Charlie playing with me - photo Michael Broad
Yep, this is controversial. I say that bored cats are unhappy cats. And I say that it is much harder to keep a cat from becoming bored if the cat is permanently indoors. The best way to combat boredom is to make a cat's life as natural as possible. What keeps a cat from being bored? Acting naturally. What is acting naturally? Chasing, sniffing, investigating, hunting and sleeping. I don't think we can truly replicate these when the cat is indoors all the time no matter what we do (except for sleeping). A cat needs to smell the air, the earth, the grass and other animals.
But how the hell do you do this when the outside is as dangerous as it is? We seem to be resigned to the fact that our cats will be bored (at least a bit) as it is a decent compromise between being (a) hurt and getting stimuli and (b) being bored and safe. Cats though might not see it the same way.
Why did I decide to bring up the evergreen perennial of a subject? Well, I have just watched a bit of TV (22nd March 2010). In a programme called, Animal Park - Wild On The West Coast, one of the senior animal keepers of a safari park in the UK said that, "a bored animal is an unhappy animal".
Before, that about a week ago, the former England football coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, said on TV that he is happier working. Sure, a fortnight's holiday is good but that is it, he said.
I, myself, know that I am happier when challenged. I need constant challenges and targets. So, I conclude that animals including the dominant human animal cannot be bored if he wishes to be happy. The same undoubtedly goes for our cat companions.
Boredom, for our cats, might actually be a bigger problem than we think. One problem is that cats are relatively undemanding in terms of requesting stimuli. They just sleep instead. But I am convinced that cats are happier and healthier if they are challenged and stimulated in a natural way and that can only truly happen in a natural environment, which means the sky over their heads.
This is because cats are still wild cats at heart. It takes very little for a domestic cat to revert to its wild mentality. As soon as they go out into a garden they become wild cats (blunted, though by 9,000 years of domestication).
So, why am I bothering to discuss this? I think we need to do more to make our cat's life as natural as possible. I sense strongly that a lot of people keep their cats indoors for their benefit - meaning the benefit of the person not the cat. They compound that by declawing their cat to protect furniture. It is all one way. The mentality is one which says we can do as we please with our cat companions.
My personal preference is that the "agreement" is mutual and on equal terms. That should be the mentality of the true cat lover.
So, if we have a free choice as to whether we keep a cat or not we should decide whether we have the commitment and facilities to build an outside enclosure. Enclosures are the only practical way to strike a balance between (a) protecting our cat (b) letting our cat act as naturally as possible and (c) giving us peace of mind. I am sorry if this upsets people but logic dictates that it is the best solution. There are very few cat enclosures considering their appropriateness in the modern world.
This post sets an ideal. There are many great cat lovers who need to compromise a lot. I just feel that we should compromise less and try and set some standards. Cat "ownership" can be too casual, to easy to the detriment of the cat.
One last point. I am as guilty as anyone else. I just think that the desire to keep a cat companion is seen as similar to buying a new sofa. In fact the sofa is more important, often. We need to re-evaluate the whole concept of cat keeping in the light of the 2 - 14 million cats euthanised every year in the USA.