What happens to rescue cats and dogs at a typical animal rescue center? The chart below is self explanatory. Cats get a bad deal compared to dogs. The difference is stark. Why? There are probably two main reasons: (1) some cats are allowed to roam and not all of these cats are neutered or spayed and (2) cats are not pack animals. If they were more like a dog they could be leash trained easily. And if a cat could be taken outside in the same manner as a dog its fate would be the same at animal shelters. There would be fewer stray cats; fewer cats that have gone astray and which are then picked up and taken to shelters. There would be no need to debate the merits of indoor and outdoor cats etc. I expand on this theme below the chart.
The trouble with cats is that they are not pack animals. That is their strength and weakness as domestic companion animals. In the West, we hear much less about feral dogs roaming around cities and suburbs causing so called health problems and despoiling the environment. If you search Google news for cat stories a lot relate to feral cats and the feral cat problem. “For dogs, it’s a much better story,” Joan Brown said. Joan is the president of the Humane League of Lancaster County and she was referring to the fact that substantially less dogs are euthanised than cats at their shelter.
Why is there this stark difference between the fate of rescue cats and dogs? No one moans about the feral dog problem in America on the internet. While a significant number of cat remain unneutered, I have concluded that if cats were more naturally inclined to be leash trained and taken for a walk on a lead there would be less of a problem. The difference between cats and dogs is that dogs are pack animals looking to us as the leader and will obey the leader. They accept leash training with ease as far as I can see. Cats are independent, essentially solitary animals. They naturally have a large home range (the territory that they call theirs). That is the way they like it and it does not predispose them to being trained to go for a walk on a leash. If they were we could treat them like dogs in respect of getting them outside safely and for exercise and to express natural desires.
Because of the barrier to training a cat to walk on a leash many people let them roam. Some of these cats are unneutered. They procreate and/or turn feral. In the UK most cats are indoor/outdoor cats. In the USA there are also many indoor/outdoor cats but lots of people keep them in for the cats safety mainly. This is a heavy compromise from the cat’s point of view.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just take our cat for a walk? The thing is that we love cats because they are what they are. In an old fashioned world of over 100 years ago that worked well. There were much less people, no cars and less danger to our cats. There were less cats because there were less people. Things were more in balance and there was less cause to complain about stray and feral cats. I conclude that a failure in the domestication of the wild cat is that it does not fit very comfortably into the modern world.
A cat that is still a cat in all aspects but that has a dog-like capacity to be leash trained and which enjoyed to go for a walk would be of benefit to the modern domestic cat. It would help convert lots of cat haters too. I have great sympathy for feral cats and want to help but people who are ambivalent about cats can be converted to disliking them because of the feral cat problem. And people who dislike cats use the feral cat problem as an argument to hurt and kill cats.
There is one last hurdle. Would cat caretakers take their dog-like cats for a walk? Probably not, initially, because they couldn’t be bothered. But I would hope that eventually there would be a new breed of cat caretaker/guardian; people who saw it as natural to take a cat for a walk on a leash. That would put things in balance again for rescue cats and dogs.