Who Let the Cats Out?

A little while ago, I found myself confronting a problem: adopting a cat. Not a purebred, just a plain old alley cat you would think any animal shelter would practically pay you to take off their hands. Not so.

Jack sunning himself on a bridge

The problem is that I am not deemed a responsible pet owner because I believe cats should be allowed outside. Unless I lie about my heinous cat-owning philosophy during the adoption interview and on the questionnaire, and get my vet to lie about me to boot, no cat for me. This is despite the fact that I've owned eight cats in my life, four of whom lived past the age of 18, one to age 21, and I spent thousands of dollars treating cats for various injuries and ailments. True, that includes the current Jack, an outdoor denizen through and through, who had two abscesses due to getting bitten on the head by another cat. And our stray kitten Misty, who came to us complete with conjunctivitis, sinusitis, and a bad case of ear mites.

But perhaps the most difficult situation was Samantha, who suffered for two years with inflammatory bowel disease, during which time I dosed her twice a day, took her to the vet when needed, and cleaned her foul litter pans. By the way, she took ill during her five-year stint as an indoor cat living in an apartment.

Now, I'm not saying city cats, country cats who are prey to coyotes, wolves, falcons or other beasties, or even cats who live off a highway or busy street should be allowed out. But what about suburban cats who live in fairly quiet neighborhoods?

No, no, the outdoors, wherever it may be, is dangerous. Cats should be kept indoors. There are still cars, and other cats, and those horrid germs to worry about. Better the cats should live life in a cage in an overcrowded animal shelter than with a loving owner who gives it outdoor access.

I don't care if indoor cats live longer. As Giuliani would say, what about quality of life? Outdoor cats may get hit by cars, but the last I heard, traffic accidents were still a leading cause of death for humans. Are any of us giving up driving? Haven't these people who run animal shelters seen Finding Nemo, which repeatedly hits you over the head with the message that you have to meet life head on and not live in fear? And that fish belong in the ocean, not in a tank?

Now there's a debate that indoor cats are overweight and clinically depressed. I remember when I brought the aforesaid IBD cat from the 'burbs to Manhattan years ago. She spent most of her indoor life asleep, curled in a ball with her paws over her eyes. I would look at her and think of the dormouse in the A.A. Milne poem who agrees to swap his home of red geranimums and blue delphiniums for chrysanthemums yellow and white, and forever after covers his eyes and dreams he is back "admiring the view of geraniums red and delphiniums blue." Ah, I'd think guiltily, she's dreaming she's in the backyard again instead of stuck in this apartment.

We're supposed to keep cats indoors but provide them with stimulating activities, kind of like kitty day care. Can you say anthropomorphism? Anyone who has ever walked a dog could hardly miss that we are not dealing with a human mentality here. The purpose of a walk, according to the dog, is to sniff for other dogs' urine and add your own scent to the melee. To a dog, this is far more enjoyable than doggie toys and sweaters. Likewise, cat activities like sniffing the breeze for interesting scents, drinking out of rain puddles, and, yes, killing critters, can hardly be duplicated indoors (most people don’t rely on cats for even indoor vermin control) or appreciated by humans.

Misty explores a flower pot

I have a dream. The dream is that I will go to the homes of indoor cats and set them free. Free at last! Out come the cats, no longer confined to staring out the window. Free to frolic in the sunshine, smell the flowers, swat at butterflies, slay a cicada. Free to discover that despite the cars and nasty outdoor cats, there are a lot of lovely things in the world to discover rather than leading this shadow life. As Antoine de Saint Exupery's Rose told the Little Prince, one must get acquainted with a few wasps if you expect to know the butterflies.

—Ela Schwartz


(Note: This article is "skewered" in "Who Let the Carts Out?")








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