A kitten in the San Diego Humane Society’s nursery. Image from video

One silver lining resulting from this dark pandemic time is the rise that animal rescue organizations throughout the country have reported in the number of cats and dogs being adopted.  As a volunteer kitten foster for the highly successful San Diego Humane Society Kitten Nursery, I appreciate the idea of more cat adoptions. 

However, based on my recent observation of online “missing cat” posts, as well as similar themed flyers frequently posted around my neighborhood, I contend we need to honor the full promise of adoptions by doing a better job of keeping our pet felines safely indoors, protected from the dangers of the outdoor world.    

A pandemic pet demand is certainly understandable. Residents responding to stay-at-home orders have found themselves with time to take care of newly adopted animals. And by welcoming furry friends into our houses, we humans have realized a way to minimize social isolation. Time Magazine recently acknowledged this pandemic phenomena by honoring “Rescue Animals” as their 2020 Pet of the Year.  

While serving as a volunteer foster, I have taken note of the huge number of kittens that make their way through the kitten nursery each year. The organizational effort that goes into saving, raising, socializing and eventually adopting these most vulnerable of animals is noteworthy.  And I celebrate the idea of them living happily ever after within the secure confines of their new forever homes.  

That notion of a fairy tale-like ending is threatened, however, when scanning posts on the popular web site nextdoor.com. This site, used to communicate local neighborhood news, needs and concerns, is often dominated by two not unrelated types of posts—”missing cat” and “coyote sighting.” The frequency of these two posts reflects a serious problem with pet cats allowed to roam outside their homes. 

Though very clever, cats don’t stand a chance against the hungry coyotes that prowl our San Diego canyons and streets. And coyotes are only one of several outdoor cat hazards posed by the outside world. Speeding cars, unleashed dogs, cruel people and disease also exact a toll. The dread expressed by these on-line posts is reinforced when I walk around my neighborhood and notice the ubiquitous “missing cat” flyers taped to lamp posts. 

I prefer my fairy tale-like adoption ending.  I hate thinking any kittens I once fostered had their lives cut short because they were allowed to roam outdoors.            

The root of this problem is simple. Too many cat owners believe a cat must be allowed to roam outside to satisfy its natural behaviors. In a perfect world, this roaming might be acceptable. An outdoor cat is a mentally and physically stimulated animal, with its senses on full alert. 

Unfortunately, the world we humans have created includes too many obstacles for roaming pets to safely navigate. They belong indoors. According to WebMD , indoor cats can reach the ripe old age of 17 years or more, whereas outdoor cats live an average of just two to five years.  

Does the indoor life always result in a bored cat? Not necessarily. If we are to fulfill our obligation to keep cats inside, we have a further obligation to ensure they remain physically and mentally stimulated. This merely requires caring cat owners to exercise a little extra effort and ingenuity.

Such options as daily playing time with our cats, providing them toys and interesting objects that pique their curiosity and prompt physical activity, ensuring access to windows with captivating views of the outside world, enclosing a patio (or building a catio), training them to walk on a leash, and getting a second cat can help compensate for abandoning the outdoor life.   

In short, a cat’s natural instinct to stalk and pounce on small prey can be easily simulated by tossing a catnip-filled toy mouse from one end of the living room to another. The cat will enjoy it. The cat owner too. And no one gets hurt. 

I hope San Diegans can build on the positive momentum created by more pet adoptions and pause to reconsider the practice of cat care.  The compassion that motivates people to adopt and raise a kitten should be extended throughout a cat’s entire lifetime. This can be easily accomplished with a dose of pet owner extra effort and ingenuity to ensure valued feline family members lead long, happy and safe indoor lives. 

Steve Rodriguez is a retired Marine Corps officer and high school teacher who last taught at Olympian High School in Chula Vista.

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