as happened not long ago to some criminally-negligent parents) because your 2-3 year old child was SMARTER THAN YOU ARE. This is why NO LIFE should be allowed under YOUR criminally irresponsible care. You’ve already proved it with your cats!

    Licensing and laws do nothing to curb the ecological cat-disaster we all face today. If cats are required to be licensed then cat-lovers just stop putting collars on their cats, as they did by me. And they won’t even bother getting them micro-chipped, especially not that They want absolutely nothing that can hold them legally responsible, liable, and accountable for the actions of their cats. It’s why many of them even keep cats in the first place. We’re not talking about the topmost responsible citizens of the world, you know. They don’t want that responsibility of what their cat has done coming back on them. If they had even one iota of a sense of responsibility and respect for all other lives on this planet we wouldn’t even be having these discussions.

    On the other hand, I found something that DOES work, and works well, and works fast (well, relative to the years it takes trying to reason with deceitful and lying cat-lovers that accomplishes ABSOLUTELY NOTHING). Where I live cat-lovers have learned that _ALL_ cats, stray and feral, collared or not, ear-tipped or not (because TNR con-artist liars now just clip cats’ ears only without sterilizing or vaccinating them, to protect their hoarded cats from being trapped and euthanized), _ALL_ their cats are humanely shot on sight and buried whenever found away from supervised confinement.

    The ONLY thing that works is destroying any of their cats found outdoors on your property. They either learn to stop getting more cats that die under the wheels of cars or from animal attacks, or they finally learn how to be a responsible pet owner, respectful neighbor, and learn to keep their invasive species animal under confined supervision, as it should be. Win win win all around. You can either destroy their cat for them humanely, or let their lack of concern for their cat cause it to die inhumanely. By destroying their cat for them humanely you are showing them that you care more about their cat than even they do. A bullet is by far the most humane death that any free-roaming cat will ever meet. Anything else is all inhumanely downhill from there. Their only other options are being hit by cars, environmental poisons, cat & animal attacks, disease and parasites, freezing, etc., etc.

    You can’t train a cat to stay home but I found that, in time, you CAN train a cat-owner into being a responsible pet-owner and a respectable neighbor. Most of them are so phenomenally stupid, disrespectful, and criminally irresponsible though that you have to make at least 12-15 of their cats permanently disappear before they even start to figure out what they’ve been doing wrong all during their sorry, useless, and pathetic lives.

    If you live in an area where its not legal to use firearms to destroy any animal that is threatening the health and safety of you, your family, your animals, or property (as it *IS* legal in most every area of the nation — shoot to maim is animal cruelty but shoot to kill is a perfectly legal way to humanely destroy any nuisance animal on your own property); then check into laws regarding air-rifles with ballistics speeds of 700-1200 fps and using pointed vermin-pellets in no-firearms zones. Many of the newer ones even come with their own sound-suppressor designs built-in, being specifically designed for shooting vermin cats in urban areas, the demand is that great. Failing that, then there’s always the SSS and TDSS Cat Management Programs that are exploding in popularity worldwide. Shoot, Shovel, & Shut-Up; or Trap, Drown, Shovel, & Shut-Up. Both methods are legal on every square foot of this earth. No local laws were violated if it never happened! (Where cats have already learned to evade all trapping methods, then inexpensive generic 1-adult-strength acetaminophen (overseas a.k.a. paracetamol) pain-relievers are a more species specific vermin poison. But you really need to retrieve and dispose of that carcass safely so that native wildlife won’t die from the many diseases cats spread even after their death.)

    Good luck!

    • A comment with this mentality proves my point that there are crazies out there who will harm any cat they come across just for the hell of it. And you’re also right with no body no crime. Thank you for backing up the reason my cats have lived indoor only lives since our first cat back in 2009. We learned some hard lessons in the last century. Most cats do belong indoors. Especially if neighbors are anything like you.

    • You actually honestly believe that people let their cats out just so they can get off on feeling like they are expressing some sort of control over the rest of the neighbourhood.
      “bla bla bla expendable proxy” – or some total nonsense like that.

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