I’ve been thinking about indoor cats vs. outdoor cats recently. Earlier this year, we joined the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP); through them we learned of the Indoor Pet Initiative, the proponents of which contend that pets are better off both mentally and physically if they are kept indoors.
I can’t argue that cats aren’t physically safer if they are kept indoors, but I have to wonder about the mental health issue.
We have an outdoor cat, an orange tabby, named Louie. He is the sweetest, friendliest cat in the world – he loves to be held and belly-rubbed, and he hangs around the bus stop by our house to socialize with people waiting for the bus. We would love to have him in the house, curled up in our laps or on the couch, but he absolutely refuses to set foot inside.
Louie was our first cat, but we have always had dogs. Many years ago, when we first bought our house, we had a beagle named Cuddles who was getting on in years, and needed to go to the backyard frequently. When we moved in we had a dog door installed in the back wall, so she could go in and out as she pleased. When Louie came along, he spent most of his time inside, but because of the dog door, he was always able to go outside. As time went on he spent more and more time prowling the neighborhood. He never minded any of our dogs, including Heidi the rambunctious terrier, or Bufi the jumbo poodle. That all changed when Haskell moved in.
Haskell is a sweet dog; a Pinscher mix who looks just like a rare German Pinscher. She is highly energetic, and was an escape artist in her early years (it sometimes took me hours to catch her.) She also has very big ears and a intense predator’s stare – it reminds me of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. When she focuses those ears, eyes, and nose on you, you KNOW you are being watched. And Louie did not like that one bit.
When I first let Haskell out of her crate, she immediately chased Louie outside, and he did not come back for three days. We thought the worst had happened, but he eventually returned to eat. We brought him in and tried to acclimate him to Haskell, but it never worked; he would always get out as quickly as he could. There was one memorable incident in which Louie’s back feet gouged my belly as he leapt from my lap; he then managed to bounce off three walls without touching the floor before disappearing out the dog door. At that point, we said “enough.”
Now Louie spends his time outside, we know not where. He is usually waiting for his breakfast on the front porch when I get up, or he will come soon after I call. (Sometimes his buddy Sam, another orange tabby, shows up first, and I always imagine him saying “Hello, Father, I am Louie!” in a Peter Lorre voice.) If he has to cross the street, Louie actually looks both ways, and will wait for cars. He is healthy and happy.
There are definitely some environments in which cats should not be allowed to roam – near busy roads, for example. And there are obviously some cats that prefer to stay inside, or have to for health reasons. But I know that Louie would never be happy if he were kept indoors, even if Haskell hadn’t joined our family.
So if you have an outdoor cat – fear not, we will not judge you. Outdoor cats need healthcare (and love!) just as all cats do – probably more so given the risks they face. And if you have an indoor cat, check the Indoor Pet Initiative website mentioned above for help with creating a stimulating indoor environment for your cat.