I was driving home on Tuesday night, just about to leave the city limits of White Plains when I saw a cat laying in the road.
I swerved to avoid the cat, saw motion out of the corner of my eye, and pulled over on the nearest side street. There was more traffic behind me and I held my breath as I approached, worried that one of the passing cars would drive over the injured feline.
Using my iPhone as a flashlight, I finally got close. The poor cat was dead. There weren’t any obvious injuries, but his mouth was filled with blood. In retrospect I believe the movement I saw earlier was just the wind blowing his fur.
I picked him up, carried him off the road and set him down on the grass near a street sign. Then I called the police.
He was well-fed and well-groomed, with a striking coloration — medium-length fur that was pure white except for a single black stripe on his tail.
This was someone’s beloved cat, and that person was going to be rattling a bag of treats and calling out for kitty to come home, wondering where the little guy had gone.
Someone hit or drove over that beautiful cat and kept driving.
It’s one thing to know the statistics, to understand in the abstract that outdoor cats only live three years on average while their indoor counterparts live an average of 16 or more years, and quite another to see a dead cat up close with my own eyes, left there as roadkill.
Many people labor under the assumption that cats belong outside as if it’s their natural habitat. The truth is, cats don’t have a natural habitat. As domesticated animals they’re no different than dogs, pigs or cows — the process of domestication has rendered them human-dependent. They’re genetically distinct from their wild ancestors, molded over thousands of years to be companions to humans.
Domestic cats aren’t as swift or agile as wildcats. While they retain some of their wild instincts, they’re ill-equipped to deal with danger.
Life as a feral or stray is tough, brutal and short. Some can survive for a short while. Most don’t.
They should live indoors, and there’s no reason an indoor life should be boring for them. As caretakers it’s our responsibility to keep them entertained, to provide them with toys, perches, hiding spots and window vantages. Most of all, it’s our responsibility to give them attention and affection.
A family in Sarasota, Florida, has learned the hard way why it’s not a good idea to allow pet cats outside without supervision:
The video shows his cat initially sitting on a chair on his patio. That’s when one coyote approaches it. The cat goes running after it.
Then seconds later, two coyotes start chasing the cat back into the porch. The coyotes are then seen dragging the cat to nearby bushes.
Vanchanka found his cat’s remains hours later after he noticed his cat was gone. He says this is the first time he has seen something like this.
“I’m horrified. I haven’t been able to go outside, only in daytime when I know for sure there won’t be any,” said Valeriya Rozin.
Rozin, who is Vanchanka’s wife, is now frightened to go outside by herself as the couple have a 2-month-old baby. To make matters worse, their other cat died Friday morning from what they say it was a broken heart.
Even small dogs are susceptible to coyote attacks, and have been prey to the ambush predators before:
Their neighbor, Avis Zoborowski, has a 16-year-old Lhasa Shi Tzu, and says she saw three coyotes roaming outside her mailbox one morning. She’s now scared to take her dog out for a walk.
“I’m afraid that by the time that I saw a coyote coming, by the time I pick her up, that dog will be right on my face. I just go out there and pray that everything will be alright,” said Zoborowski.
In my neighborhood, less than a quarter mile from my home, a brazen coyote snapped up a small dog — a toy breed — when his owner was taking him outside to do his business before bed on a summer night. I spoke my neighbor about a week after it happened, and to say she was traumatized was an understatement.
The coyote was completely unfazed by her presence — the attack was so swift and surprising, she didn’t have time to react before the leash was torn from her grip. She never found her dog.
There’s one way to make sure your cats or small dogs aren’t killed by coyotes: Keep them indoors. Indoor cats live for an average of 16 years, while outdoor cats live about 3.5 years on average, according to PetMD.
While some cat owners worry about condemning their cats to boring indoor existences, indoor life doesn’t have to be boring. Cats don’t need much to be happy: Give them attention, affection and regular interactive play time. Provide some lounging spots with good views of the outdoors and toys to play with. Let them sleep near you, where they feel safe. They’ll be more than content.
The animal psychologists are from Kyoto University and the traffic safety experts are from Yellow Hat, which is kind of like the Japanese version of AutoZone. The video’s makers say their feline “narrator” was chosen because other cats responded most to his voice during tests, and both the sound and visuals were designed to draw — and keep — feline attention.
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.
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.