One of the hottest topics that has divided families and pits cat lovers against each other is the continuing debate about keeping cats strictly indoors versus allowing them to free-roam. Historically, cats have always earned their place near humans because of their rodent-killing skills. Farmers would encourage cats to stick around their granaries to help keep the rodent population down and reduce loss and spoilage of their crops. So, although cats have been “domesticated” for about 12,000 years, it’s really only been in the last 100 years that cats have moved inside the home with people.
The “cats should be outdoors” fan club insist that cats are animals and should be allowed to live naturally. They still have hunting instincts and should be allowed to live as they were designed to do – climbing, chasing, stalking, and enjoying grass and sunshine. Keeping them locked up in a house without any access to nature is unnatural, they say. Sure, some may get hurt or killed but it’s the quality of life that’s important. What good is a long life if you are stuck in a prison?
But, retorts the “cats should be kept indoors” supporters, life in our cities and suburbs does not resemble the life cats lived a hundred years ago. There are many more risks and our job as pet parents is to keep our animals safe. There are cars to contend with now. Nothing in a cat’s DNA will help him figure out how to cross a road safely! Not only is that a risk to the cat, but how many accidents are caused by a cat running across the road?
There are many other dangers that a free-roaming pet has to deal with too: poisons (rat and gopher bait, pesticides, antifreeze, weed killers to name a few), other loose pets, diseases, parasites, and more. With people living closer and closer together there is also the issue of being a good neighbor. Part of living outdoors means that the world is one big litterbox, which isn’t fair to your neighbor that’s growing vegetables or flowers in his garden, or another whose children have a sandbox. Your cat’s hunting instinct can be a problem too. How fair is that to the bird lover down the block that has set up a feeder in her yard? It is feared that songbird populations in certain areas are facing extinction because of predation. To maintain peace, many cities have muni codes requiring pets to be contained on their owner’s property.
And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the millions of cats that end up in animal shelters each year. If the free-roaming cats aren’t fixed (let’s at least all agree that spaying and neutering is a prerequisite before any cat puts a paw outside the home!) then unwanted offspring are the inevitable results. Cats that get chased or follow a prey can quickly become lost. The national average of cats that are reclaimed from shelters is only 2%, which is a disgrace and a tragedy.
So is there a compromise? I felt guilty keeping my cats locked inside on beautiful spring days and yet the thought of coming home each evening hoping they were there was a stress I couldn’t deal with. The compromise that my husband and I came up with is an outdoor enclosure – one that our cats can have access to through a window screen and allows them to roll in the grass, climb on shelves, sunbath and yes, catch a bug or two. All while safely enclosed on our property – which keeps my mommy instincts at a low stress level. Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist and host of television’s “My Cat from Hell”, has coined the term “catio” to describe an outdoor area that keeps the cat safely confined and promotes that concept frequently on his show. Not everyone has the skill or time to build an enclosure, so thank goodness for companies like C & D Pet Products (cdpets.com) and the Fence-in System (catfencein.com).
Now everyone’s cats can enjoy the best of both worlds – living like a real cat and enjoying the outdoors, safely!
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed 1-6:30; Thur. –Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.