The Indoor-Only Cat

A Late-Night Heart Attack
Last night, my worst nightmare (almost) came true.

I arrived home in the dark, and walked toward the stairs of my building and saw a cat run away. Thinking it was the semi-feral cat that lives in the neighborhood, I whispered sorry for scaring it and continued. The cat ran up the stairs. And then as I got closer, I saw that it was Smirnoff.

Then Bacardi appeared.

The door to my apartment was open, it was dark inside, and my first thought was, “How did my cats end up outside!?” (I didn’t care if everything inside had been stolen.) And then, “Thank goodness they’re here!”

My neighbor had her front and back doors open, to let in the cool night air, and the alcohol cats ran inside. Bacardi started rolling on her floor, and Smirnoff darted into another room. My neighbor said that they had been in and out for a while, always coming back, and that they were nice, wonderful cats. She was an older lady, who seemed to have assumed they had been let out on purpose.

My heart was racing as I scooped up Bacardi, closed him back inside my own apartment, and circled the building to collect Smirnoff, who had taken another lap around the building.

I thanked my neighbor for keeping an eye on them, and went inside. Bacardi sat there as if nothing had happened. Smirnoff was laying on the floor panting, clearly stressed out from the ordeal.

Clearly, no one had broken in.

I called my roommate in a panic, and discovered that while the door had been shut and locked when she left, it somehow hadn’t closed properly, and found itself temptingly open. We quickly agreed to bolt the door from now on.

I sank into a chair, trying to process what had just happened. That my cats had been outside for up to 2.5 hours, running around a building that they’ve lived in for barely a month, that is next to a busy road, and by some miracle, they hadn’t gotten lost or run over. They were safe with me once more.

I can’t even imagine what would have happened if either of them had been missing or dead.

I can’t imagine what I would do if anything bad had happen to my cats.

“Cats Belong Outside”
Indoor-only cats is a somewhat controversial topic. There are people who vehemently believe that denying cats access to the outdoors is cruel. That cats are less domesticated than, say, dogs—and even dogs get to spend time outdoors.

However, there are many, many dangers to cats living outside, particularly as neighborhoods become more developed. Here are a few:

  • being run over by a car
  • getting lost and never returning home
  • contracting disease, including rabies, FeLV, and FIV
  • being injured or killed by predators, such as coyotes and outside dogs
  • ingesting toxic plants and chemicals
  • being found and brought to a shelter and potentially being euthanized (if un-microchipped)
  • being abused by people (being burnt or shot at or worse)
  • being stolen*

*This might seem far-fetched, but it isn’t. For an on-going Boston-based story of a cat being stolen, see Bring Lucy Home.

On the other side, there are some risks of cats living indoors:

  • obesity
  • boredom
  • developing behavioral issues (such as excessive scratching, vocalization, etc.)

But while the outdoor dangers can’t be controlled, the indoor ones can. As long as owners provide the proper environment for their cat, an indoor-only lifestyle can be just as satisfying as an outdoor one.

It’s All About the Cat Mojo
Cat TreeAccording to Jackson Galaxy, the daily life of a cat consists of hunting, killing, eating, grooming, and sleeping, in a fairly continuous cycle. An indoor cat needs to be provided those things in order to be a happy, content animal. This includes playing with your cat multiple times a day, enriching its environment so that it has things to climb and scratch, and providing an appropriate (and portioned) diet. If you can’t provide those things to a cat, then maybe you shouldn’t own one.

In my new apartment, after furnishing myself a bed and a small bookcase, the very next item purchased was a cat tree. It gives Smirnoff & Bacardi vertical space (which most cats need), has built-in scratching posts, and allows them to watch the world outside the window*.

*A lot of cat owners make the mistake of putting a cat tree in a corner of the room, and then wonder why their cats stop using it. It needs to be in a significant spot, either by a window, or close to the middle of a room. Wall corners just aren’t that interesting.

And you can bet that once I’ve paid next month’s rent and bills, the next thing I buy will also be cat-related. I want to create a cat superhighway. And one day, once I have a house and a yard, you can be sure I’m building a catio.

It’s Not Black & White (Unless It’s A Tuxedo)
This isn’t to say that I condemn every single person who lets their cat outside. The indoor-only cat movement is still fairly new. And it’s also cultural. In England, for instance, almost everyone lets their cats outdoors. (I’ve had this debate with my British uncle, who’s had several cats get run-over by cars, and let’s just say we disagree.)

But I caution anyone who’s even thinking of letting their cat out to consider the consequences. And to also think about the individual cat’s needs*, as well as your home environment, inside and out.

*I’ll admit that there have been one or two cases I’ve come across at the shelter where an individual cat really does need the stimulation of the outdoors in order to function “normally”. But that is a very rare occurrence.

Bacardi Home AgainI firmly believe, though, that an urban setting just isn’t right for cats. Smirnoff, had he been spooked enough last night, could have ended up as road kill—and I would never have forgiven myself.

I do believe that owners should have some faith and trust in their animals (and not hover over them), but I also believe that owners should value their pets’ lives just as they would a person’s. They should be both happy AND safe.

I’m glad I have my cats here with me once again.


7 Replies to “The Indoor-Only Cat”

  1. You must have been frantic when you found your door open! Thankfully the cats didn’t take off for parts unknown and stayed around the building. I would be out of my mind if I came home and discovered our cats were gone! Especially the female who cannot defend herself because the demon former owners had her tendons cut! (I think that’s a form of animal cruelty! I harbor dark thoughts about them whenever I think of our poor kitty. We have to cut her nails every month or they grow right into her pads and cause an infection. This is how we found out that her tendons were cut.)
    Anyway, glad things are back to normal now that you discovered the real reason the door was open and not that someone broke in.

  2. That would be my nightmare coming true! I live in an appartement block and next to a busy street with a firestation at the corner and a busline running in front of my house and some supermarkets and a DIY-market just round the corner – a lot of traffic! I would never ever have seen my cats alive, if that had happened to my cats!

  3. A few months ago, one of out cats Squeaky accidentally got locked out of our apartment for a few minutes. My girlfriend left to go to work, and somehow the door didn’t close all the way, remaining open a few inches. A couple of minutes later I noticed it and shut the door. I really should have been more careful, looked around the hallway first. Because about five minutes later I started to hear Squeaky meowing really sadly & loudly. And then I realized with horror that it was coming from outside of the apartment from the hallway. I yanked open the door and Squeaky zipped in as fast as possible, her tail totally fluffed up in panic & alarm. She spent the next hour hiding under the bed. I felt so guilty. It seems that Squeaky had started to follow Michele out the door, but once it got closed behind her she went into total panic mode. I honestly believe that Squeaky really doesn’t want to leave the apartment. She seems perfectly content here. I’m just grateful that nothing happened to her, that she didn’t end up getting lost out on the streets.

  4. Years ago I rented an apartment near Comm Ave in Brighton, MA, in an owner-occupied multi-family house. I had my cat, Beans, living there with me, plus a roommate. At one point we noticed that Beans started to meow and scratch at the door, something he’d never done before. We just chalked it up to cats being cats. He had been a stray for years and I figured he was just wanting to get back out there to rummage around in yard or whatever. A few weeks passed and one day I ran into the somewhat elderly man who was our landlord. We got to chatting about this and that and he casually mentioned how my cat loved being outside. What do you mean? I asked. He then told me how he often let Beans outside during the day when he came in to do maintenance on the apartment. !!!!! I could hardly decide how to react. I was simultaneously horrified and relieved that nothing had happened to my dear kitty. Turns out the man was frequently letting himself into our apartment without permission, which is highly illegal, never mind the cat issue. We got ourselves out of there very quickly. And I was so lucky that nothing happened to my cat! What a creep that guy was!

  5. I bet it was so horrible coming home to that. I would have been terrified. I am glad you got them back though 🙂

    All of our cats are indoor cats, we have a train line at the bottom of our garden so it is a definite no go letting them out. We have a harness and lead for them to go out for a jaunt one at a time. My aunt has built an outdoor enclosure for her cats to have supervised ‘outdoorsey time’. I can understand the it’s trapping the animal view point but on the lines of safety and welfare. I am happy to make the house a huge climbing frame and have the odd litter tray dotted about.

    Our half blind white cat escaped once, she had spent a week outside and alone. We called the local charity and they helped and put one of them pressure plate traps down for her. It bloody worked within 30 minutes. Needless to say we check the door more often now, x

  6. I totally agree with you. I have three indoor cats and two cats who have regular access to the outside. We used to always let our cats out until one got killed on the road, and we live in the middle of the countryside. They are all extremely content and the two outdoor ones now prefer to stay inside in their ageing years. We are planning a catio this year so we will have to see how it goes.

    Glad your two were found safe and well x

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