Cats; Indoor/Outdoor and the great Leash debate

Since the indoor/outdoor controversy has come to light for cats, along with the debate on cat harnesses and leashes, I have been on the fence. With all the information available, I have decided that any cat I get in the future will be an indoor cat, but my current kitties are not. A couple of years ago I decided to give it a try because I really wanted to see if I could get my happy indoor/outdoor cats to be happy indoor cats. I currently have three cats (all rescues) and I got them custom fitted harnesses trying to make this transition easier. This did not go so well… Let me give you some background…

My oldest, nine year old Cornelius is a 17 pound Main Coon mix, and even though I have all of my cats micro chipped, I still wanted him and his brother to have a collar with a name tag, which included my phone number. All my cats have always had a quick release collar (to keep them from hanging themselves) with tags, but Cornelius was different.

I presented him and his brother Lester Sprocket (RIP 10/22/2006, bladder cancer… heart still not healed) their new collars with shiny new tags. Lester Sprocket loved his, and pranced around showing it off. Cornelius, on the other hand, hit the floor meowing loudly, as only a Main Coon could, like he was being tortured and abused. He twisted and turned and within seconds, the collar was off! He jumped up and looked at me beaming with such pride, seeming to ask “Did I pass the test?” I tried again with the same results, and then the third time he left the collar alone. I finally let Cornelius and Lester Sprocket outside with their new collars. When they came back later, Sprocket still had his collar, but Cornelius did not. It took three more collars with brand new tags each time for me to realize this wasn’t happening. I should have named him Houdini!

Lester Sprocket and Cornelius (and two other littermates) were born in a trailer park in a trailer owned by a drunk. Their mother was a tiny 6 pound Tuxedo cat named Punky. Punky had been abandoned by previous tenants of the park and she had managed to capture my daughter’s heart (She worked at the gas station next to the trailer park). My daughter had decided she had to rescue Punky and her kittens, but that morning when she turned into the trailer park, she found her sweet Punky submersed in a puddle next to the road. She scooped Punky up in her arms, looking for any sign of life… With Punky in her arms and tears running uncontrollably down her face, she headed for the trailer of the drunk to get the four kittens. They were five weeks old.

Punky was wrapped up with the best finery found in my daughter’s car. There was a “hand me down” designer silk scarf, a towel, and a table cloth, and then buried with full honors in the abandoned lot across the street. A small evergreen growing nearby was transplanted to honor her life. The lot is still empty and the tree is still standing proudly honoring Punky with every new branch.

She was able to find homes for the two girls immediately, but the two boys were not so easy. My husband was adamantly against taking the kittens, but when my sweet Kodiak died suddenly, my broken heart needed them to heal. They could never replace Kodiak, but, they needed a home and I had so much more love to share… I knew the kittens would win the hubby over in no time, and they did.

When I got the new harnesses for Cornelius, Samantha and Tabitha, I closed the “doggy doors” to keep them inside. I put Sammy’s harness on her first and she immediately plopped to the ground not moving. It was harder to get the harness on Tabitha; taking a cue from Sammy, Tabitha plopped to the ground, meowing softly. My Cornelius had watched all of this with some consternation, but gladly headed to me when I showed him his new harness; the girls had not moved. I got his new harness on him, praising him constantly, but when I let him go, he jumped, ran behind the couch and within less than a minute he had that harness off and soon he had it shredded and was getting ready to eat it. I took it away from him.

It was clear to me that Cornelius and Samantha would always be indoor/outdoor cats. Tabitha does not even like going outside much, so there is hope for her. What I had to do was make sure I could cut down the outdoor risks for my babies.

The main risks to an indoor/outdoor cat are diseases, cars and other cats. Thank goodness I live in a quiet neighborhood with little traffic (but I still worry) and my local vet provides vaccines for all the fatal diseases that concern cat owners;

Feline leukemia (FeLV)
Feline AIDS (FIV)
FIP (feline infectious peritonitis)
Feline distemper (pan leukopenia)

Yes, these can get costly, but the way I see it, if you are not able to pay then you should not own pets… sorry…

Other cats can cause injuries and wounds that can lead to infections which can turn into abscesses and if left untreated can lead to death. My cats are checked over daily when they are brushed. Since I know what to look for, they will never go untreated.

So now we get to the harness and leash… I struggled for a long time with the question of whether a harness or leash was okay. Uncomfortably, I tried very hard to accept the argument that if you have indoor kitties, you should take them outside occasionally to give them exercise and fresh air, and then I read something that completely changed my mind.

If you have provided plenty of entertainment for you indoor cat with Kitty condos and scratching posts, along with all the toys they might want (which my indoor/outdoor cats currently enjoy), Why would you torture them by taking them outside on a leash or even in a kennel to show them what they are missing? Cats are not happy tied on a leash or put in a cage, when they by nature, love to roam and forage. You can provide enough stimulation inside to keep them happy until you show them what they are missing.

Once the “cat is out of the bag,” keeping them inside is abuse.