It's no secret that cats love the outdoors. Who doesn't love sunshine and fresh air? The sights, the sounds, the smells: all are wondrous to the sharp senses of a feline. An indoor cat can certainly get a taste of these experiences by sniffing the breeze through a screen door or basking in a sunny spot beneath a window. But for some cat guardians this limited exposure is not enough. Wishing either to give their cats as much freedom as possible, or to end the constant meowed pleas to go outside, they throw open the door and let their companions out into a world without barriers.
Unfortunately, sunshine and fresh air are not the only things that a free-roaming cat is likely to encounter in the great outdoors. Dogs, cars, wild predators, parasites, disease, chemicals and cruel people are just a few of the dangers they will face. When a cat leaves the house uncontained and unsupervised, there is no guarantee that he or she will return. The many sad stories that PAWS hears from bereaved cat guardians attest to this reality.
Even if a cat avoids danger, his independence poses a threat to small wild lives. PAWS Wildlife Center receives countless birds and small mammals every year who have been badly injured by uncontained cats. Any way you look at it, allowing a cat to roam freely is a risky endeavor with potential for a heart-breaking outcome. Fortunately, there are alternatives that offer cats all the benefits of the great outdoors with none of the potential drawbacks. One excellent option is to provide a cat enclosure.
An enclosure needn't be expensive or especially large to be enjoyed by your cat. PAWS Companion Animal Services Director Kay Joubert uses a collapsible dog crate to give her cats, Stormy and Nero, some outside time. The crate is comfy, with a small blanket and water bowl, and Kay often adds grass or small twigs for the cats to enjoy. Kay explains, "The cats love it! I've taught them to jump up on the cat scratch tree near the door to ask to go out, then to avoid any escapes I carry them out to the crate." This solution allows the cats to join in safely when Kay and her husband work in the yard or play outside with their dogs. Adds Kay, "We are also concerned about the birds and wildlife in our area, and this is a safe solution for everyone."
PAWS Humane Educator Julie Stonefelt and Naturalist Kevin Mack had long thought of building some type of outdoor enclosure for their indoor only cats Henry and Oliver. When a frightened stray appeared in their yard last summer and began to show signs that he could be tamed if adopted, the enclosure became a pressing need to keep this outdoor kitty, now named Otis, safe while helping him transition into a member of the family. After gaining approval from their landlord, it took Julie and Kevin about 25 hours and $400 in materials to enclose their 45' x 45' deck with escape-proof wire fencing. As renters, they wisely made sure the structure could be easily taken down and rebuilt if they decided to move. Otis supervised the entire project, not realizing that once complete, he would be calling the enclosure home for a time. He adjusted to his new boundaries smoothly, and now lives inside with Henry and Oliver. All three cats enjoy frequent outdoor adventures in the safety of their enclosure.
The options for safely confining your cat are endless, and the most daunting task may simply be deciding what works best for you. A wealth of information is available online, including at TheCatsDen.net, which focuses entirely on cat enclosures. This is an excellent site to learn what others have done and to spark your imagination. It includes a photo gallery of enclosures from the simplest to the most elaborate. It offers advice on materials and construction for the do-it-yourselfer, and sells enclosure kits and supplies for those who want more guidance.
If an enclosure is not an option, walking your cat on a harness and leash is another great way to help keep your cat safe. Or simply add more play time and interactive toys to your cat's daily routine to keep her mentally and physically engaged. As cat guardians, our ultimate responsibility is to keep our companions healthy and safe. And as stewards of the planet, we should strive to peacefully co-exist with our wild neighbors. The key to fulfilling both of these goals is easily within reach.