Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Cats Should Live Indoors

I was dozing on the couch after the kids left for school this morning, when our doorbell rang.  It was our next door neighbor's son, who had come out to catch his bus and discovered their beautiful tuxedo cat, Skittles, lying in the street.  Mom was out of town and Dad was at work, so he came running over to see if we could help.

Justin hurried over and got him out of the street and onto the grass so that a car wouldn't get him.  It looked like one of his back legs was possibly broken.  Either that or he had been in a fight.  I frantically called our in-home vet and woke her up, while Justin got Skittles as comfortable as possible in our garage and tried to get in touch with Skittles' dad.  Unfortunately, our vet wasn't available to come right away, so we then desperately went wracking our brains for who their vet was and, oh, by the way, what the heck is their last name????

Justin drove the son to school, the son madly texting Dad to call the Newtons immediately, Skittles is hurt!  In the meantime, we tried to remember who their vet was.  Fortunately, Justin has a great memory and recalled it's the one right down the street.  (No, we can't remember their last name, but we apparently can remember who takes care of their animals.)  I called over and sure enough, they had a client by Dad's first name with a cat named Skittles and a dog named Jeter.  I trundled my half-awake self into the shower, had Justin carefully place this precious cargo into our cat carrier, ran him over to the vet, and gave authorization for an exam and a pain shot until we could find Dad and get him and the animal hospital in direct contact.

Which brings me to my point.  Domesticated cats belong indoors.  We have two of these critters.  One is a very ladylike, prissy, shy little girl named Kylie, gray and white and cute as a button.  Then there's Max, our twenty pound Garfield look alike, with tiny head and feet and a body that looks like a pumpkin.  Picture a big orange ball of fur with feet.  Max loves everybody, including our fifty pound golden retriever puppy, who towers over him and follows him around like a guard dog.

With a dog, you know it's going to to outside.  But you're either going to let it out into a fenced backyard or take it for a walk on a leash.  With cats, some people seem to think that it's okay to have an "indoor/outdoor" attitude.  If I forget my manners and ask people if their cat goes outside and they say "yes," I wince inside.

When I was six, I got my first kitten.  She was a beautiful little black and orange calico who I named, in all of my elementary school creativity, "Middy."  Middy used to be an indoor/outdoor cat and Middy liked to hunt.  She would bring my mother various offerings, such as mice, birds, and snakes, coming to the sliding glass door of our home in Minneapolis, and looking up with the bloody thing in her mouth as if to say, "Look what I brought you!"  My mom would wait until she would drop it and open the door.  Middy would pick up the mess and Mom would close the door.  Middy would drop it and Mom would open the door...well, you get the idea.  She thought she was doing us a favor.  Mom was completely grossed out.

We moved to upstate New York when I was ten and we transplanted Middy with us because, of course, the pets go with you when you move.  Middy remained an indoor/outdoor cat at our new house, which was backed by swamps, forest, and, being upstate New York, hunters.  I assume that she continued to bring my mom offerings, as the pickings must have been good.

One morning, Middy didn't come home.  I can't really remember this, but my mom told me she came limping in a couple of days later and there was something seriously wrong with her.  They took her to the vet and were told that either (1) she had been hit in the eye by a bb gun or (2) someone had kicked her in the head.  She actually had brain damage to the point where she couldn't figure out where she was and she could no longer see out of one eye.  She drooled when she slept.  She became an indoor cat after that and, after we moved to Virginia and she started missing the litter box, my parents, sadly, had her put down.  She was only six years old.

My next cat came in the form of a beautiful black and white, tuxedoed little girl named, after the spider in the children's story, Charlotte.  That cat was my companion through high school, a couple of stints at different colleges (while she remained with my ever-patient mother), three engagements, my eventual marriage, and my first pregnancy.  When she was thirteen, she couldn't stop throwing up and the vet theorized that she had stomach cancer.  She was so thin and pitiful and finally, when I couldn't stand to see her in pain anymore, I had Justin and my dad take her to the vet and put her down.  It was agonizing and I still cry, but that cat lived to be thirteen years old because she was an indoor cat.  I'm convinced.

Since my kids came along, we've had various cats and dogs.  The dogs usually didn't last, simply because I wasn't sure what to do with them.  Justin grew up with collies and loves animals and he was okay with my cat loving ways.  After Charlotte died, we ended up adopting Tigger from a rescue and she lived with us for several years, contentedly inside, contentedly healthy, and died of old age at thirteen.  Not bad for a cat.  We have finally settled on our two disparate cats, Kylie and Max, along with the recent new addition to the family, a golden retriever puppy named Jackson.  The dog is obviously an indoor/outdoor thing and we're working at figuring each other out, but my cats remain firmly inside.  Our neighborhood is overrun with people who drive too fast and feral cats who don't have homes.

We were awakened one Saturday morning recently to Jackson's frantic barking around 6:00 a.m.  When Justin came down to investigate, one of the cats owned by the neighbor across the street was in the fight of its life with one of the feral cats that the neighbor had attracted with the food she left out in the garage.  I don't know what that cat's fate was and I don't know if our neighbor finally figured out that indoors was a better place for these gentle souls.  I hope so. 

Whenever I take one of my cats to the vet, I am invariably asked, is your cat an indoor cat and I (probably too proudly) say, "Yes, of course."  The vets always tell me its better for them to live inside, with maybe an occasional foray onto a screened-in porch or an attended visit to the backyard.

I know that cats were originally hunters.  They lived in the wild, were fast and ferocious, and they raised their young outdoors.  But these little domesticated sweeties we live with today are faced with predators that their ancestors just didn't have to worry about.  The den of hungry, feral cats we can't catch for rescue, who are not fixed, and who haven't been vaccinated.  Idiots speeding down the 25 mph residential street at 45 mph.  People who will actually steal animals in the hope of making a profit.  Kids who will eventually become serial killers, but start off with the local pets they can catch.  Okay, maybe I'm over-reaching with that one, but still.  Jamie recently saw one of the wild neighborhood cats crawl into the inside of Ben's car engine.  Luckily, Ben wasn't going anywhere and the cat eventually left, but if Ben hadn't known it was there and started the car, that would have been the end of the cat.

I've heard that your life can change in an instant.  For our next door neighbor's son, that moment might have been this morning.  I'm sure he'll never forget coming out to go to school and seeing his beloved pet lying in the middle of the road, hurt and afraid.  Hopefully, Skittles will recover and now be an indoor cat.  Unfortunately, our neighbors are now facing vet bills they never would have had if they hadn't let the cat out last night and their cat is now lying, in pain, at the vet's office wondering what the hell happened.

If you love your kitties, please don't let them go outside unattended.  Bad things can happen to them.  I'm hoping Skittles is okay.


  1. I was trading this and wanted to comment. While I agree that cars should be kept inside I will also state that my cat goes outside. Its not because we opened the door one day and said go. Its because I got him from the humane society when he was 5. He would run out with the dogs and if you tried to catch him he would run away. So I gave up trying to catch him. While I dont necessarily like the fact he goes out, I appreciate the fact that I saved his life and if he's doing what makes him happy then so be it. What the bigger concern is are feral cats and over population. There are people who don't spay and neuter their pets and when they no longer want them they dump them on the side of the road. Or people who have pets that can't afford them. There's no such thing as a free animal. They all need routine care and emergencies can happen. I also see way too many people have their dogs off leash. Yes we know they are going to go outside but they should be on a leash if there's no fence. They too get hit by cars. We actually have someone in or neighborhood that has a wolf hybrid and everyday we see him walking the dog off leash. anything can happen!

  2. Heather, I totally agree. And sometimes the cats do get out by accident. Unfortunately, we have a lot of feral cats in the neighborhood who haven't been fed, vaccinated, fixed, or loved. It's horrible and our neighbor across the street leaves food out, which attracts them. I think it's a misguided kindness, because they then terrorize the indoor kitties that are being loved. And we also have way too many people driving fast around here, which makes for a very dangerous situation.


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