I have always lived with cats.
Where I grew up, in rural North Devon, we had several ‘outdoor’ cats, who never came inside the house, and had the barns and the old hayloft for warmth and shelter, plus Susie, Mum’s pedigree Persian, who lived indoors, but pretty much came and went as she pleased (she was often to be found sleeping in a flower bed not far from the back door). Even though I considered myself more of a dog person, I could never imagine not having cats, and assumed that, at some point in the future, I would have cats who came and went just like Susie did.
When I found Sam, my life was plunged into a state of crisis. I had to move out of the shared house where I rented a room, and find somewhere else to live – fast. I ended up living in West London, not far from the A4, which is one of the main traffic routes from the west. Then I moved to Devon, and lived right by another main road, then moved into the middle of town, and … well, by this time, it was clear that Sam, and my second cat, Milly, were going to be indoor cats. They were nearly 4 years old by the time I moved to a house with a garden, in a quieter area, Sam was already happy to wear a harness and lead, and spend time in the garden with me, and Milly had shown no interest in the outside world at all.
When you have a cat from a kitten, it’s pretty easy to keep them permanently indoors. They’ve never explored the outside world, so they don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything. In fact, my ex often said Sam’s only reason for wanting to go outside was because he got my undivided attention, and she may well have been right. Older cats, who have been used to roaming, are more difficult, but it can be done. Three of mine were adult strays before I took them in. Zack was the most difficult. He had spent all his adult life fighting and mating, and it was only once he’d been neutered and his hormone levels started to drop that he gradually lost interest in going to his old haunts. He started spending less and less time outside, until eventually, he stopped asking to go at all.
A few days ago, I shared the graphic below on FaceBook.
One of my friends posted an interesting comment. (Actually, she made a few comments about her experiences of indoor vs. outdoor cats, but it was this one that got me thinking.)
If you gave the choice to a human, perpetual house-arrest or risking all of this, most wouldn’t take the house-arrest. Does the Golden Rule apply here?
My first instinct was to roll my eyes. It was over 15 years ago that I made the decision to have indoor cats, and I’ve never doubted it. My first responsibility as a pet owner is to keep my cats and dogs safe. In the case of the dogs that means keeping the fences secure. In the case of the cats, it means keeping them indoors or providing them with a safe outdoor enclosure. (They did actually have a catio at one house, but I was forced to move out, so I want to make sure I’ll be able to stay here in the long term before I spend several hundred euros on building another one.)
Anyway, the indoor life was the perfect choice for Sam and Milly. She wasn’t interested in outside, and he was only interested if someone went with him. With the cats I have now, it’s been more of a difficult decision, and I have tried to find a house where they could go outside safely, but with roads, and hunters, and people putting poison out, the risks are really too high.
But the question of freedom vs. house arrest for a human was a valid one, and I thought about it a lot … until I realised I was missing the obvious. Aside from a few trips to Bricomart to buy materials for cat enclosures, which were out of necessity rather than choice, I’ve barely left the town where I live in the last two years. If it weren’t for having to do inconvenient things like shopping, I doubt I’d leave my garden very often. So it isn’t exactly house arrest, but I’m about ten times the size (weight) of one of my cats, so it’s reasonable to assume I’d need a bit more space!
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have cats who are allowed outside, and they’re very careful to point out that their cats never leave their garden. “They’re not in any danger because they don’t go anywhere.” And these are people with much smaller gardens than I have. Most of the gardens are smaller than the interior of my house. Neutered cats aren’t bothered about having a large territory. As long as they have everything they need – food, warmth, comfort and entertainment – they’re happy.
One lovely thing about Spain is how you can open your house to the outside world for most of the year because the weather’s so warm and sunny, so it isn’t like being ‘cooped up’ inside. My windows haven’t been closed since about the end of May, and one of them isn’t even there because I took it off its hinges. I’ll have to start closing them at night soon, but it’s rare for a day to pass when I never open a window at all. And cats know where they’re well off. On colder days, if the windows are open in the living room, they’ll go and sleep in the bedroom where it’s warm!
There will probably always be debate about whether cats should be allowed to roam, and I will always answer, “No.” Cats aren’t like humans. We have to learn to cope in the outside world. We know to be careful of busy roads, we know not to eat things we find on the ground, and even Spanish hunters know they’ll spend a long time behind bars if they start taking pot shots at us. But the world we’ve created isn’t safe for cats.
I’ll finish with a statistic. The average lifespan of indoor cats is 16 years. The average lifespan of cats that go outside is just 3 years.
My cats are safe cats.