Sometimes you’ve gotta fib to protect the ones you love, which is how I found myself lying to Buddy the first time he wanted to go outside and
ineptly chase hunt birds.
“I’m sorry, Bud, I can’t let you do that,” I said, doing my best to sound serious and authoritative.
“Why not?” Buddy asked, pawing at the door impatiently.
“Because it isn’t safe.”
Buddy was exasperated. “I’m 10 months old! I can take care of myself!”
“You don’t understand. It’s not for your protection.”
I lowered my voice conspiratorially and nodded toward the birds outside. “It’s for them. Mice too. Squirrels. Even coyotes.”
Comprehension dawned on the little guy’s face.
“To protect them from me?”
“Precisely,” I said gravely. “It wouldn’t be fair, unleashing a beast of your size and power on those poor unsuspecting creatures. It’d be like that scene in Jurassic Park when they lowered a cow into the velociraptor cage.”
“That makes sense.” He eased onto his hind legs and raised his front left paw, flexing. “I mean, I am really ripped. These guns must be intimidating.”
“They most certainly are,” I agreed. “So ripped! So you can understand why I can’t let you out.”
“Illegal, you say? Like actually illegal?”
“A $500 fine if you even step out the front door.”
After that he didn’t ask to go outside anymore and was satisfied with telling people that the local Council of Dangerous and Awesome Animals had specifically forbidden Buddy the Beast from stalking the neighborhood unless chaperoned by a human with his huge muscles restrained in a harness.
Ed Sheeran’s cat: A preventable tragedy
I recalled this totally accurate and real conversation after reading news that musician Ed Sheeran’s cat, Graham, has died. I clicked on the story expecting to read about a loyal cat who’d stuck with Sheeran over the better part of two decades before succumbing to old age.
That’s not how Graham died.
Sheeran’s five-year-old cat had his life cut short when he was hit by a car on July 31.
Allowing cats to roam free is the norm in the UK, even in busy neighborhoods. Cats are killed in traffic — or meet other unfortunate ends — regularly. Even a rampage by an alleged serial murderer of cats, who was said to kill more than 300, didn’t dissuade them from keeping their cats safely indoors, nor did the subsequent (pardon) copy-cats.
The usual excuses paint cats as one step removed from wild animals, creatures who range several miles in their “natural” states as outdoor kitties.
The problem is, that’s not true.
Domestic cats don’t belong in the wild
Cats are domesticated animals. They’ve evolved over 10,000 years from African and Eurasian wildcats, to the human-friendly mousers who protected grain stores, and finally to the companion animals we all know and love.
They are second only to dogs, who were domesticated 30,000 years ago, as animals who are uniquely attuned to human presence, able to read our expressions, detect our moods from our pheromones and parse the subtleties in our vocalizations.
Cats belong with humans. They have no “natural habitat.” As domesticates who are genetically distinct from their wildcat ancestors, there’s no place in nature for them.
In other words, cats belong in human homes, benefiting from human companionship, protection and care.
They’re not as fast, agile or nimble as their wild cousins, and while some can adjust to rough living, most don’t: The lifespan of a feral cat is a pitiful two to five years compared to the 16 years or so an average, well-cared-for indoor cat can live. For feral cats eking out an existence on their own, as opposed to living in a colony, the average lifespan is less than two years.
It’s our responsibility to protect our cats
The point is that we’re not doing cats any favors by letting them roam outdoors unsupervised. In addition to being ill-equipped to deal with nature and predators, they’re also defenseless against maladjusted and hostile humans who do things like intentionally poison flower beds. They’re particularly vulnerable to vehicle traffic. They’re easy meals for large birds of prey, wild canids and other mid-sized animals.
So what’s the solution? Simple: Be a good caretaker.
An indoor life shouldn’t be boring. It’s our responsibility as caretakers to provide our cats with attention, affection, toys and stimulation.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, cats aren’t antisocial animals. They want to play, to interact with people, to simulate hunts with wand toys and laser pointers. They feel safe snoozing and purring in human laps. That’s not just the opinion of cat lovers, it’s backed up by solid research showing cats value human companionship.
A happy indoor life
If we give them the attention we’re supposed to, there’s no reason why our cats should be bored indoors. And an indoor life doesn’t have to be completely devoid of nature. That’s why there are customized cat perches, catios and harnesses, allowing domestic cats to watch and enjoy the outdoors without exposing them to the many dangers outside.
The Grahams of the world shouldn’t die early because of our misguided belief that cats need to roam like tigers. Keep your buddy indoors, give him the attention he needs, and he’ll have a long and happy life.