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Don’t Anybody Yell at Me, But…

I think cats are outdoor animals

By Brendan DonaghyPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
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Harry on patrol (author's image)

The Humane Society of the United States has calculated that approximately 71% of the estimated 80 million pet cats in the U.S. are kept indoors. The corresponding figure in the UK is lower; one animal charity put the figure at 24% in 2015, although it is thought to be rising rapidly.

Safety

Why am I thinking about this right now? The issue has been on my mind for a while, put there by some excellent articles I’ve read by writers who keep their cats indoors all the time.

There are many sound reasons for keeping our feline companions indoors. If you live in a high-rise apartment, opening the door and letting your cat run free isn’t an option.

For others, safety is the paramount consideration. One writer told of how one of her cats was shot and injured by a neighbour with an air rifle. That may be uncommon, but cats are undoubtedly at risk when they step outside.

Traffic probably poses the greatest danger, but they can also get lost or stolen. Plus, they’re at risk from other cats, dogs and foxes. Not to mention the threat from deranged individuals like the guy with the air gun.

Conservation

For others, keeping cats indoors is a conservation issue. In a recent article, I told how my cat Harry had arrived back in our garden with a bird in his mouth.

I received a few messages from people who dislike the fact that cats kill birds. Some went as far as to tell me that Harry should become an indoor cat to prevent him from wreaking havoc on the local bird population.

These comments got me thinking more seriously about the whole indoor/outdoor cat issue.

Rodents

Let me first be honest about cats killing other creatures. As far as I’m concerned, Harry can catch as many rodents as he likes. Forty years ago, I lived in a student house infested with mice. That wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Years later, my dislike of mice was compounded when I woke up to find one sitting on the pillow between my wife and me.

If Harry keeps mice out of our home, he’s doing a great job as far as I’m concerned.

The same goes for rats. A few months ago, there was extensive building work going on in an adjacent street. Within a few weeks, I saw a rat on three separate occasions close to our house. I don’t want to be bumping into one of those guys when I’m putting out the bins.

So, if Harry eradicates the entire rodent population of Belfast, I will care not one jot. Sorry if that upsets anyone, but honesty is always best, right?

Birds

Birds are different. I don’t like seeing cats catching these, so if I see Harry – or his big pal, Gus – stalking birds in our garden, I will intervene and become a hunt saboteur.

But that’s not because I think it’s a conservation issue. Am I wrong about that?

BirdLife International, along with its affiliate BirdWatch Ireland, and the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are all respected organisations when it comes to the welfare of birds.

Information provided on their websites shows that in Ireland and the UK, the birds under threat are mostly farmland species. That includes curlews, lapwings, snipes, skylarks, kestrels, corn buntings, and tree sparrows. Upland birds and lowland wetland birds are also on the decline.

Seabirds are another species deemed to be at risk.

Around the world, 73% of birds in decline are affected by crop or livestock farming, wood and pulp plantations or aquaculture. Almost two-thirds of bird species are found in forests globally. Many of these aren’t found in any other habitat. And every year, the world loses seven million hectares of forest to harvesting.

No Hard Evidence

Domestic cats can’t be blamed for any of this, something that is reflected in the literature of bird organisations; in a list of seven action points that could help avoid further decline in bird species, managing invasive species (including cats) is ranked at number six.

Why so low? Well, according to the RSPB, there is no hard evidence to support the view that domestic cats are having any real impact on bird populations in the UK.

Blue tits, for example, are amongst the birds most frequently taken by cats, yet their population has increased by over a third across the UK since 1970.

The RSPB points out that millions of garden birds die every year from starvation, disease or other predators (I’m looking at you, crows and magpies). There is some evidence to suggest that opportunistic hunters like cats catch more weak or injured birds, birds unlikely to survive in any case.

Indeed, of the millions of garden birds hatched each year, most will perish before they reach breeding age. Fortunately, each pair of mates needs to rear only two to breeding age to ensure that the population as a whole remains stable.

Responsible Guardianship

But even if it’s not a conservation issue, that’s not to say that cats shouldn’t be ‘managed’, both for their own health and safety and to prevent them from causing a nuisance in the neighbourhood.

So, all domestic cats should be spayed or neutered before being allowed out to stop the proliferation of unwanted kittens. They should be microchipped to ensure they can be returned home if they get lost and vaccinated to stop them from spreading disease to other cats.

While Harry is free to go outside during the day, we lock him up at night to stop him getting into fights or bumping into foxes; there’s a den in the allotments not far from our house, and we’ve seen foxes in the street from time to time.

Outdoor Freedom

Other than that, we’re happy for Harry to be outside as much as he wants. He has too much energy to be locked up inside. Nothing we can provide for him indoors can match the fun and stimulation he gets from goofing around outside with his buddy, Gus, or from exploring and patrolling his territory. We feel he’s living his best cat life at the minute.

He might be safer if we kept him inside, but would he be happier?

healthcatbird
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About the Creator

Brendan Donaghy

'Anyone can be confident with a full head of hair. But a confident bald man - there's your diamond in the rough.' Larry David

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  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶about a month ago

    Great story! We lock our cat up at night for similar reasons… also, I don’t want her to be python food.😁

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