The history of humans living with animals is a long and complicated one. As human societies became more industrialized, animals became more marginalized, living either apart from most humans or struggling to find enough territory to live what would be considered a natural life. Throughout history cats have lived amongst humans and prior to industrialization, protected food stores like grain by keeping the rat and mice populations in check. In our current society, cats have to fit into our world the best they can. Depending upon where you live, your cat can live either indoors, outdoors, or a combination of the two. And given the climate, the most ideal option would be a cat who has the shelter of a home, a good food source, medical care when needed, love and attention and also, the opportunity to go outside. Think of all the things we love about being outdoors and you can imagine what a cat loves about that experience, and add being able to hunt mice, rats and birds. But in a city, especially a major city like Chicago, the dangers of a cat being allowed to go outdoors as well as living indoors are so vastly different than a cat being allowed to go outside in a suburb or rural setting. Some of the dangers include: the high volume of traffic, poisoning from chemicals like rat poison, anti-freeze and weed killers, injuries from fences, injuries from fighting with other cats, and being taken by a person who is not going to provide a loving home for a cat like a Class B Dealer who will sell your cat to a facility that does medical research on dogs and cats. It often can be stressful for cats to just live indoors; I can attest to this from my own personal experience and from the work I do with animals. But there is a lot we can do to make our indoor cats’ lives good or even wonderful. For starters, assuming your cat only needs food, water, a cat box and some love, is not enough. Indoor cats need humans who can imagine what it would be like to be a cat, who are sensitive to them, and who can create an enriched environment. That includes places for your cat to sleep that are not just your couch or bed, places to hide that are safe, window ledges to lie on and look out of, cat trees to climb on, plenty of scratching surfaces (cardboard or wooden) and toys that help with your cat’s prey drive that cannot be expressed when living indoors. And yet, there are many millions of cats who do not live indoors, and cannot live indoors as they have never had any human contact. These cats are considered feral. I have been a legal caretaker of a feral colony in my neighborhood for about eight years now. And I know that with the proper support, cats can live long and healthy lives outdoors. It is dangerous at times, yes. I have lost some of my feral cats to infections I cannot treat, one cat was run over by a car, one cat was shot, and some of the other deaths I will never know the causes. I have taken some feral cats into my home over the years but only the cats who I felt could not survive outside, like the runts of the litter, or who seemed to not fit in with the colony as a whole. It is a misconception that all cats who live outdoors need to live indoors. For starters, there are not enough homes for all the feral cats. And I have seen a few instances of feral cats who have been brought indoors and they have never adjusted. They hide and appear to be depressed, as if they have given up. If a colony of feral cats is spayed and neutered, fed a good diet, and they all have sleeping shelters and a yard that is home base for them, then the cats can live a fairly happy life. We brought cats over to this continent, and so we can at least do our best to have the discernment, resources and support to figure out how best to help domestic cats, whether that is living outdoors, living in a home, or a combination of the two.
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