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.
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.
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?