Dear Dr. Evans,
I adopted a tomcat from a local shelter. He’d been found on the East Side and apparently was really street-smart; he was pretty tough to catch and was in pretty good shape when they found him. I’ve gotten him all the vet care he needs and had him neutered. Bruiser is kind of a thug, but I love him. The only problem is he’s not thrilled with being indoors. He escapes at every opportunity and scratches at the door and window frames. Other than that, he’s affectionate and seems content .Honestly, I think he could handle himself outdoors. Am I being unfair to him by keeping him inside? —The Kitty Warden
Ah, the feline thug — I remember mine fondly. Quint, like Bruiser, was a savvy, confident cat with a little bit of a swagger and a lot of attitude, found on the streets of the toughest neighborhood in Syracuse, NY. For eight years, we kept him in, pretty much against his will, until he discovered his ticket out. He’d body-slam our other (tiny, meek) cat into the back door, hold her down with one paw and whale on her with the other, all the while looking me straight in the eye: gonna let me out NOW?
After a while, we decided to let him out. Like you, we figured he could take care of himself. And he was amazing. I swear he looked both ways before crossing the street. He could stretch up and bang the thumb-latch on the front door when he wanted in. He survived his first round of fleas. He survived being chased by a very ambitious Chihuahua. He survived an abscess the size of a plum on his face (I did, too — I was a freshman in vet school, and it was my first abscess as well). What he didn’t survive, however, was the Honda Civic that killed him and broke my heart.
Please keep Bruiser safe indoors. Locally, we are experiencing an epidemic of lost cats. In the past two weeks, the Barrington Veterinary Clinic has posted seven notices for lost kitties, including a cat very dear to all of us here. We domesticated cats, so it’s up to us to protect them from the many, many hazards of outdoor life.
Think disease. There are plenty that even the most conscientious owner cannot vaccinate against, many of them carrying death sentences. Think predators. Bruiser wouldn’t stand much of a chance against a coyote, and fisher cats are even more vicious — I suspect a local fisher cat is behind our local missing cats. Think other cats; abscesses aren’t pretty. Think traffic. Even the street-smartest cat is no match for a Buick.
A cat can have a wonderful indoor life. Provide lots of interesting hiding places, like paper bags. Hide Bruiser’s kibble around the house in nooks and crannies, so he has to hunt for it. Cat toys are cheap — toss the plastic ring from a gallon of milk. Ball up some aluminum foil and watch Bruiser practice his soccer skills. Google “feline environmental enrichment” for some terrific ideas to keep Bruiser happy under your roof.
I know this recommendation won’t be right for everyone, so if you do let your kitty out, help him get home. Get him a breakaway collar with a ID tag and a rabies tag. Make sure to have him microchipped and keep the microchip information handy. Make sure you have good current pictures of him, especially ones that emphasize any distinguishing characteristics; most black cats look pretty much alike in a photo.
Just remember — for every forlorn poster stapled to a telephone pole, there’s a broken heart somewhere.
Dr. Lynn Anne Evans of the Barrington Veterinary Clinic has been practicing veterinary medicine for 26 years. Do you have a pet question for Dr. Evans? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Dr. Evans” in the subject line.