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:
- 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
According 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.
I 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.