For the kittens, grass is always greener outdoors

Every so often you’ll see an old movie on TV—usually a comedy from the 1930s-’50s—that shows the family cat being shooed outdoors at night. Bring in the dog and put out the cat, as The Coasters say in “Yakety Yak.”

Oh, how times have changed. Nowadays, most people keep their cats inside. Not only do cats not go out at night. They don’t go out at all.

The issue of indoor vs. outdoor cats is a subject of intense debate in our household. We had decided when we adopted the kittens last fall that Moe and Sassy would be indoor-only cats. But it’s hard to enforce that rule when the big cats they live with get to go outside.

Now nine months old, the kittens are desperate to go out too. It’s a big, exciting world out there. One or the other of them—sometimes both—will rush the door every time it opens, often slipping out before we can see, much less stop, them.

Moe, the tuxedo, is big and bold. He wails at the door to go out. Moe has a modicum of common sense and I trust him—to a point. He usually stays close to the house and comes when I call.

But the other day he scaled the fence to drop into the neighbor’s yard, and made a game out of running away from me on the other side of it. Then he leaped onto a big oak between the two properties and began climbing. I managed to grab his ankle and then the rest of him, or he might be up there still.

Sassy, meanwhile, is something of a fraidy cat. She darted out the door on Sunday morning and dove under the back porch, and there she stayed. I could lure her out but she wouldn’t let me get hold of her. It took an hour, a supply of cat treats and her favorite blue feather toy, but I finally got her. Once inside she slept for hours, exhausted from the adventure.

Except when I lived in city apartments, I’ve always let my cats outdoors. I figured they appreciated the fresh air and exercise as much as I did. It seems sad to think of a cat who has never felt grass under his feet.

But it’s a dangerous world out there, full of cars, rabies and other diseases, fleas and ticks, other cats to fight with and dogs to give chase. I know people who have lost cats to coyotes, while a friend in Dingmans Ferry once saw a hawk swoop down and lift her cat off the ground. In the end kitty proved too big, and the raptor had to drop him. But the encounter resulted in a visit to the vet for the poor cat, injured by the hawk’s claws.

Is there a middle ground—a way to let the kittens outdoors but keep them safe? I’m considering the idea of a “catio”—a patio for cats. Screen houses and mesh tunnels are available online, but my handy husband might be able to custom-build something.

But is another enclosed space, even one that’s outside, really the answer? Isn’t the lure of the outdoors all about freedom? Isn’t the ability to roam free, like Kipling’s Cat Who Walked by Himself, part of the definition of what it means to be a cat?

Like Moe, I’m still on the fence about this issue.

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