Eulogy for an indoor cat

joey-indoor-cat-by-barb-gorges

Joey the indoor cat. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 1, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Eulogy for an indoor cat.”

By Barb Gorges

Today I write a eulogy for Joey, an ordinary orange and white house cat who lived with our family.

I offer the details of her life as an example of the advantages of an indoor cat.

Joey died in the fall at the age of 18 ½ years old. She was my writing companion, sometimes draped over my left shoulder, sometimes over my lap. She exuded enough cat hair to melt down my previous laptop by clogging up the fan.

She was opinionated. She talked about a lot of things, her self-assured gaze drilling into you, assessing you.

Joey and her brother were products of a liaison between an unknown father and a footloose mother belonging to a friend. Our boys, in grade school and junior high then, enjoyed building climbing gyms for the kittens and playing catch and release cat toy games with them.

We took the cats outside occasionally on harness and leash, but Joey’s brother soon refused after stepping on a bee and getting stung.

Joey was always the one to look for before opening a door. It wasn’t that she wanted to go outside. She just wanted to go to the other side, whether into the basement or into a closet. If she did get out the front door, all we had to do was quietly leave the door open, circle around behind her, where she was quivering under a bush, and gently herd her towards the door.

However, one time she escaped without us realizing it right away. It took three days for her to come home and start pounding on the aluminum storm door. We were the only happy people that week after 9/11.

One good reason to keep your cat indoors is so you don’t have to worry about them. Of course, you could build them a “catio”—safe enclosed space for them to enjoy the outdoors. The enclosure would also prevent your cat from hunting local wildlife.

Even if it isn’t important to you to save billions of animals each year—birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians—from domestic cats, if you have children, you don’t want them in contact with cats that roam outdoors.

Cats are the hosts for toxoplasma gondii, a parasite with eggs that persist in soil. We know it causes serious health problems for pregnant women who come in contact with cat feces. But we now know that a large percentage of the global human population is infected and studies suggest toxoplasma gondii can cause behavioral and personality changes and is associated with disorders including schizophrenia.

Outdoor cats, whether owned or feral, are a bigger and more complicated problem than we ever expected. You’ll want to read “Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer,” by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella, neither of whom are cat haters.

For an introduction to the book, see the video of Marra’s talk last month at www.AllAboutBirds.org. Search with the term “cat wars.”

One moment Joey was a tiny kitten, and the next moment an adolescent adventurer, then an unflappable middle-aged cat who would still perform amazing acrobatics to catch miller moths buzzing ceiling lights.

And then she became my elder, content to follow the daily rotation of sunny spots around the house, lounging among the house plants while watching birds at the feeder outside.

I believe Joey and her brother, who died of natural causes a few years ago, had better lives, longer lives, than if they had to roam outside in the hazardous world. I know I’ve had a better life because they were inside with me.

In Joey’s memory, please work to keep cats off the street.

xxx

 

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Cats follow birds to feeders

quilting cat

Indoor cats are good company. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published April 17, 2004, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “With birds at feeder, cats are sure to follow.”

2014 Update: For more information about the effect of free-roaming cats on birds and how to make a cat happy indoors, see the “Cats Indoors” campaign at the American Bird Conservancy website, http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats.

By Barb Gorges

Last month I complained my backyard feeders were attracting very few birds.

Then a flock of 15 juncos showed up the day before the big storm and some of them are still here, more than a week into April. Evidently, they aren’t ready yet to return to the mountains, their summer home.

Birds with more normal migration patterns have been observed. Wilson Selner called last week about a spotted towhee in his yard (formerly named the rufous-sided towhee). This is about a month earlier than I’ve seen these robin-colored birds in my yard.

The turkey vultures are back too. We’ll wait and see whether they are passing through or staying to nest in town.

Twice in the last week I’ve caught the wispy sound of cedar waxwings while out walking the dog. They can be year round residents—if they find enough berries and blossoms.

Along with the return of birds to my feeders is the return of an unwanted visitor, a black cat—definitely bad luck for a bird crossing its path.

I am not too fussy about the demise of a few non-native birds like house sparrows—birds that crowd out the native species. However, it’s usually the native birds, especially those passing through on migration, that become victims. Or ground-feeding birds like juncos. Or ground-nesting birds like meadowlarks and other grassland species.

Is it possible to be a cat owner and a bird watcher at the same time? Yes, if you keep your cat indoors.

If you are interested in the conservation of wildlife, remember domestic cats are not predators native to North America. The native fauna have not evolved skills for evading domestic felines. They aren’t fair game.

Experts estimate the loss of hundreds of millions of birds each year, not to mention small mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Well-fed cats and belled cats are still successful hunters.

If you value your cat’s well-being, the American Veterinary Medical Association reminds you to keep your cat indoors because loose cats are more likely to contract fatal cat diseases and rabies.

Outdoor cats also transmit diseases to humans. Almost all human cases of pneumonic plague have been linked to cats. Cat-scratch fever infects 20,000 people a year and is particularly dangerous to children and people with compromised immune systems. Toxoplasmosis is a problem for pregnant women and their babies.

My bird-watching, cat-owning friends who still allow their cats outdoors unsupervised say they are incapable of adapting to the indoors.

As the owner of two indoor cats, I can imagine outdoor cats mean less hair, less furniture scratching and less kitty litter. But on the other hand, I like knowing that my cats are not in danger of being hit by a car, swallowing poison, being abused by people, killed by other animals or caught in a trap.

Besides, what point is there in having a pet cat if it isn’t around to pet?

Pet ownership means pet-proofing your house, but it is possible to convert a cat to the indoor lifestyle with minimal impact by following these tips from the American Bird Conservancy’s website.

–Make the change gradually. Slowly limit the time your cat is allowed outdoors.

–When the cat is indoors, pay more attention to it. Invent cat games and toys. Play with your cat instead of watching TV.

–Provide scratching posts and trim your cat’s claws every week or two.

–Provide interesting places to lounge, such as by the window overlooking your bird feeder.

–Provide quality, clumping litter. It won’t be so hard to make yourself clean it once a day.

–If you are gone a lot, your cat would appreciate a companion. ABC recommends a dog, or another cat, of the opposite sex. My cats are brother and sister and regularly nap and play together.

–Provide fresh greens. The pet stores have kits for growing catnip, etc.

–Take your cat outside once in awhile, either on a leash or in a cat-proof enclosure.

Whatever it takes to make your cat an indoor cat, know that bird watchers will thank you.

As for the neighbor’s cat in your yard, try explaining to the neighbor the rewards of an indoor cat, keep the bird feeders away from the bushes and let the dog out frequently. If all else fails, borrow a trap from the Cheyenne Animal Shelter.