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 cat—an 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.