O.B is my little orange cat. Whenever I go outside to work in the garden he stands up on his hind legs, stretches his front legs up as high as he can, and mouths a pitiful meow that clearly says "Please, please, please can I go outside too? All the other neighborhood cats get to come to our yard, drink out of the pond, chase the birds, and relieve themselves in the strawberry bed." Yet like the evil mom of a teenager who can’t understand why he can’t party all night with his friends, I say no every time.
I have absolutely no doubt that O.B. would love romping around outside, and that the mental and physical stimulation would be beneficial for him. I would also secretly enjoy not having to clean out the litterbox as much if he could be persuaded to go to a neighbor’s house to do his business over there. But still I say no.
The first reason is that cats are not the only visitors to my yard. I frequently see foxes and occasionally even coyotes swing past the house. I know that no city fox is going to turn up a filling meal of a slow, not-so-bright orange housecat if given the opportunity. Of the regular feline visitors to my yard there are a few crusty old toms that are probably too stringy to eat. The rest come through for a few months and then they just disappear. Finding the decapitated and partially eaten body of a nice black cat that I had been talking with for months reinforced my determination not to feed my beloved pet to the foxes. Any bloodthirsty impulse to kill all the foxes to make pets safe would result in a waste of life and time. Killing one fox only opens up its prime real estate for the never ending supply of other foxes to move in.
On the way to work I saw a cat in the middle of the road that had been hit by a car, sparkly pink collar still twinkling in the sunlight. I hoped that at least she had died instantly. I wondered if her owners told themselves the two fables I often hear about why it is safe to let their pets wander. "She doesn’t go very far, in fact she probably doesn‘t even leave the yard", and "My cat/dog knows to watch out for traffic before crossing the street". The fact of the matter is that unless you are visually supervising your cat the entire time she is outside you actually have no idea how far she is going, and no animal, no matter how extra-specially smart you think yours is, understands the concept of watching for traffic.
After arriving at work my first case was a lovely calico cat who got the short end of the stick in a fight with the neighborhood stray. She is probably going to loose the eye that got punctured by a tooth in the tussle, but fortunately for her, after a few weeks of serious misery, she will escape this encounter with her life. I got to thinking about how most non-wellness related reasons I see cats in the clinic are directly related to going outside. All the bite wound abscesses, feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus infections, accidental pregnancy resulting in caeserian sections, and nearly all the major trauma would be completely avoided if the cats didn’t go outside. In spite of the business implications for me, I still encourage you to do your best to reduce your contribution to our clinic’s financial success by keeping your cats inside.
"But you don’t understand, I just can’t keep him inside" is the common refrain I hear from owners. Actually, I do understand. After all I am a cat owner too, and I have been subjected to the same relentless, unbearably aggravating bombardment that a determined cat will employ to get what he wants. If you make the choice to let your cat go outside in spite of the hazards then you need to keep a few more things in mind.
Cats need their claws to be able to climb a tree or a fence to get to safety when being chased by something that wants to eat them. Taking away their only chance to escape danger by having them declawed and then sending them outside is sadistically unfair.
Rescue groups are up to their eyeballs in cats that need homes. If your cats are not spayed or neutered they should not be out roaming around filling the Humane society with unwanted litters that have to be euthanized because there are no homes available for them. Of course unaltered cats are the ones that are particularly obnoxious about going outside, but the solution to the midnight yowling is to get them spayed or neutered, not to boot them outside.
As for me, when the neighborhood fox comes to the back door and gazes inside with the look of "please, please, please can’t your little orange cat come out and play?" I put on the mean mom hat and still say no.