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My Pet World: There's plenty of options for cat owners

April 26, 2011|By Steve Dale

You wouldn't think of allowing your dog to wander freely around the neighborhood, but millions of cats come and go as they please. I doubt a single animal welfare group or shelter in America today would argue with Stephen Zawistowski, executive vice president and science advisor at the ASPCA in New York City, when he says: "For their own benefit and for the benefit of the communities where they live, owned cats should not be allowed to roam freely."

Forty years ago, most pet cats were allowed to wander freely outdoors.

"Big cities have forced us to change our views," says Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, anthropologist and author of "Tribe of the Tiger."

Thomas, who lives in rural New Hampshire, proudly allows her cats to call their own shots — indoors or outside.

"Choice is very important," she says. "There is no busy road nearby, and there are no other cats. I feel cats should control their own destiny, even if there is some risk; live by the sword die by the sword."

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The problem is, curiosity can kill the cat, and allowing death by the sword isn't responsible stewardship. It's a fact that life is safer indoors.

"While it's true that coyotes, stray dogs, birds of prey, even alligators are real potential threats to outdoor cats, the most widespread predator is the car," Zawistowski notes. "Somehow, people have this notion that cats are cunning enough to avoid being hit by cars, but that's just not true."

Cats are attracted to the sweet taste of anti-freeze, but just a few licks can be deadly. Some plants cats nibble can be toxic. Catfights are not uncommon, and even the winners can return home with wounds.

Cats may also share infectious diseases. Wandering cats can even find themselves ensnared in traps meant for wild animals, or even shot at. In winter, cats may slink under car hoods to warm up — ending up mangled when a driver turns on the engine.

Aside from questionable safety for indoor/outdoor cats, there's an issue about being a responsible neighbor. You may think you're being fair to your cat to allowing it a big measure of freedom. However, that freedom may mean the pet uses your neighbor's car as a scratching post, or their garden as a litter box. In some locales, you may be responsible for damage to another person's property.

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