Why Are UK Cat Owners So Intent On Allowing Their Cats To Run Free?

Jinx the cat was so grateful to UK couple Martin Rosinski and Michelle Bowyer for giving her a home that she decided to bring them a gift.

“The first time I was working at home, I heard Michelle making a commotion because Jinx had come in with a mouse and dumped it on the carpet in front of her as a ‘thank you’. That’s their way of expressing love. You can’t tell her off, so we thanked her a lot for it and took it away from her,” Rosinski said.

“Then this started happening more and more often to the point where we would be woken up at 2 a.m. as Jinx would meow loudly and announce, ‘Hey I have a gift. If we didn’t get to her fast enough she would decide to eat it herself, which would involve piles of mouse parts being smeared into the carpet. This was happening at 2 a.m., then again at 4 a.m. on many nights and we’d not get any sleep having to deal with this. Her record was four in one night – that night was a frenzy of three mice and one bird. It was something that was a real cause of stress.”

The solution is pretty simple, right? Keep Jinx inside.

The former stray won’t like it at first. There will be an adjustment period when the meowing will be seriously annoying. But it’s better than allowing your cat to play Predator at night and waking up to find your cat sitting on your chest, proudly presenting a twitching mouse to you.

Rosinski and Bowyer didn’t take Jinx inside.

Instead they created a bespoke intelligent cat flap that allows Jinx to come and go as she pleases, but won’t open if she’s carrying prey. They both have backgrounds in tech: he’s a researcher who also tinkers with software and hardware, and she’s a web developer.

cute brown tabby cat
Despite being domesticated, cats retain their predatory instincts and many will kill small mammals and birds if allowed to wander on their own outdoors. Credit: Aleksandr Gorlov/Pexels

Their system, OnlyCat, uses a camera and an algorithm to determine if Jinx is carrying something in her mouth. If she is, the cat flap won’t grant her access, and Bowyer and Rosinski will get a text informing them Jinx has been up to her hi-jinx again, along with a photo of her entry attempt.

The OnlyCat prototype has prevented Jinx from bringing in 42 prey animals since June of 2021, the couple said. OnlyCat may prevent her from bringing her prey inside, but it hasn’t dissuaded her from killing.

“Two months ago I think something clicked and she realized, ‘I can’t bring these home. It’s just not going to work,’” Rosinski told the UK’s South West News Service. “She still catches them outside but she’s learned that there’s no point even trying to bring them home, which is a relief.”

The couple developed the OnlyCat into a full product, which launches on Aug. 16 at £499. (A little more than $600 USD.) Their site says the retail version of the flap has worked 100 percent of the time in tests, and the developers believe “99%+ accuracy should be achievable for everyone.”

It’s similar to a device built by Amazon engineer Ben Hamm which uses DeepLens, an AI-enabled camera system, and Sagemaker, a software tool for training machine-learning algorithms, to determine if cats are carrying prey.

Hamm’s version, which he created for his cat Metric in 2019, initiates a 15-minute lockout timer if Metric tries to enter while carrying a kill, and automatically sends a donation to the National Audubon Society, which protects birds and their habitats. The algorithm was trained using tens of thousands of images of cats approaching normally, and with prey in their mouths. So far, Hamm hasn’t developed a retail version of his AI-enabled cat flap.

orange tabby cat on gray rock
The feline predatory drive is instinctual. Indoor cats can exercise that drive with wand toy games and by chasing laser pointers. Credit: Aleksandr Nadyojin/Pexels

We don’t think there’s any one way to raise cats, and it’s obvious there are different cat cultures in various countries.

Nevertheless, seven out of 10 cat owners in the UK allow their cats to roam free, and anecdotes like the ones about Jinx, with her multiple kills a night habit, draw the ire of birders and conservationists.

Peter Marra is the author of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences Of A Cuddly Killer and co-author of many of the leading studies claiming cats are the primary threat to bird populations. He’s currently making the media rounds and endorsing strict policies — many of them in enacted in response to his studies — that would make it illegal to allow cats outdoors.

The Australian government is airdropping poisoned sausages by the ton in a plan to cull as many as two million cats, a town in Germany tried to ban outdoor cats, a US politician recently suggested starting a “hunting season” for feral and stray felines, and some people — including wildlife biologists and conservationists — have gone vigilante and convinced themselves they’re doing good by randomly picking off cats with shotguns and poisoning feeding stations for strays.

Maybe it’s time for more people to reconsider allowing their cats to roam free. Like putting a cat on a diet or trying to break a bad habit, there’ll be loud and annoying protests in meow, and it’ll get worse before it gets better, but eventually cats always adjust to changes if given long enough.

As domesticated animals they don’t have a natural habitat anymore, and they don’t actually need to be outside. It’s entirely possible to keep things fun and interesting for the furry little guys, and that’s on us. All that’s required is our time, attention and affection. Interactive play time. Toys that can keep a cat occupied by herself. Catnip. Condos and tunnels. Window perches. Cat TV on Youtube. Simple things to play with, like plastic bottle rings, crinkled tin foil and cardboard boxes.

We don’t think anyone should be required to keep their cats indoors, and that’s the point. We have an opportunity to meet conservationists halfway and make a real effort to reduce feline impact on small wildlife. If we don’t, eventually we’ll be forced to comply by laws that’ll be draconian compared to the voluntary measures we could have taken to prevent the government from getting involved.

16 thoughts on “Why Are UK Cat Owners So Intent On Allowing Their Cats To Run Free?”

  1. Both Bella and Bertie would not tolerate being indoors 24/7 to start with I am sure. They have both been allowed to free roam all their lives. Bertie has never caught/killed anything to my knowledge-he even failed to know what to do when Bella brought a mouse in (he simply sniffed it and walked away), whilst Bella is a serial killer. I agree with you that Cats are now domesticated ( Our beloved Bets barely ever went outside and was very very, very happy), so the killing behaviour is instinctive and can be “unlearned” if sufficient care and space is given – we have a very large house, so are fortunate there, not all Cat servants have the same. I think it depends on the individual situation and cat, Bella’s bird killing is zero apart from a pigeon and a cuckoo that we think was already dead when she brought them in. I don’t have a solution apart from our own situation and agree with you draconian laws are a distinct possibility like the law concerning muzzled dogs in the UK after various dogs killed small children.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I hope you know I’m not judging and I try to keep a neutral position on this stuff. I understand things are different in the UK, and different for people whose cats have always had outdoor access.

      What scares me is when people like Marra are brought in as the experts and are asked to recommend policies. Marra believes no cats should exist outdoors, which is a polite way of saying drastic action must be taken to get rid of them.

      It seems far fetched until you realize governments run all sorts of culling programs for “undesirable” animals, whether they have an ecological impact or, as in the case of pigeons, people don’t want their crap on the grass in public parks.

      Once it gets to the point where people are talking about legislation, there’s often a full on cat panic and they’re relabeled as tiny terrors and serial killers. That leads to legislation based on emotion instead of facts, and that’s never good for anyone.

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      1. Oh, heck, I NEVER think you are judging at all, and I do hope my comment did not come across as such. I agree with you that there are very scary and VERY vocal “experts” that get brought in who only have a single point of view which can lead to legislation that you describe brilliantly

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Not at all, John. I was just worried you’d think I was judging you and UK cat owners, so I’m glad you didn’t take it that way. I always appreciate your input from the other side of the ocean.

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    2. My girl was an outdoor cat at her previous home. She wanted to be an indoor cat. We do have a closed-in catio for her so she can enjoy nature without actually being out in it. But she’s very happy and doesn’t try to get outside. Cats can learn to be indoors-only. And there are options like catios, patios, and leash walking that allow them to enjoy nature without risking their lives or the lives of other animals.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I live in Virginia, U.S. , so the local situation might be different here. But at least here, I’d find it very difficult to believe that cats are A major, let alone The major threat to birds . And in my viewpoint, once Government gets involved (often with dubious Theories) , they usually make the situation worse, typically with prohibitions & mandates divorced from common sense. I hope the people of our (Amis) mother country don’t put up with this sort of thing. I’ve fed a LOT of seagulls & sparrows over many years. I care about them, too. But this talk of shooting & poisoning cats MUST be coming from poisoned minds.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well said. Especially these days, legislation often comes from a place of emotion and not common sense, and it’s often based on perception rather than reality. We don’t want the government making laws about where cats are allowed to exist.

        That’s why it’s so dangerous when people make outlandish claims about the predatory impact of cats and don’t acknowledge the massive impact human activity has on birds and their habitats. I believe Australia’s goal is to kill 2 million cats. They’re going to find out that not only did they take innocent lives by the millions, but they accomplished little or nothing in the process.

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    1. I’ve read so much about that and there’s compelling evidence on both sides that it could be a serial cat killer, or the work of natural predators. You can really go deep down the rabbit hole on that one with the volume of stories about it. We’re forced to rely on the accounts of police and animal rescue volunteers, so there’s no way to know if certain details are accurate, like the claim that many of the cats were found with precise wounds of the type that would be inflicted by a knife, not the messy wounds that would result from another animal’s teeth.

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  2. Mee-yow Buddy an Big Buddy due youss’ know that Aunty Sheila letss her catss out?? Shee iss British an iss sorta their tradishun there. Many peepss from that part of THE werld beeleeve it iss impawtent fore their catss to have ‘free roam’ time. Where Aunty iss, there are 3 attached backyardss to herss so her catss are safe an due not leeve for partss unknown.
    Shee agreess with BellaSita tho’ that mee shuud NOT roam as nee iss semi-feral an sorta wild an wee live on busy street.
    Mee thinkss it is a tuff topick!
    Mee admitss mee had to fend fore meeself when mee was on meen streetss. Not anymore thanx Sky Cat!
    Oh an funny thing~~ Aunty has a man cat named Greyboy who was a stray semi-feral yeerss ago an came to bee fed nitely iss now her house cat an REEFUSESS to go out!!!
    So even stray semi’ss can change…..
    ***purrss*** BellaDharma an ((hugss)) BellaSita Mum

    Liked by 1 person

  3. i never understand why so called cat lovers let there cats roam not knowing what is happening to them eg hit by cars , ripped up by foxes and killing alot of our wildlife .. thats not loving your animal thats just being irrisponsible i also dont understand why its not the law to know where your cat is and what damage its causing like it is for a dog

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Putting out poison sausages for the cats- that’s f@#$ing barbaric! Domesticated pets like dogs and cats are like innocent children, that’s been bred into them by People. So that makes us responsible for them. Jeez anyone that can hurt a cat can do the same thing to a person. They’ve interviewed killers and sociopaths in prison and almost ALL of them began by torturing and/or killing small animals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. It’s hard to even think about. Which is why it’s so irresponsible for the authors of those “cats kill 21 billion birds a year” “studies” to publish their work when they know it’s nothing better than an uneducated guess, because they don’t have the data and haven’t made the effort to get it.

      The D.C. Cat Count took time and money, but it’s paying off because now they know exactly how many cats live in the city, how many are true strays, and exactly how to limit their impact on local wildlife.

      And their solutions, based on real data, are a heck of a lot more humane than air-dropping millions of poisoned sausages as bait for innocent animals.

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  5. Like many (perhaps most) cat servants in the UK, we used to let our cats roam – out during the day, but in if they wanted to be – in at night. Almost 2 years ag we adopted 2 feral kittens, who had been abandoned by their mother. We decided to keep them as house cats, letting them out under supervision. My husband started training the male kitten, Tommy, to walk on a leash (but only in the garden) and he is getting very good at it.His sister, Ommy, is allowed to roam free in the garden as she doesn’t go very far. They usually want to come back in after about 20 minutes.

    Earlier this year we also adopted their brother, who had gone off with their mother when she abandoned them. Shortly after that, my beloved cat Nero, who was my special cat (well, they’re all special but he was ultra-special) was knocked down by a car just near our house. He died in my husband’s arms.

    We determined then that all our cats would henceforth be house cats. After much thought re how it would be done, hubby is now converting our patio to a catio. It should be really nice for the kits. In the meantime they have our large bedroom windowsill from which to observe the world. Boris (our latest adoptee) seems quite happy doing that and shows no signs of wanting to return to the big bad outdoors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers for giving a home to two feral kittens and taking in their long-wandering brother as well, Lesley.

      I’m really sorry to hear about your Nero, and what happened to him is the thing I would dread most if my cat was the outdoor type. (Thankfully he’s not, and he won’t even set a paw on my balcony if it’s below 70 degrees or there’s so much as a drizzle.)

      Another reader, also British, told me about a similar situation with her beloved cat, and since then she’s kept all of her cats strictly indoors except for supervised outdoor time in a fenced-in yard, or garden in UK parlance.

      Good luck with your catio plans! I’d love to see photos when you’re done. If you’re up for it maybe I can make a post showing readers photos of how it came together and any tips you and your husband might have for others who want to build their own catios. And of course the most important part, photos of your cats enjoying their new catio.

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