In the 1960’s, Fudge, a small, brown domestic tabby, had its demise on the corner of my mother’s childhood home after a fatal car encounter. This is a sad reality for cats who are permitted access to the outdoors and may have happened to you or someone you know.
Growing up, my house had three cats; all indoor. We’d bring them outside on humiliating little leashes, let them eat grass, then protectively bring them in soon after, a way to honor Fudge and make sure something so traumatizing wouldn’t happen to them. They would watch cat tv for hours (i.e., the window) and chatter at the urban critters scampering by, but that’s as far as we let it go.
Unnatural? Maybe. Cautious? Definitely, but there is a lot of merit to leading a house-cat life.
Cats generally live longer if they are kept indoors. House-bound cats are also at a lower risk of contracting ecto (on the body) and endo (in the body) parasites. Ticks, mites, worms, feline leukemia, distemper and Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) (the kitty version of HIV) are some of the pathogens that are itching to invade your furry companion. Cats are transmitters as well and have been named a culprit in the acquisition of FIV to populations of the endangered Florida panther.
Cats are territorial and can sustain injuries from fights and are vulnerable to other forms of zoological violence. They are also wily predators. Catching small mammals and birds is also another source of illness. The responsibility then falls on the owner’s pocketbook to prevent some of these misfortunes with visits to the vet.
Cats aren’t native to many parts of the world. Where they have been introduced has caused decreases in biodiversity and have been blamed for local small animal extinctions. This has been well documented in Australia and surrounding Pacific Islands.
They were originally imported to these regions to manage the rats that accompanied colonialist ships and have lead to declines in songbird populations wherever they go. Several attempts at reintroducing ground bird species that have disappeared due to predation in Australia have failed as a result of cats.
Outdoor cats also form colonies. Dierdre Walford, a director for a West-Island cat rehabilitation group, said that feral cats can band together in the hundreds. “We try to spay and neuter these colonies when we find them, but people keep letting their cats go outside, or abandon them when the school semester is over. It’s very hard to control and exposes them to so many dangers.”
Letting your cats run free does have some benefits. They are generally happier, get more exercise and use the great outdoors as their litter box. Most cats carry a parasite called toxoplasmosis. If you’ve ever had an indoor cat, chances are that you have also contracted it and don’t even know it.
The general side-effects in humans is an increased hibition for risk-taking in males and females become more affectionate. The parasite’s eggs are transmitted through the feces, so the more they use the neighbor’s garden as their latrine, the less probability there is of contracting toxoplasma.
There is no need to worry, though. Humans and felines have been amicable companions since the times of ancient Egypt, despite the parasite. The only real danger lies waiting in the litter box for pregnant women who have never been exposed to the pathogen.
Cat population control is a problem in Montreal. Just visit the SPCA’s adoption page to see the sheer volume of pets needing a home. The Montreal SPCA holds a 15-20% euthanasia rate, one of the lowest in Canada. No kill shelters, such as the Animal Rescue Network run on donations to fund the facilities needed to care for unwanted pets.
These places are filled with dedicated, over-worked and underpaid staff. Speaking with anyone from either of these places will convince you of the importance to give your cats a happy, fulfilling life indoors. Doing this will save on visits to the vet and will have far reaching effects for maintaining local biodiversity, but it is a matter of choice in the end.
If you decide to obey your cat when demands to be released are vocalized, for the health of your pet and the local environment, have them spay or neutered and ensure that all their vaccinations are up to date. Screening for FIV and feline Leukemia will also go a long way in keeping the air sweet with birdsong.