Okay, I know the answer, which I’ll tell you in a minute.
But first let me inveigh against this habit. Obviously, if you let your cat roam around the neighborhood, you don’t care about wildlife and you don’t care about your neighbors. But presumably you like your cat.
Letting your pet out to roam as an “outside cat” is a form of animal abuse. It puts the cat at risk of injury, disease, and violent, painful death. In short, it’s criminal.
Outdoor cats run a good chance of being run over by cars, attacked and killed by dogs and coyotes, infected with feline leukemia and a variety of unpleasant parasites, infected with rabies (cats are now the main carriers of rabies to humans in this country), attacked and injured by other cats, carried off by hawks or barn owls, bitten by raccoons, accidentally poisoned by lapping up leaked antifreeze or rat poison, and deliberately poisoned, trapped, or shot by angry neighbors.
If you loved your cat, why would you put it at that kind of risk?
The answer, of course, is that you would not. Therefore, it’s only reasonable to assume you hate your cat (and your neighbors, and the wildlife for a mile in all directions), and you are deliberately abusing the cat.
Oh, no, you protest. You love your cat! It just won’t stay inside! It rips out the window screens and claws the paint off the doors trying to escape. To that, say I, bullshit. Who’s the human here?
Let me tell you the real reason cat owners let their cats roam around outdoors: They don’t want to clean up after the beloved kitty any more than you or I want to clean up after it. They let their cats outside so that the animals will deposit their urine and feces somewhere else. Admit it: if you do this, it’s because you get about half as much mess to have to clean out of the cat box (and your carpets, and the comforter on your bed, and the cushions on your sofa) as you do when you keep the animal indoors.
Before you fly into a Cat Lover Frenzy, hear me out. I have had a lot of cats in my life, beginning in infancy. Where we lived in Arabia, no dogs were allowed. Dogs would get into it with the jackals that routinely came into camp at night, and the jackals carried rabies. At that time, rabies vaccination for dogs was uncommon; in Arabia it was unavailable. So dogs were banned in camp.
But cats were not. Everyone had cats. At one point, a couple picked up a breeding pair of Siamese cats while they were on short leave in Paris. Before long, the place was overrun with Siamese cats.
Let me think…we had Buttons (an unneutered male that whose chronic war wounds were always in one of three states: open and raw, scabbed, or scarred); Whitey, a (surprise!) white female cat, which had kittens; her funny little white kitten that had a gray spot on its head, right between his ears, exactly in the shape of a pair of horns; Sheba, a seal-point Siamese; a gorgeous long-haired blue-point Siamese; one of his offpsring, a mentally retarded Siamese cat that we named Caslan, said to be the Arabic word for “stupid.” In San Francisco, another Siamese cat (and its fleas). In Arizona, my mother’s Siamese cat. Then after I married, I ended up with my mother’s Burmese cat and its six kittens, whose chronic diarrhea was more than she could deal with. Then a lilac-point Siamese and a chocolate-point Siamese and two of the lilac-point’s kittens, all four at once. Then the famous Boozer and not long afterward two of her kittens. That would be…what? Yes.
Twenty-two cats, not counting the ones my mother had when I was too little to remember them.
The cats we had in Arabia were allowed to roam the camp. In the 1950s, that was just what people did. There was little traffic, and it was thought that cats would run from jackals, jumping up on cars or climbing trees to get out of reach. But when we came back to the states and bootlegged a cat into our apartment, my mother grasped the idea that cats are better off kept indoors.
And so for years, she and I both had indoor cats.
The last Siamese Tribe of Four, however, gave the lie to the idea that cats will always use a cat box.
Not necessarily so.
And when a cat learns that it can go outside the box, it will go outside the box. Nothing you can do will change the animal’s mind. And no, these cats did not have urinary tract infections and they did not have bladder stones and yes I did keep their damn cat boxes meticulously clean.
They peed and shat all over the house. Their favorite shithouse was the dining-room. They ruined about 2500 square feet of incredibly expensive, ultra-luxurious carpet, the like of which I had never seen before and have never seen since.
The people who sold us the house had fixed it up, planning to live in it permanently, just before the neighborhood’s property values exploded in a frenzy of gentrification. We got the house because its value had shot up so high they simply could not resist collecting. But because they’d figured to be there for a long time, they had installed top-of-the-line everything, including those amazing carpets.
The cats destroyed them.
Before my son was born, I found a new home for all four cats (believe it or not, a doting human took them all in, the poor wretch), had all the stinky carpeting torn out, and replaced it with outrageously expensive wool Karastan that couldn’t even hold a candle to the magnificent carpet the cats had ruined.
The next cats were outside cats. That would be Boozer and her two kittens.
Why? Because I never wanted to clean up a mess like that again!
For that matter, I hoped never to have to clean and disinfect another cat box again. Although I did. Two of them. About every other day.
Boozer and Blue, her gorgeous male kitten, lived to a ripe old age. But Kit-Tan was poisoned by antifreeze, quite possibly left out by a neighbor who expressed his dislike of these loose beasts, who used the raised garden in his front entryway as their toilet. She suffered hideously. My husband — by then my ex-husband — could not bring himself to put her down. So she suffered hideously for weeks and then for months, becoming incontinent (among other things) and destroying yet another houseful of carpeting.
So I can say from experience that turning a cat out to roam the neighborhood is an act of unadulterated selfishness. No matter how much lip service you give to the joys of the cat’s picturesquely predatory nature, the truth is you do it because you don’t want to deal with a cat’s filth.
And it’s a blatant act of cruelty.
Some people are so besotted with their cats, though, that they simply do not and probably can not register the amount of devastation the animals inflict, the filth and disease they spread, the distress they cause to neighbors, and — most amazingly — the degree of risk a roaming cat faces.
My dear neighbor, lovingly known by her father as “Other Daughter,” is something of a cat lady. She’s the reason my yard’s walls are capped with carpet tack strips — which works pretty well, BTW, to keep the cats out of the yard. She walks around the ’hood a lot, and she sees things. She was horribly distressed when she found a cat run over in the alley. She was heartbroken when she found a cat in front of her house evidently killed by a coyote — she packed it sweetly in a little box and left it out for the dead animal patrol to pick up.
And yet…and yet… It does not register with her that her cats could get run over, her cats could get eaten by a coyote, her cats are a damn nuisance to the neighbors.
The only reasonable conclusion is that she doesn’t want it to register.