Outside Dangers

cat wisdom cats inside cat negotiation outside cat wisdom of animals Apr 05, 2022

We MUST protect our pets! Just like we must protect our children, and I’ll be the first to say that helmets and bicycles are a really good combination - I speak from the experience of at least one concussion handed to me by our dog, Cinder, when I was about 11. He bobbed, I weaved, and I ended up coming off my bike along the side of the road. The next thing I knew I was home (about a block away), getting out of a stranger’s car. There are a few lost moments in that part of my life. 

When I was a kid, we didn’t wear helmets, and we didn’t worry too much about whether our cats and dogs were going to come to some untimely end. More than one ended up as roadkill. That may sound harsh, but it was a different time. I do remember being laughed at when I would say to my cat, “Be careful crossing the road!” - that cat, however, would look both ways before crossing our busy-enough country street, and lived to a ripe old age. You tell me.

As pet parents, we want our pets to stay with us as long as possible. I’m going to focus on cats in this post, because dogs tend to go with us in cars, and we walk them and a lot of them have a yard, but cats can be considered more indoor-types. When I lived in a more urban environment, my cats were indoor only. That is my preference for them still. We built them a catio so they can go outside and get fresh air in a safe environment. But they get to have a say, too. And four of the five have said, on more than one occasion, “Let me out the front door.”

No catio out that way. There is however, bushes to hide under and  grass to munch, and the underneath of the deck. There’s also a six-foot mesh fence around most of our property, and mesh across our gate - but the gate mesh has a couple of holes in it that a cat who wanted to could get through - remember Morpheus? Pretty sure that’s how he left the property.

When Ry first wanted to go out I was horrified. He’s an adorable fellow, but not always the brightest bulb in the lantern. Easily startled, I could just see him darting out in front of a passing car (and on this country road, with a speed limit of 35 past our house, most cars and trucks are doing at least 50). I’m not sure how he would do that, since the mesh fence is in the way and it’s a good couple hundred feet from the house - but I have a very vivid imagination, and I went straight to “my cat is laying in the road totally squashed because I let him out the front door for five minutes.”

The other cats who ask to be let out at least have some outdoor experience - Lynkx was a barn cat for years, Torbie fended for herself for several months as a kitten, and Jackson was an indoor/outdoor almost-feral before he was rescued and ultimately came to live with us. Our fifth cat, Ellie, has never even offered to poke her head out the front door, although she does enjoy the catio. She scoffs at the others. “You’re going out THERE? What are you, NUTS? The food and warm cozy blankets are all in here. I’m done with that outside stuff.” (She came from a semi-feral environment, too. Interesting how individuals react to their new lives. Jackson still likes going out - Ellie, no way.)

I really think Ry asks to be let out because the other cats go out and he doesn’t want to be left behind. He seldom stays out long, and he usually goes right under the deck. The first time he asked, though, I panicked. I made him wear a harness and leash. He bore it manfully, and proceeded to let me follow him at the end of the leash under bushes and around corners. We did that a few times, and he demonstrated to me that he (a) knew where the front door is and (b) wouldn’t stay out long. So I gradually got over my fears and now I let him out with the others as a matter of course.

We do have agreements with the cats. They must come when called. So long as they come home when we ask, they can go outdoors. On our side, we won’t call them two seconds after they go out. We’ll give them a decent amount of time outside (usually around 15-30 minutes, and if it’s a nice day a couple of hours). So long as we can see them, we won’t call. (Lynkx likes to lay in the sun on the front deck, so we hardly ever call him in - he’s right there in plain view. Jackson, on the other hand, likes to disappear, and he has pushed the “come in” envelope pretty hard a few times - but he ultimately comes when called.) 

If we are going to be gone, everyone stays in. Outside privileges are only while there are humans home and the gates are closed.

We do have big birds and other predators out here. Birds can be a factor; however, the predators have to get over the six-foot mesh fence. While a cougar could do that easily, and we do hear about them in the neighborhood now and then, it’s much easier (and a lot better meal) to go after the plethora of deer and pronghorn that wander the area. And they don’t have to navigate a six-foot fence or get close to scary humans to do that!

The bottom line for us is a building of trust. Look at your environment. Decide what you’re willing for your animals to risk (in our case, it’s being picked off by an air strike of some sort). Negotiate some rules (Come when called. Jackson.). And then let them go. If they need to stay indoors because of where you live, give them something that is special - an extra tall climbing tree, or maybe a kitty highway made up of shelving). A happy cat uses the litter box and purrs in your lap. Totally worth it.


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