“No, Bella. Cats belong indoors.”
I say that almost every time I open the door to my apartment. Fortunately, my door only leads to a hallway, so even if she did manage to sneak out, she wouldn’t get very far.
But there’s another person in my building who lets his cat go outside all day while he’s away at work. His reasoning: She poops outside the litter box when he’s not there to supervise her.
In my world, that’s nowhere near enough reason to keep a cat outside for at least nine hours a day, especially considering that she’s a black cat and we live on a very busy street.
When I didn’t see that cat for a couple of weeks, I was worried. I was pretty sure things had ended badly for her, especially because the last time I’d seen her, she was walking kind of stiffly, and I was concerned that she was developing arthritis or she’d had a close call with a car. Fortunately, I saw her again, and she was safe and healthy. For now.
I’ve seen enough tragic outcomes in my own family to know it’s just not a smart idea to let cats go outside.
There was Pollux, the twin of my first black cat, Castor, whose dead body greeted me as I went outside one late fall morning to catch the school bus. He’d managed to crawl up our 200-foot driveway to just a few feet from the door before he died. I held back tears as I waited for the bus.
Then there was Castor himself: A big stud of a cat, he often came back with battle wounds that needed to be cleaned. The day I was petting him and a huge abscess ruptured all over my hand will be engraved indelibly on my memory. All that fighting got him infected with the feline immunodeficiency virus, and the end of his life was miserable, with one infection after another until he finally got so sick he couldn’t move, even to relieve himself.
I was furious with my mother for letting Castor suffer for so long and heartbroken at the pain in his eyes. Her excuse was that she wanted to wait until I got home from college so I could say my goodbyes. I swallowed my curse-word-laced retort to her statement and made the euthanasia appointment myself, still fuming.
And then there was Donegal Finagle, a ridiculously handsome and huge half-Siamese loverboy who my brother and I found dead on the road as we were driving into town one afternoon.
And who knows what happened to the other cats we had during my childhood who just disappeared? Were they hit by cars or eaten by wildlife? I’ll never know, but I can guess that their ends weren’t pretty.
With all that history, I vowed to keep my cats indoors, and I did so for 10 years of my adult life, until I moved back to the family homestead. There, I lived in a tiny apartment carved out of a barn, and there was just not enough territory for three cats to feel comfortable in that space. I decided I’d let the cats go outside once they got their bearings in our new-to-them home. Thomas got into a couple of fights with the barn cats, but he didn’t come home nearly as beat up as our cats did back in my teenage years.
The worst thing that happened as a result of my letting the cats out was the disappearance of my beloved feline soulmate, Sinéad O’Kitty. I usually kept the cats in at night because that was when the most dangerous critters were on the prowl, but one night she snuck out between my legs. That night the coyotes were singing in the woods just beyond the boundaries of our property.
I don’t know what happened to Sinéad, but I never saw her after that night. I did find some skidding cat footprints, along with some much bigger footprints, on a muddy river bank in the direction of the coyotes’ howls, though.
I still feel guilty sometimes about letting Sinéad go out. If I hadn’t, she may have been a part of my life until she was as old as Siouxsie, instead of being missing and presumed dead at age 10.
One thing is absolutely certain: My cats are not going outside again, unless they’re on a leash or in a protected area like a “catio” or a backyard with special fencing to keep cats indoors. I refuse to put their lives at risk by letting them come and go as they please. Not everybody is careful and not everybody is kind, and I refuse to expose my cats to unnecessary risks. It’s quite possible — and even easy — to keep cats entertained indoors by providing multi-level territory and opportunities for solo and interactive play.
What about you? Do you keep your cats indoors, or do you let them go out? Do you have a catio or some other means to keep your cats confined if they go outside? How do they like it? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Read more on on the great indoor-outdoor debate:
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline authors, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.