Friday, June 7, 2013

Thoughts on Stepping in Cat Poo While Walking Along My Garden Path

At the risk of offending friends and neighbors, this is an open letter to all the people out there with "outside cats":

Dear Cat Owner,
Before you judge me as a cat hater, let me assure you that I am not. My husband and I are the loving owners of one cat, two dogs, and numerous fish. Our previous cat just died at age 16 and we cried a lot. We take good care of them and feed them all high quality pet food, buy them cozy pet beds, keep them up to date on vaccinations and flea and heartworm preventatives, and exercise and play with them. When we go out of town, we hire someone to stay at our house and to make sure they are all cared for, but also to keep them company because we don't want them to feel sad. I love pets. I'm sure you also love pets, or you wouldn't have one.

That being said, I'm over you and your laissez-faire cat ownership. Your decision to let your cat roam free is not just your business. It affects the entire neighborhood, and indeed, the ecosystem of our neighborhood and beyond. I have gone to considerable effort to create a wildlife habitat with bird feeders and a pond in my yard and really enjoy the results. But I am so discouraged when several times every day I have to shoo well-fed, collared and ID-tagged cats away from the feeders and the pond. I pick up the feathers of the birds that were eaten by your cat and mourn the chicks in the nests that were eaten during the night. When the chicks fledge, I dread finding little puffs of feathers--leftovers from cat snacks. It's just a matter of time. I watch the brown thrasher that struggles to balance and fly because it is missing its tail feathers--most likely due to a cat. As we walk with our dogs through the neighborhood, we pass house after house after house with sweet and cute cats sitting on the sidewalk, under cars, and stalking birds and squirrels. They are everywhere. Some have homes, others are feral. We have a lot of students living in our neighborhood, and sometimes when they move, they leave their cats behind. Many of the neighborhood cats are not spayed or neutered, either. Our own cat is living proof--he was a stray, 5-week-old kitten that showed up in our yard, crying, hungry, full of worms, covered in fleas and with terrible ringworm. Being a stray is not a good life.

Cats in the Streets
I know what you'll say. You'll argue that it's cruel to cats to keep them locked inside because it's part of their nature to roam and hunt. But you could say the same thing about dogs. How would we feel if there were dogs running in packs, eating cats (and occasional children), pooping in yards and chasing bicycles, just because it was part of their nature to run in packs and be carnivorous? We don't allow it because it's dangerous and annoying, and so it's illegal to let your dogs run loose. We shouldn't allow it of cats, either. Domestic cats are not native to North America. They were brought here by European settlers. They come from outside of the existing ecosystem and have become invasive, exotic killing machines that murder birds and small mammals with such ferocity that it's startling. Recents studies have found that cats kill billions of birds every year and are contributing significantly to the decrease in songbird populations worldwide. If your cat is a pet, you probably feed it well, and yet it still has an instinct to hunt. I know mine would hunt if he could. Most cats that hunt don't need the food--they just want to catch birds and mammals. Cats that live outside do not live as long as indoor cats. In their roaming, they get in fights with other cats, get hit by cars, and are preyed upon by wild animals, dogs, and even bad people. They are more susceptible to disease and can even cause disease to spread to indoor cats when diseases are brought into the house on clothing and shoes. I'd say it's much less cruel to keep your cat in the safety of your house. When I see a dead cat on the road that was hit by a car (a pretty common event, I might add) I feel sorrow and anger at the same time. Unless it was a pet that ran away, it was an entirely preventable death.

Cat in the Park
You'll probably say that you hate to clean litter boxes and don't like them in your house because they smell bad. Well, thanks a lot. I just stepped in your cat's mess in my front yard. I got to clean up after your cat. Luckily I noticed it before I brought it inside and smeared it on the carpets and floor. I hate to clean cat boxes, too, but I know that this is what comes from having a pet. My cat is happy and safe indoors. He wistfully watches the birds through the window blinds as they feed and splash in the birdbath. He wants to be outside. But we don't let him go outside because we know that he will do what cats are born to do--hunt and kill. And we love him too much to risk his being hurt or lost outside.

Dedos in his Bird Watching Spot

I didn't always keep cats inside. I didn't know about the harm they did or the danger they were in. When I was younger we had to get a new cat about every 2-4 years. They died from disease, car accidents and one even fell off of a tall porch. But when I learned the facts and stopped to think about it, it made good sense to keep our cats inside. As I mentioned before, we had our last cat for 16 years. I probably won't change anyone's mind. Most people who let their cats run outside have heard this already. But please do some thinking. PETA says you should keep your cats indoors. ASPCA says you should keep your cats indoors. Vets say you should keep your cats indoors. The Audubon Society says you should keep your cat indoors. KEEP YOUR CATS INDOORS. You're not doing anyone any favors by letting your cats roam free.

Post Script:
Right after I posted this blog, my husband and I took a walk downtown to see a free concert outdoors. As we were walking, I was telling him that I had decided to leave out another aspect to my argument against outdoor cats because it was difficult to articulate. It's more of a personal issue. Basically, when I see cats (or dogs) loose outdoors I always feel concern that they might be lost or homeless and maybe they need my help. (When I was a little kid, cats used to follow me home all the time, probably because I pet them. I was never sure if they were lost or just friendly, and then I  didnt know how to get them back where they belonged. Eventually I learned not to pet cats outside because I didn't want to encourage them to follow me.) As we were walking, a skinny orange cat with a collar and tags stepped out from behind the bushes in a yard and started meowing at us and walking towards us. We walked on and it followed us. Even when we yelled "scat!" and tried to scare it away, it kept following. It crossed two small streets and one larger one with us, following and meowing. Finally we were able to get it to leave us just before we got to the corner of one of the major arteries through town. What if this cat had kept following us and had gotten lost, or worse, if it had gotten hit crossing that busy street? We would have felt horrible. It is not fair to put strangers in the position of being responsible for the safety of your overly friendly pet just because you like to leave it outside. And for some people (like me) it causes a whole lot of anxiety.


  1. Agreed! A few more reasons to keep the kitty inside include the number of cats found dead on the lawn after a pygmy rattler encounter.

    We live outside Silver Springs and contribute a special reason to Keep the Kitty Inside!

    1. Yikes! I hadn't even thought about snakes.

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