Inside Out....

Should Your Indoor Cat Go Outside?  Like Ms. Julie?



The Pride Cartoon™ Creator's Blog, January 2010

I don't pretend to be any sort of expert or advisor on this subject, and I know there is some controversy about it, but people see me with Julie outdoors, and so they ask my opinion.

On the one hand, we adore our cats and want to prevent any harm coming to them of the types found outdoors (cars, dogs, abduction, fights, mean people, fleas, ticks..... no end)  On the other hand, most efforts to guard life also curtail it.  A cat that never goes out never gets to feel grass underfoot, climb a tree, chase a bird or roll in the sun.  Sad.

Without us, cats would live outdoors, so it's arguable that nature dictates they be out.  But when we adopt them, we make them our dependents, and they don't learn what it takes to be safe, so....  it's complicated.  

In an ideal world, a cat would have both; a protected area where she can enjoy the outdoors safely, and a warm, loving home to crash in later.  But only the luckiest of cats has her cake and can eat it too.

Assuming for a minute you can offer a cat the best of both, not every domesticated cat has the personality to go outside.  Ms. Julie is a perfect indoor/outdoor cat.  She's not at all skittish, likes to meet new people, isn't afraid of dogs (unless they're very big and get too close) and won't bolt at the first unfamiliar sound.  And, while she thinks of it as beneath her to wear a harness (harnesses are for dogs, she thinks, and was very insulted when I first put it on her), she wears it because it's part of our deal.  No harness, no street.  She's also slow like a possum.  If her temperament were the only variable, I could leave her outside for hours unchaperoned.  

Johnny is an entirely different type.  In the house with us, and on his "roof", he's bossy, fearless and bold.  But with new people or with the door open, he's skittish, nervous, and bolts at the first... well, the first anything.  I would NEVER try taking him outside.

BTW, if a cat is a candidate for this (and that's If with a capital I), my experience is you can't just put a harness on and take him for a walk.  You can't bypass the learning curve with a cat and expect him to like it.  They have to learn the path and be comfortable with it.  

Julie learned the lay of our land an inch at a time, at her own pace... sniffing, looking, sitting, taking her time, relishing every millimeter.  A few months after I adopted her, she said she wanted to explore the hall outside our door.  She did that several times over many nights.  When she was comfortable with that she began to venture down the stairs, a few at a time, adding a few more each night.  After about a month, we were checking out the lobby, and the long hall toward the back of the building.  It was really exciting when we made it all the way to the back door and courtyard.  

It was never my goal to start taking her outside, I should add... a walk in the hall at night was just giving her some entertainment after being bored all day by four walls.  The courtyard was a surprise and a major big deal as far as I was concerned.  An hour or two of sniffing the plants or lying in the sun (or less for my taste, cos really, who has time for this?) was the bees knees for a cat.  Icing on the cake.

When she outgrew even the courtyard and wanted to go outside the gate to the street, I was as speechless as the passersby who stare and point.  But she was comfortable with all this because:  a)- she had the pre-existing personality type, and b)- I let her learn the route at her own pace, digesting it in small bits over time.  Now she's completely comfortable with the entire building, courtyard, and street around. (She doesn't like the basement, but neither do I.  Smells like bug spray).  But Julie is an exceptional cat.  There aren't many cats I would trust to do this.

In my twenties, I was crazy.  We had nowhere for the cats to go outside outside safely, so I used to let them go on the roof of our 4-storey apartment building.  Wiser now, I see how dangerous that was, but then I was supremely confident that nothing would happen to them.  And nothing ever did.  

They so looked forward to roof time every day.  The tar was warm in the sun even on a cold day.  There were plants up there for them to almost get the feeling of a garden.  Johnny's favorite thing was the tops of the heating risers that came up from the basement, and always contained a bug or two (or thousands - my stomach turns to think about  it).  He would stare down the dark tube for hours waiting for his prey to emerge, then pounce.  The filthy things would wriggle between his teeth and he would run all the way home to show me.  Why he felt he had to bring them home to me, I'll never know.  I told him every day that cockroaches are disgusting and I don't want any.  But he felt strongly that waterbugs made great gifts.

Our current apartment has a little roof about 12' sq. right outside our living room window.  Having spoiled them rotten with a roof deck of their own for years, any new apartment we took had to have someplace for them to go "outside."  Though much smaller, this is better because they're never out of my sight (and no palmettos).

But I digress.  So, what did we decide?  

1)- cats should have anything they want.  2)- Julie is perfect.  3)- Johnny is crazy.  4)- waterbugs are disgusting but make good gifts.....

Oh, sorry.... should indoor cats go outside.....

As my mother would say, "mph".  Which means simultaneously 'who knows', 'to each his own', and  'I'm sure you'll figure it out, Dear.'  As with most questions in the year 2010, the world is too much of a mess to permit of a wholly right answer.  It's a human world.  Cats don't have much say in any matter on our table.  We've filled every square inch of the globe with ourselves and our byproducts.  The concrete and high-rise world we made is unsafe for anything but us, and maybe not us either anymore.  Having made them our own, they're dependent on us for every morsel of food they eat, the toys they play with, the beds they sleep in, which litter they use.  They have to wait for us to get up in the morning to start their day.  They have to go to bed at our bed time at night.  They have to wait for us to come home from work for company.  It's not even up to them if they have tuna tonight and turkey on Wednesday.  My personal answer to the question is:  I'm responsible for their happiness.  If it makes them happy, if it's safe, and I can give it to them, we'll take ten.  

But you have to know your cat.  And yourself.  Whether or not going outside is for your indoor cat is entirely individual.  If s/he's a candidate for it at all, it won't be the first time you put a harness on, so if you're in a rush, don't bother.  Because they have to learn a thing at their own pace, and a cat's pace can be slower than a snail's.    -JD