• If you really love your cats, keep them indoors

    If you read my griping and grouching about the neighborhood cats terrorizing my beloved back yard blue jays, as well as turning my garden into a litter box and dousing my front porch with the putrid stench of cat urine, you might deduce that I hate cats. Particularly when I said the best approach to unwanted cats in your yard is with a rock in your hand.

    I don’t hate cats. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I have two of my own fat, furry, useless darlings, but I don’t allow them outside of the house. You have to love cats a lot to keep them inside 24-7, because it’s like having toddlers that never grow up.

    Just like toddlers, you can’t leave things out with cats in the house, lest they be gobbled or batted about. Windows and doors can never be left open lest they escape, and you spend an unappealing amount of time scooping and wiping up whatever bodily substances they produce. And, just like their human counterparts, cats can barf and poop several times their body weight in one download. You have to love something a lot to put up with that. And at least human babies grow out of that phase by the time they hit kindergarten, or in the case of boys, at least by middle school.

    My point here is that I’m well aware of the pitfalls and hassles of choosing a cat as a pet, and also choosing to be responsible for it in every way. When you adopt a pet, you’re making a commitment to care for that animal for the rest of its life. In the case of cats, that’s about 15 years, and in the case of my cats, I’m sure it’ll be more like 20 just to spite me.

    Having chosen to care for these animals to the best of my ability and recognizing the weight of that responsibility and commitment, I’m doubly annoyed by those who don’t do the same. True, cats like to roam and play and stalk outside, but just because an animal — or child, for that matter — likes to do something doesn’t mean that it’s in his or her best interest.

    I learned the hard way, more than once, that cats that are allowed to roam freely often do not live that average 15-year lifespan, often using up their nine lives in half that time. And even then, only if they’re very lucky. And yet, I appreciate their desire to be outdoors. A nice-sized outdoor cat enclosure could make everyone happy. Particularly the birds.

    While the pros and cons of free-roaming cats could be debated at length, it’s not hard to imagine where birds would weigh in on the topic if they could. Start googling around about the impact cats have on the wild bird and songbird population, and you’ll likely be astounded.

    According to a report published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “domestic and feral cays may kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other avian species each year. A recent study in Wisconsin estimated that in that state alone, domestic rural cats kill roughly 39 million birds annually. Add the deaths caused by feral cats, or domestic cats in urban and suburban areas, and this mortality figure would be much higher.”

    Cats are just one of the dangers wild birds and songbirds face, and the report goes on to note that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supports “initiatives such as the Cat Indoors Program.” You can find out more about this program on the American Bird Conservancy website, but here are the Cliffs Notes on that issue: Keep your cat indoors or enclosed, not only for the sake of wild birds, but for your cat’s health and safety as well. And if you can’t keep Kitty indoors, at the very least, put a bell on her collar to warn the birds of approaching doom.

    Along the lines of responsible pet ownership, let’s not neglect dogs. Besides the cats that come into my yard to kill and crap, loose dogs are another pet peeve. As both a former jogger and current bike rider, the site of a loose dog is nothing short of a hazard. The big ones can bite you and the little ones can get under your tires, barking and yapping, and cause a crash.

    Just last week, here in Winters, a little girl had part of her face torn away after a pit bull crashed through a weak gate and attacked her. The animal was quickly euthanized to check for rabies, because in addition to not properly securing the animal, the owner also neglected to have the animal vaccinated for rabies. Eight bucks could have saved the dog’s life. Maintaining their fence and gate could have prevented a lifetime of disfigurement for a 6-year-old girl who was doing nothing more than riding her bike down the alley on a lovely summer evening.

    It all comes down to one simple concept: If you’re going to bring a pet into your family, you need to do anything and everything in your power to maintain control of that animal and, moreover, keep it on your own property. Other people, particularly neighbors and little kids on bikes, are not nearly as fond of your pet as you are. And if you can’t commit to that sort of responsibility for a couple decades, then don’t bring a dog or cat into your home. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to anyone else who has to deal with them because you won’t.

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