Indoor versus Indoor/Outdoor

Savannah Cat
Brewsky wasn’t our first cat. Miss Kitty was. Our initial home—in 1971—was an 8’ x 30’ trailer, and when we moved in, Peggy noticed a wet, miserable, and half-starved kitten near the door. We kept her for a few years until we found it inconvenient, after which we dumped her on my parents, who never objected to having one more dog or cat. Although my mother complained about the mud tracked in by my sister’s Cocker Spaniels (ugly dogs, I thought), she lured them with treats while my father—for whom mud wasn’t a problem—fed them from the table. Both of my parents were of the opinion that if a dog or cat asked for food, you fed him, and this made for some fat Cocker Spaniels.

Unlike our current indoor cats, Miss Kitty came and went at leisure. She liked to sleep in the road despite people honking at her, and she liked to climb trees from which she couldn’t get down. One day, I left her in a tree in the firm belief that she would eventually find her way down. She didn’t, so after two days of rain, I went and got her. Another time, she almost fell from our two story window because she didn’t realize that the screen was off (she did a midair u-turn and came back in). In Miss Kitty’s most infamous incident, my sister ran over her own cat—who she didn’t see—in order to avoid Miss Kitty, who was asleep in the driveway. Miss Kitty spent a lot of time hanging out in my parents’ country store and lived to a ripe old age. Because she was prone to bite, she seemed more like a co-inhabitant than pet.

Miss Kitty represented what I don’t want in a cat. If I’m going to feed an animal, pay its vet bills, empty its litter and so forth, I expect a greater reward than its mere existence. But that’s the difference between my parents and me. They didn’t cozy up to animals, but they liked having them around with the understanding that if the animal got sick or hurt, it was on its own. I would guess that our three cats are going to run us upwards of a thousand dollars a year (a sixteen pound bag of their vet-prescribed food runs $84), and that’s if nothing goes too wrong. My father would have hit an animal over the head with a galvanized pipe—I saw him do it—before he would have shelled out that kind of money, and he would have called me a fool (I can just hear him) if he knew I did. But then I draw little distinction between the inherent rights of “animals” versus those of people. Our belief in our human superiority rests upon our fantasy of being “made in God’s image,” but if we were made in the image of a deity, shouldn
’t we be prettier, that is unless God too is a naked and homely biped with comical genitals?

I’ve had one extraordinarily beautiful dog who I named Bonnie, but all cats (except for a few of the pedigrees) are so pretty that it’s hard to choose, although I think Scully might head the list. I hold her to my face so I can revel in her beauty, but when I reflect upon the homely countenance that I present to her, my shame is only mitigated by my observation that cats don’t appear to appreciate visual beauty.

I am ever challenged by trying to put aside my worldview in order to understand that of my cats. I have purchased entire books (the cat section of my library now contains 31 books) about how cats see the world, but, sad to say, they were all written by humans. People—men mostly—who hate cats imagine that cats disrespect them (like Donald Trump*, they’re very sensitive that way), but we cat lovers are also reduced to projecting our human interpretations onto our cats.

I have a friend, Carl, who believes that cats have an inalienable right to come and go as they please, and that I abuse my cats by keeping them indoors. His is a necessary belief for one whom considers it beneath his masculine dignity to empty a litter box (he won’t pick up after dogs either). In trying to understand Carl
’s position, I must admit that James Bond and Indiana Jones wouldn’t haven’t emptied a litter box either. I haven’t seen all of their movies, so maybe one of them did eventually get himself a catan unneutered leopard probably (real men grab their balls in the presence of neutered pets). To sidestep the litter issue, I suppose Jimmy or Indy might have put a cork up the leopard’s ass while distracting him with caviar (cats are said to LOVE caviar, not that I’ll ever know).

The difference between Carl and me is based upon his belief that cats should live natural lives (i.e. make their own decisions—though he draws the line where sex is concerned) versus my belief that cats, like children, need to be protected from risks that are numerous, common, and deadly. Surely, the greatest boon of an indoor/outdoor cat is that it saves its people money and trouble, but I should think that such savings would be greatly outweighed by the cost, trouble, and heartache of injuries, poisonings, parasites, communicable diseases, reduced life expectancy, and wildlife destruction.

The last thing I want to see some morning is what another friend who didn’t want to be bothered with kitty litter saw—her eight-month-old kitten crushed to death with its intestines strewn beside its corpse. As for Carl, who claims that I abuse my cats by keeping them indoors, he has had two cats since I’ve known him. One simply disappeared, and the other came home with a broken leg, and he had her euthanized. Despite both of his cats coming to bad ends, and any future cats that he gets having similar odds of an early demise, Carl still manages to regard my values as “abusive.” 

I’ve heard some such people claim that when their cats were killed, it was a case of survival of the fittest, despite the fact that evolution has done nothing to prepare cats for the hazards of cars and pesticides. The callousness that underlies people’s willingness to allow their cats to be daily exposed to the risk of a gruesome death is beyond my comprehension, yet those who do it seem cheerful enough. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to them that caring people protect the object of their love to the extent that the object of their love is unable to protect itself.

Then again, maybe they think too highly of God to believe that he will allow bad things to happen to good cats, so they are leaving their pet’s protection in the loving hands of the Almighty. As deeply touching as religious faith is—especially when it makes no sense and is backed by no evidence—might not it be just a little shaken if the “cat lover” had a $20,000 Savannah instead of a bony old arthritic tabby that passed its prime ten years ago? Or what if his aunt had left her cat a million dollars a year to be paid to the nephew for the lifetime of the stump-legged Munchkin? Would these fans of cat liberation still say, “Mere money means nothing compared to my cat’s right to self-determination.”

It is always possible to find stories of outdoor cats that lived to a ripe old age, but you will surely agree that an argument based upon a statistical anomaly is a weak argument. Given the risks involved, shouldn’t those who allow their cats to come and go at least learn all they can about the risks, and do everything possible to mitigate them? Such people could, for instance, keep their cats immunized; have them collared and microchipped; know the location of a 24-hour vet clinic; build a cat-proof fence; live far from busy streets; check their driveway for radiator leaks (a tsp can be fatal); avoid using noxious chemicals in their yards (cats can be poisoned from licking insecticide from their fur); keep their cats indoors when people are commuting or walking their dogs; and so on. I’ve never known anyone who let their cats out who took such measures to protect their cats, or who seemed concerned about their cats shitting in their neighbor’s gardens, killing the songbirds that their neighbors were feeding, decimating the food sources of the wild predator population, or otherwise acting like responsible adults in regard to either their cats or their neighbors. 


Cats, cats, and more cats

Brewsky is the tabby, Ollie is gray, and Scully is the kitten

I’m up for the day, sitting here writing while listening to Ollie and Scully wrestle within the folds of the shower curtainthe bathroom is but one wall away. Ollie always liked the tub and, when he was a kitten, enjoyed watching people shower. He never joined in, but he didn’t mind getting splashed a little.

Kittens tend to be more vocal and have a wider range of sounds than grown cats, so I keep hearing Scully miaowing in a way that sounds more like a dove than a cat. Cats being creatures of routine, Brewsky is no doubt in the living room looking out the window. If I’m lucky, either he or Ollie will soon come and sleep in the chair beside me and into which I put one of my bed pillows every morning. Cats appreciate luxury every bit as much as humans do, so they bond with those humans who provide it. This works well for me because I’m just naturally attentive to the needs of others.

My cats know I love them, and I trust that they love me. It’s hardly like the love of a dog because cats are more subtle, which means that when they do give of themselves, it’s easy for their humans to be unaware of the gift. For instance, I’ll be sitting here writing and will suddenly realize that one of the cats had come into the room and asked for attention, only to leave when he or she didn’t get it.

I had experienced a lifetime of dogs, so when we finally got burned-out on the work of having dogs and got Brewsky, I wondered if I would ever feel close to him. Peggy’s cat-person sister, Pam, warned Peggy that we had made a grave mistake. As she put it, “You are dog people, and a cat is not a dog!” We still laugh about this, but she was right in that if we had gotten a cat thinking that it would be like a dog, we would have been sorely disappointed. Another friend said that the best thing she could say about her pedigreed Siamese was that it was midway between having a dog and not having a pet at all. Fortunately, we were not complete strangers to the ways of cats, so the question wasn’t whether Brewsky would be like a dog, but whether we could find it within ourselves to love a cat as a cat.

My enjoyment of cats got a real boost when we got our second cat, Ollie, because we not only had a total of two cats, Cat A and Cat B, we had a third entity—C—which consisted of the way Brewsky and Ollie related to us and to one another. When we got Scully, things took off even more, and I started to understand how people end up with a houseful of cats. The way cats interact with one another is a good bit more interesting—to me anyway—than the way dogs interact, and because cats are less work, I can imagine myself slipping into the mindset of, I already have ___ cats, so what’s one more?. Fortunately, I have Peggy to put on the brakes because while I know we don’t need a fourth cat, the temptation remains. 

Our vet, Sean, has been in practice for a lot of years, yet he can scarcely believe what we tell him about our cats. Specifically, that Brewsky so readily accepted Ollie despite Brewsky having been a solitary indoor cat since he was a tiny kitten, and that Brewsky and Ollie so readily took a female kitten into their hearts. Worst of all was his dismay when we told him that Ollie—at 14-months of age—is still nursing Brewsky, a six-year-old 15-pound male. Peggy mentioned this in the hope that Sean could tell us how to put an end to
Ollie’s nursing, but he instead asked what it was, exactly, that Ollie nursed and mentioned Brewsky’s tail as a possibility. Peggy assured him that, no, Ollie is a tit-man all the way, and it was then that Sean’s eyes got so big that we wondered if he believed us.

I wouldn’t find Ollie’s nursing so disgusting if he didn’t slurp, but I haven’t been able to discourage him from nursing, and when I try, he just leaves the room and goes back to nursing when I’m not around. Peggy and I are convinced that Brewsky doesn’t like Olli
e’s nursing either because he will look at us when it’s happening as if to say, “God but I wish he wouldn’t do this, but he seems to really need it, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” I have had to give up on even trying to put an end to Ollie’s nursing except when the five of us (Peggy, Brewsky, Ollie, Scully, and me) are having our morning cuddle. This and the time that Peggy and I spend trying to read in the evening while Ollie and Scully gallop about the house like tiny horses are the most precious times of my day—those and the time I spend writing. And then there are the ways that Scully moans, coos, yowls, chirrups, miaows, and screams! Before getting cats, I had no idea how varied their vocalizations could be, and how often they sound more like birds than cats. Unfortunately, the older they get, the less they vocalize.

When Ollie was Scully’s age, he and Brewsky would play the way that he and Scully now play, and Ollie would scream like Scully now screams. I soon came to trust that Brewsky wasn’t really killing Ollie, but Peggy never stopped worrying. If you could see a little gray kitten full-out roughhousing with a male tabby five times his size, you could understand her anxiety. Ollie never held anything back, and it would look for all the world like a fight to the death, what with wide-open mouths filled with glistening white daggers. I became completely trusting that, no matter how bad things looked, Brewsky wasn’t really going to kill Ollie, and his patience and compassion confirmed my faith in Brewsky’s ability to give Ollie the kind of love and nurture that he, being an only cat, had never received.

I regard Brewsky as our wise and loving adult, Ollie as our exquisitely sensitive and emotionally vulnerable adolescent, and Scully as our dominant and intellectual girl child. A person who has but one cat is deprived of the joy that comes with observing the differences cats display in their interactions with their humans and with other cats. Different cats are like different people in that their worldviews and their preferences vary enormously. Dogs are that way too, but they’re so fixated on pleasing their humans that the creatures they are within themselves get swallowed-up. I don’t mean here to discount the joy of having dogs because it is their determination to do everything they can to love and to be loved that makes dogs so adorable.

I must admit to finding it very hard to warm up to a person who genuinely dislikes either dogs or cats, and I frankly hate it when people’s preference for one leads them to trash the other. Such people fail to understand that their preference for one species over another is entirely a function of what they want and what they need, and has nothing to do with superiority. To hate either species makes the hater look dim-witted and closed hearted, but haters never seem to realize this. The important thing is not what we love, but that we love.

The last time I was in PetSmart, they had a beautiful black rescue cat that someone had returned because they thought he miaowed too much. God help me, but I wanted that cat, and I wanted him all the more because he had been abandoned at least twice…. I want to bring happiness to all unwanted pets, but I can’t do it, and I hate it that I can’t do it…. 

One of my cats—Ollie, as it turned out—came to sleep on the pillow that I put in the chair beside me, so I keep alternating between writing and petting his soft, soft fur. Oh, the joy—the joy, the joy, the joy.